“This is so good slober fell out of my mouth!” (tri-tip)
– Keana (July 10, 2010)
First Dance Recitals (photos and video from the dress rehearsal at the end)
The big news I’ve really been wanting to write about is Keana and Maia’s dance recitals that happened last Saturday (June 9). It was such a big a deal! Of course they were both rehearsing their routines months beforehand, and I was really glad that they still focused on the basics and didn’t spend all of every rehearsal learning the routine. There were fancy costumes though and of course the girls did their hair and makeup(!) for the recital. Man, they were talking bout the makeup alone for a full week before the thing.
Of course, this sort of thing conjures up all kinds of issues as a parent. Is all this appropriate for kids this age? Maia’s dance was to Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend and part of me wanted to just enjoy it for the cutesy number it was meant to be, and part of me thought we were doing a grave injustice to Maia and women everywhere by allowing her to participate in something so sexist, materialistic, and outright dated. Sarah and I talked about it and in the end we figured what was the harm in something that Maia was so clearly enjoying and maybe it didn’t have to be anything more than just a cutesy number.
Keana danced to a somewhat generic piece called Music Box Dancer and the choreography was more classically ballet as far as I could tell. She was still dressed to the hilt in pink, sparkly, froofiness and again, we questioned if we were bad parents for participating in this stereotypic socialization of our little girls. I know it will be something we grapple with for a while, but this time, we let it go and just let the girls have fun. They’re 4 and 7. They like to dance. They like pink sparkliness. It is what it is.
The day of the recital was very exciting to say the least. We woke early to do hair and makeup for the dress rehearsal. Maia went on at 9 a.m. and Keana at 10 a.m. The recital was at the CUSD Performing Arts Center which was beautiful; new, modern, great stage, lighting effects and everything. I was very impressed and proud we could provide such a great performance opportunity for their very first recital. They were both a little nervous, Keana more so than Maia, but they both got up there and did very well. After their run-throughs, we went back to their dance studio which was about 10 minutes away for pictures. After the madness of pictures, we headed home for a few hours before heading back to the recital hall at 3:15 p.m. for the performance, which started at 4 p.m.
The studio was very organized, keeping all the kids backstage for the whole thing, entertained with various art stations and things for the kids to do between performances. The grandparents—Jennie, Robert, and Cin—met us there and we got great seats in the middle, far enough back from the stage to see everything clearly. When Maia came on my heart jumped and any doubt I had about letting her perform was instantly washed away. She was even better in the performance than I had every seen her and she was so alive on stage. Both Sarah and I were definitely teary-eyed.
We had to wait till after intermission for Keana to take the stage but again, any doubt I had about her performing was gone the instant she made her first move. She too was even better in the performance than I had seen her perform before and she seemed more relaxed than in the dress rehearsal too. Sarah and I weren’t going to spring for the professionally recorded video, but after seeing them live, we couldn’t resist.
Of course we took family photos and all went out to a celebratory dinner after. What a joy-filled day. There was some anxiety, but mostly it was just pure fun for the girls and they both can’t wait for the next one. At the end of the day it was a good reminder that sometimes as a parent, you have to just let go and not worry so much about whether or not you’re scarring your kids for life. There will be plenty of time for them to “fight the power” and right now may not be it.
End of School
School’s out! Keana is now officially on summer break and ready for second grade (but not quite yet!). It was a long, fun, tough, exciting, tiring year and we were all ready for it to end. Of course, once it was over, Keana instantly missed her teacher and friends but we’re going to make an effort to keep her social this summer between our family plans. It is really amazing how much she learned this year. Everything she learned—reading, writing, math, social studies—was leagues beyond what I remember doing in even second grade. We want to keep an eye out for burnout, and are still evaluating if the academically intensive nature of the school is really good for her, but right now, we’re just enjoying summer, which officially starts tomorrow for her. And I will happily let our hard-working Keansta Monsta sleep in on her first Monday off.
Tonight after dinner Keana got her hula-hoop out and started giving it go. We all did actually, and when I tried it, I haven’t seen Sarah laugh that hard since, well, the last time she saw me hula hoop: Fredericksburg, Texas, November 2008. Anyway, I guess Keana’s done it recently in P.E. at school which has reignited the flame, so I thought I would ask her a few questions to get the keys to her success:
As she demonstrates, Keana talks about her method. Time: 2:25
There are stretches of time when I stop for a minute (or sixty, on and off over a few hours) to update our records of Team Hokama—whether it’s the blog, photos, or videos—when I realize there is more happening than I can possibly keep up with. Yet I continue endeavoring on. So. Time to write some stuff down.
The past week+ has been tough. We were cruising along, having a great Mother’s Day, and just after a really nice brunch of belgian waffles and eggs benedict for the adults, Keana starts throwing up. And it doesn’t stop. For 7 hours. Yeah, nasty. At least it stopped by the time bedtime rolled around, but when things like this happen, especially with two other kids, I just wait anxiously to see who’s next. I was really proud of us though, because Sarah and I managed Keana and were still able to enjoy what we had planned for the day. It was a true tribute to Sarah on Mother’s Day.
Throughout the week, Sarah got a milder version of what Keana had, then it hit me pretty hard Thursday night. Luckily, Maia and Aliya seemed to have escaped it, though Aliya has been a little sensitive lately, possibly due to fighting this thing off. It’s just one of those things about having kids and it can, and does, derail things. I think we’re learning how to roll with it though and are a little better about taking time for ourselves if we need it. Half the battle is just staying in the moment and dealing with what’s actually happening and not getting carried away with what might happen. It’s funny to write all this, now over seven years into this kid thing, realizing that I’m sure I wrote those exact words after the first year of having one kid. Cycles of realizations and revelations?
So life’s been busy. Keana and Maia have been enjoying ballet since mid-January as something “extra”. Keana is pure muscle, tall, and poised. She watches the teacher like a hawk and doesn’t miss anything. Her execution is of course strained at times, but she is a joy to watch. Maia is definitely a natural. She’s only four yet her moves are crisp and precise, then graceful and smooth when they need to be. She makes it look like she doesn’t have to think much about what she’s doing. They’re preparing for their dance recitals, which will be happening in the beginning of June. They both have some apprehension about it, as can be expected, but they also have no idea what to expect, so we’ve been balancing listening to their fears and trying to give them a little supportive push at the same time. Another challenge as a parent: let your kids do what they want and what they enjoy, but still push them to try new things so they can figure out what those things are.
Last Thursday Keana had Author’s Night at her school which is where all the kids gather outside to share the books they’ve written and illustrated with parents, friends, and family. This starts in kindergarten and goes through fifth grade. Just like last year, we were really impressed with Keana’s story, how well it was written, and of course, the amazing pictures she came up with to go along with it. It’s really such a cool tradition at this school. Imagine having a book that you wrote each year of elementary school? What a gift. I have to admit that this year Keana had enough plot twists in her story that I’ll have to read it again to be sure I catch all of it. As the school year winds down, Keana is definitely struggling with the long, eight-hour day. She’s struggled with it on and off, and that, coupled with 30-45 minutes of homework each night has really been tough. This morning I told her she just had to stick with it through the rest of the year and we’ll reevaluate this summer. Nothing can’t be changed I told her. So we’ll see how that all plays out.
Maia has really been growing up fast too. She is just more and more mature every week, with how she relates to and helps Aliya throughout the day; being more open to what she wears and eats; and just generally handling things that used to stress her out. She tells amazing stories and plays really well on her own, mostly taking care of her babies or animals. She can often be seen flitting about the house, gathering things from each room, each item necessary for the best possible care of her clients. She loves taking care of us too. For instance, when I get back from a run, she’ll often grab a towel to dry me off and help cool me down. For how fiery she is, she is really sensitive and sweet. She is such a joy day in and day out, and I know Aliya really enjoys having her to play with. They like to run around the house playing together, making up various adventures, and yelling, “C’mon Aliya, c’mon!” and Aliya will scream back as she runs, “Okay Sissy!” We feel really fortunate that they get along so well and have so much fun together. The real bottom line with Maia is that she knows what she wants—or doesn’t know—and will make that clear either way.
And Aliya. Oh, little miss Aliya. Since the last post featuring her, she’s just progressed on that path of talking up a storm and being her own little, opinionated, feisty, happy self. She’s filling in her sentences more, sometimes with gibberish, but definitely trying more complex word formations. She has fits of silliness that crack us up, like changing the way she walks as she sings a little song or chants something. She’s fearless when bouncing on the bed and runs like a little daredevil, barely slowing down as she turns a corner. She’s definitely territorial and if she even senses a threat to something she has, or even something she sees that she wants, she screams, “It’s minnne!” Having two older sisters will do that to you I guess. Keana and Maia are mostly pretty good about sharing, but they are bigger and faster and swoop and pounce on things a bit quicker—for now. Aliya loves stacking things and will run into the room and motion saying, “C’mon Papa, c’mon!” then run to her stack of blocks to show it off. She love racing too, often counting off, “Two, two, two, GO!” Lastly, she, almost more than anything, wants to be doing exactly what everyone else is doing. She’s stopped sitting in her baby chair at the table. She clears her plate just like her sisters; loves to brush her teeth and even taps the water off the toothbrush just like we do. She wants regular glasses, puts her own shoes on, wants flip-flops, you name it. She is two going on five. What a brilliant little independent child.
Look at that, 1176 words. Apparently I could go on forever. And I would, but I have a few more hundred photos to back up and I would like to squeeze in some lushly mellow, possibly brainless, relaxation time with Sarah too. So. I go now.
A couple weeks ago Keana turned seven. Of course she’s been turning seven for a while, but the nice thing about birthdays is that they give you a reference point; a point around which a whole bunch of changes and events can gravitate, their orbits getting looser and looser every year, but still clustered together into “mini-systems” in our lives.
Seven seemed like a big birthday. Maybe it’s because Keana suddenly seems way more mature and sophisticated. She’s taller, stronger, faster. Maybe it’s just one of those numbers that just sounds big. She’s on the final stretch of first grade, well into her formal schooling and that’s big too. Last weekend, she learned how to tie her own shoes—I showed her once and now she’s a pro.
To celebrate, Sarah, Maia, and Aliya made cupcakes and I delivered them to her class. They just do a small celebration at the end of the school day. After school and homework, we went out to sushi, Keana’s favorite. We debated going out due to cost, but just couldn’t deny her her favorite meal on her special day. Afterward we surprised her with a new bike, and although she was a little skeptical at first (see the video below), she’s been getting more and more excited about it since.
The following Saturday we had the “open birthday” with extended family and friends at Storyland. It was a dress-up party and [shocker] Keana requested it to be “princess themed”. It was a lot of fun, having a little castle to ourselves and the kids had a blast running around the fairytale-themed surroundings, then hopping over to Playland where there are a few amusement rides. It was perfect weather and although it started out stressful (as these things often do), it ended happily ever after. Every day we appreciate what a ray of light Keana is in our lives, and it was a lot fun being able to celebrate that.
We had just left Great Grandma Bev’s lake house, driving into the setting sun, when we heard from the backseat, “How did Jesus die?” The only reason I wasn’t totally floored was because Sarah had shared with me another time this happened. At the exact same point in the road, a week or two earlier, Keana had asked that exact question. At that time, Sarah wasn’t sure how much to say and worried about getting in a little over her head, so she punted, telling Keana she should ask me since I probably knew more about that. Lucky me. The conversation that Keana and I had after that first time was pretty brief; she was ready to move on to something else by the time she got home.
It would all be easier if Sarah and I didn’t question religion ourselves and went to church every Sunday, and if I just spouted off the classic, generally acceptable answers and stories within the Christian faith. I’ve spent so much time in church or church-related activities that I’m practically ordainable, but it’s only recently, after many years away from it all, that I’m beginning to come back to my childhood faith. Sarah and I have always wanted to provide our kids with a broad understanding of many forms of religion and ideas of God, hoping that when they were really curious and ready, our kids could embark on their own process with a good foundation—a process that wasn’t biased or misinformed. What we’ve come to realize lately though, is that in an attempt to be open, we may actually have been depriving our kids of the opportunity to develop any sort of faith.
So, back to the car. I thought for moment and chose the most direct answer. I explained he was crucified and the basics of what that entailed. I opted to leave out the public ridicule, beatings, crown of thorns, and stabbing—crucifixion seemed like enough. Keana (of course) asked why that was done to him, and I explained that some people don’t like to hear things that are contrary to their own beliefs or way of thinking, and unfortunately, it can and has resulted in some pretty sad and horrible outcomes. That seemed to go over relatively smoothly with the kids—and Maia was actually already drifting off to sleep, being exhausted from the day—which was probably good because Keana’s next question was, “How come you go to a bad place when you kill yourself?”
Yeah. Wasn’t ready for that one.
I think it’s safe to say that Christianity, and going to church regularly, is a pretty big thing in our current town of Fresno. It’s common enough that I’ve been asked on many occasions if I knew so-and-so through [the kids’] school or church. The church option never came up in the Bay Area. Also, a big population of Keana’s school are Mexican/Latino, so Catholicism is pretty prevalent I think, too. This is all to say that after the suicide question, I was pretty sure she was getting all her info from her friends at school.
Holy shit. Suicide? Hell? For first graders? Really people? These are the foundations of faith you’re sharing with your kids? On behalf of parents that are trying not to scar their kids and raise them in fear, I thank you. I calmly went on to tell Keana that there are different flavors of Christianity and in some of those, they believe bad things happen to you when you do certain things. I quickly followed it with the fact that Christianity is really based on love and that is the core principal to pay attention to. Sarah stepped in (thankfully) adding that it’s okay for everyone to believe whatever they want, but it’s important for each of us to make our own choices and respect others’.
The conversation continued for the full 40-minute-ride home and in the end I was a little worn out, but thankful that we could have a talk like that, in that way, as a family. Although there are many things that point to Keana’s maturity and growth, it’s conversations like that that remind me how much she (and all kids in general) pick up on, and how important it is for them to not only be able to talk to their parents or other adults about it, but to be met with an openness that encourages their own thinking and questions, and allows them to explore safely. At least I hope that’s what we did. Damn. That was weeks ago and I’m still processing it; great practice for what’s to come.
Yesterday, Keana took her first big field trip. In kindergarten they went somewhere local for a play, but yesterday the first graders hopped on charter buses and headed to Monterey Bay. We had thought about taking the rest of the family and meeting them there, but work and other factors prevented such a plan. As the field trip day got closer and closer, more and more parents were asking me if I was going. It was funny because I got the sense that the parents were more nervous than the kids. The kids were excited (or at least all the ones I talked to). It was almost as if the parents were checking in with the group to get a read on where everyone else was at with letting their kids go on this faraway adventure from home.
I didn’t really think much of it, but a couple days before the field trip I started asking myself, “Should I be more worried or nervous? Should I try harder to be a chaperone or make plans to meet them there?” This only lasted a second though and then I settled back down. Keana is such a great rule-follower that I knew she would stick with the group and be safe. But then my mind started racing to bus accidents and bad weather and, and, and. Shhhh. Quiet mind. I told myself it would be fine and let it go.
5:00 a.m. came much too soon (as it always does when you have to be somewhere early like that). Keana was so worried I wouldn’t get up, that I knew I couldn’t let her down. So I got right up and started trying to wake her. She was out. Eventually I got her to open her eyes and it didn’t take long for her to get going once she realized that it was finally time for the big adventure to the aquarium. It was still pitch dark outside as we pulled up to the school, and once she saw those big charter buses, she started bobbing up and down and said, “Hurry Papa, hurry! We gotta get on the bus!” I assured her they weren’t going anywhere and hadn’t even started loading yet since we were pretty early. This had zero affect on her. She was ready to go.
It was so much fun to see the kids hug each other upon arrival and jump up and down with excitement. The crowd of parents were almost as excited as the kids but we contained our hugs and jumps. I gave her a hug, said I loved her, and there was no hesitation boarding the giant charter bus and finding a seat. I stuck around to wave goodbye, though I couldn’t tell if she saw me through the tinted windows, but I stayed anyway, just in case.
The day went on and periodically it sunk in that our baby was 150 miles away and completely out of our grasp. I knew she was having a blast though and I imagined all the wonderful things she was seeing for the first time and all the fun she was having with her teacher and friends. I knew this was good for her, good for us, and a really amazing experience for a little six-year-old. It was such a great reminder how important it is to let your kids go sometimes and it was also a very small preview into the future.
When I picked her up from school I heard from her teacher that they stopped at McDonalds and Keana told them she had never been. They were all very surprised of course, and she proceeded to tell them that her papa won’t let her eat there because they chop down rain forests to feed their cattle. One of the kids said that wasn’t true and Keana responded, “Well, my dad is older than you so I think he knows better.” The kids then decided that maybe they should go somewhere else next year. Then of course she went on to say how her favorite food was really sushi and I just had to laugh. What do these Fresnoites think of us? Eh, who cares. It is what it is. She had an ice-cream cone though so that seemed like a good alternative.
When asked what her favorite fish were, she responded with jellyfish, octopus, and sunfish. Slowly, more and more details are coming out about the trip, but it’s clear that she learned lots, had a blast, and truly enjoyed the whole experience: from arriving at school in the dark morning, to riding the bus with her friends, to seeing all the animals in the aquarium, to yes, even McDonalds.
Today was Keana and Maia’s first trip to the ballet and what was on the bill? None other than The Nutcracker. It was Grandma Jennie’s Christmas gift, and we were all excited. Sarah hadn’t been since she was a kid (to that very same theater), and I realized that I had never been to a ballet before either.
Sarah got the girls dressed up in their holiday finest, and we dropped Aliya off at Grandma’s house. It was weird leaving our fifth member behind, but there was no way she was going to go. So it was a little sad but also kind of special just being able to focus on Keana and Maia.
Maia was hating her stockings and shoes all the way to the William Saroyan Theater, but once we got out of the car and headed towed the large building, she was immediately distracted. The theater is really nice and we got there with plenty of time to hang out and enjoy the experience. The girls were very anxious to get inside and see what it was all about.
We found our seats and I noticed right away that there wasn’t a live orchestra which was really surprising and also pretty disappointing, but I tried not to let that soil my experience. The girls were buzzing with anticipation, and Maia especially liked the self-folding seats. The lights dimmed, the music started, and the curtain raised. Show time.
Throughout the show I looked over to see what the girls’ reactions were, and they were pretty engrossed, for the first 30 minutes. Then the hunger and tiredness kicked in a little. Surprisingly, they had very few questions. We had sort of prepped them with what to expect, so maybe that helped. By intermission though, Keana was sad with hunger and Maia really needed to be close to Sarah. I tried to get them to go to the bathroom, but they insisted they didn’t have to go. The lights dimmed, the music started, and Act II began.
Maia was definitely having a harder time paying attention, but there was more action and more frequent cast changes, so they were pretty into it. The Russian dancers were almost more B-Boy than Russian, but were still really impressive and got the audience pumped up (and gave the girls a little jolt). They even had a dude in a wheelchair doing stands on his head, wheelchair lifted straight in the air. Crazy. I felt sort of bad for the other dancers in the other segments, because I’m sure they were doing really impressive stuff, but the crowd reacted much more boisterously to the Russian dance crew.
15 minutes to the end Keana started complaining about having to go to the bathroom really bad, but I convinced her to hold it telling her it was almost over and I didn’t want her to miss the end. The Pas de Deux at the end was really well done and you could tell the principals were quite talented. I couldn’t help but think they cut the orchestra to pay for better dancers, but it was a ballet, so that’s probably a good thing. Still, I was bummed the girls did ‘t get the live orchestra experience too (of course, they had no idea). Anyway, when all was said and done, the lifts were amazing and so was the footwork (or whatever it’s called). The bows at the end were fun and the size of the cast was really impressive.
The girls also enjoyed catching glimpses of the cast in their costumes in the lobby, but were pretty much ready to bounce at that point. When I asked them which were their favorite sections/dancers, they both replied “all of them”. So there you go, the first trip to the ballet. I’m really thankful we could go as a family and I’m looking forward to future performances. Now that Keana and Maia are a little older, these sort of excursions are becoming possible, and today was a really nice taste of what’s to come.
Yesterday was a right of passage for our big girl: Keana got her ears pierced. She had mentioned it on and off before, but something in the last week clicked in her head and she was pretty determined to get it done. She talked to Sarah about it and they decided it was a fine time for such a thing. I didn’t really mind either way, but I did want to make sure it was done right. Sarah had her ears pierced with the standard “gun in the mall” and I had mine done (much later) at this hippy joint in Santa Cruz with a needle, so we had both experiences to compare. Ultimately we decided the needle was the safest, best option, and we began to research places in Fresno. We ended up at High Class Tattoo and Piercing, mostly because they seemed knowledgeable and no one else had a piercer working, and there was no delaying this event.
Keana was beaming with excitement. I’ve included video and photos below to fully capture the moment, but here’s the basic story. Prior to leaving, we tried to give Keana an idea of what might happen and how it might feel. We were pretty honest about the pain and she was still really excited to go. So once we found the place, we all hopped in the car and headed out. When we pulled up I saw a group of five guys covered in tattoos and piercings smoking out front, and only realized at that point that it might be kind of weird for the girls, so reassured them it was safe and that even though these guys looked different than maybe what they were used to, they were really nice. And it was true (thankfully).
We asked a few basic questions and John the piercer pulled out some small rhinestone earrings to choose from. There were surgical steel hoops as well, but Keana wanted the sparkle (gasp, surprise). She initially wanted the blue sparkly ones, but they weren’t sterilized yet, so instead of waiting 30 minutes for that to happen, she opted for the “diamonds”. We headed back to a room, he sterilized the area on each lobe, marked the spot, and had us check. I suggested we center it a little more in case she wanted to stretch them later in life, he agreed, and made the adjustments. He told her to take a deep breath in and out, and I could tell by the small amount of liquid pooling in her eyes that Keana had just had her first piercing. She was so brave. Her lip didn’t even quiver a bit. I could tell she was toughing it out, but she never cried or flinched. He got the earring in and moved to the other side. Keana seemed ever so slightly more apprehensive, knowing now how much it was going to hurt, but Sarah and I reminded her to breathe, and Sarah held her hand. Again, a hint of tears, but none dropped, and it was done. A big smile spread across her face when we asked if she wanted to see. Upon looking in the mirror, I could tell she was pretty impressed. She thought she looked beautiful and so did we.
It was a moment when I was proud and sort of sad at the same time. I didn’t want her to feel like she needed earrings to be grown-up or pretty, but I didn’t want to be controlling or hinder her growth either. I think Sarah and I both wanted to support her in a decision that seemed right for her at this time, and I think it was a good little test in this first of many rights of passage.
This morning was quite unique. We awoke as usual: Aliya woke up first, crying for “Mama”, just before six. Not long after, Maia began to stir, snuggled in next to me as lately, she’s found her way back into our bed in the middle of the night. Then “stomp stomp stomp” went Big Zoob’s (Keana) feet, eager and excited to get ready for school and get the day started. It was cold though, so Keana crawled into bed with Maia and I as Maia complained about the kitty crowding her. Keana said “Papaaaa! Get up! We’re going to be late!” and I had to reassure her there was plenty of time—several times. But finally, after the snoozed alarm on my watch went off for the fourth time, I dragged myself out of bed as the kids and kitty dropped to the floor around me and took off running.
And it was like that, business as usual. Aliya joined us and wondered around, being busy as only walking babies can be with all sorts of little baby projects, scrounging occasional bites of bagel from Keana, Maia, and I when she was in the vicinity. As we ate, Keana began to talk about all her loose teeth—there were five—and said this particular one on the bottom was annoying her. Then, much to my surprise, she asked me if I would pull it out. I laughed a little nervously, asked if she was serious, and then said “sure.” Keana got very excited and started talking about how excited she was going to be to show Ms. Daigle and her classmates, and I realized that losing teeth was social currency in first grade. It was exciting, different, and a sure sign that showed you were growing up. Missing teeth, especially freshly lost ones, got you attention and Keana wanted her some of that this morning.
I tore off a little piece of paper towel, folded it around the tooth, and began to pull straight up, gently, just as I had done many years ago on my own teeth. I had a method in my youth and once I got my fingers around the tooth, it all came back to me. Maia and Aliya looked on with excited curiosity. I watched Keana’s face for signs of discomfort but she was all good. The paper towel soaked through, so I got another little piece and tried again, this time applying a little more pressure. I saw Keana’s eyes close and a concentrated calm came over her. The next second I felt the root of that little tooth pop free and Keana and I both laughed with excitement. I think was as surprised as she was. Maia jumped up and down and declared, “It came out! You’re so big sissy!” and Aliya squealed and turned in circles, not knowing quite what to do. We all examined the tooth briefly and Keana ran into the bedroom where Sarah was to share what we had just done.
When I rolled out of bed this morning, never did I imagine I would be extracting a tooth. That’s just life with these crazy kids though: moment to moment, adventure to adventure, big, and small.