Wild by Cheryl Strayed

I finished reading Cheryl Strayed’s Wild two weeks ago. It’s been a long, long time since I am so into a book. Lying on my bedside table is a tall stack of unfinishables, but within a month’s time, amidst the frantic busyness, I read page after page of Wild.

The most incredible thing about reading Wild is that the prose brings me along on the journey that Cheryl took, hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (commonly known as the PCT) and discovering our own lost. Perhaps one of the reasons I took to this book is a shared sentiment with Cheryl – losing a piece of ourselves after losing someone very close to us. I didn’t take a drastic hiking journey, but I could relate to that feeling of the world closing in. Cheryl wrote incredibly well; the amount of detail is just right without being boring. The flow is intact as the story moves intermittently back and forth between her hike and her memories of the past.

After reading the book, I felt like I have also taken a journey of self-discovery. Initially Wild reminds me of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love, but I feel that Wild is more matured and it brings a sense of closure whereas I couldn’t even bring myself to finish reading Eat Pray Love (for some reason).

Have you read Wild? Did you watch the movie? Did you enjoy it as much as I do?


Read: French Children Don’t Throw Food

I wrote about some of my personal reflections as I read Pamela Druckerman’s French Children Don’t Throw Food, here, here, and here. Overall, I enjoyed her observations on parenting the French way and found some of the information useful. As mentioned before, what I like most about this parenting book is that it is not like the usual parenting “manuals” which gives us various advice and professional insight on what to (or not to) do to our children. Instead, this book offers me another perspective to parenting — what to do about ourselves, which will then help us to become sane parents. Yes, I deliberately choose the word “sane” instead of “better” because (1) there is really no hard set of rules on parenting, so better or not is pretty subjective, and (2) many of us are inflicting an irrational fear in ourselves due to an overload of information on the various aspects of parenting. Hey, some parents never had access to all these parenting gurus yet their children are undoubtedly well brought up. So there you go.

I finished reading the book a couple of weeks ago, and I am glad that I did it in perfect timing. I was struggling with some uncertainties about parenting styles, especially in terms of discipline and cultivating good habits in my children. French Children affirmed my own beliefs and it gave me a confidence boost at a time when I needed it the most, accompanied by some insight on raising calm, well-behaved and independent children. What works for one may not be so for another, and after all, I am not living in France so some of the observations may not be practical here. But it’s always good to know that parents all over the world face similar challenges, and the ways to overcome them are not as out-of-reach as some of us may believe.


Striking the Balance in Discipline

Unfortunately, there are endless scenarios, and no one rule about what to do in every case. … Sometimes you listen carefully to your kid. And sometimes you just put him on the scales.

– French Children Don’t Throw Food by Pamela Druckerman

I used feel like what Druckerman likened in her book to dancing salsa: when to be strict and no-nonsense, and when to literally stoop to my child’s level and try to understand why he was throwing tantrums rolling down on the floor. I used to be a hard-core disciplinarian and resorted to a smack whenever my toddler didn’t obey. Then, I noticed that he started hitting too, and I got worried that I was sending the wrong message to him; that hitting is okay when the other party is not complying. So I switched to the other extreme after reading Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids by Dr. Laura Markham. According to her, I should acknowledge his emotions (e.g. “I know that you are angry.”) instead of hitting or yelling. So I tried that but it didn’t work. The toddler is still hitting, and I even got into a disagreement with the husband (a.k.a. the daddy) who strongly felt that there are times when a smack on the bottom is necessary. I became confused.

As a Christian, I then tried to reconcile God’s word on “to not spare the rod” with God’s loving nature. I am pretty sure that God’s wisdom is beyond wielding the cane whenever a toddler decides to defy my instructions. So I turned to Christian literature and read the Parenting Collection by Dr. James Dobson. I found the answer to my question in p. 16 of the book.

First, they (parents) should decide whether an undesirable act represents a direct challenge to their authority .. The form of disciplinary action they take should depend on the result of that evaluation.


Three Course Meals for My Babies?

In French Children Don’t Throw Food, Pamela Druckerman described the French way of parenting, and why it is so appealing. I wrote about the importance of quality time, when just being present is not enough in parenting while quoting the book. In this post, I am reflecting on the French way of feeding their children, as described in the book.

I am a firm believer of table manners and that children should eat whatever that is prepared for them. I heard stories of picky eaters, and had a personal encounter with one classic example. I am adventurous when it comes to food, and I eat almost anything edible regardless the method of preparation. My motto is “be grateful that I have food on my plate and do not complain”. I tried to instil this in my children, but them being so young and also susceptible to various external (and possibly not-so-positive) influence, I am very concerned about their eating habits.

According to the book, French children are able to sit through mealtimes at the dining table and they are willing to taste everything which is served before them. The key to this, it seems, is by not offering snacks throughout the day (thank you for affirming this!) and to not give up in feeding different types of food even though they may reject it at first. The first point is common sense; we gobble down our food when we are hungry. As for the second point, it takes a lot of patience, perseverance and creativity. But it is do-able and the outcome is apparently achievable. Most importantly, when we are consistent about it, a good eating habit is developed.

I read the chapter on how to feed children the French way at the best timing. Frankly speaking, I am getting a bit bored with my own menu on what to feed my children. I don’t have much time in terms of food preparation but I suppose that’s no excuse if I am serious in cultivating a healthy eating habit in my babies. After reading that chapter, I am going to put in more effort in meal planning, try to get my son to help out in food preparation and be more patient in developing my daughter’s love for food.

Another noteworthy point is on offering sweets to children. It seems that totally prohibiting children from sweets and chocolate is not only ineffective; it may be counter-productive because well, ever heard that forbidden fruit tastes the sweetest? Therefore the main idea is moderation. Offer all kinds of food in moderation, and within what Druckerman describes as cadre (which translates to framework) in the parenting realm. Let the children have their treats of sweets, say during parties, or weekends, or whenever you feel that they could, but at other times they shouldn’t even bother to ask for it. Upon reflection, this was the way which I was brought up. My parents allowed me to take soft drinks, cold drinks, sweets, chewing gum, ice-cream and all those junk food which some parents frowned upon. But somehow I always knew my limit and I didn’t try to break it. So apparently my parents already had a pretty good framework in place when it comes to food.

When Just Being Present Is Not Enough

“… the study found that what’s especially crucial is the mother’s ‘sensitivity’ – how attuned she is to her child’s experience of the world.”

“Kids fared better with a caregiver who was sensitive, whether it was a nanny, a grandparent or a nursery worker.”

The above quotes were taken from pages 140 and 141, respectively, of Pamela Druckerman’s French Children Don’t Throw Food. I bought this book when I was at a stage where I was doubting my own beliefs and principles in parenting, due to various external pressures. I was hoping that this book would give me some insight into raising well-behaved human-beings and in some ways, that it will confirm what I have always believed to be true. I am glad that I am reading it, because it seems that my understanding of how parenting should be is extremely similar to what the French believes in. I am beginning to fall in love with France.

Being a stay-at-home mom, I hope that my consistent presence in my children’s lives especially during their early years make a difference to them. That is one of the main reasons for me to choose the diaper bag over the laptop bag. However, as I spent my days changing soiled diapers, washing milk bottles and trying to persuade a toddler to take his bath every single morning, I began to doubt if my choice was a wise one, if not a practical one. There were times when I know that I would have reacted differently to my children’s behaviour if I were a working mom. And I began to realize that by just being present is not enough.

I find Druckerman’s book engaging because it doesn’t tell me what I should do to my children. Instead, its message is more on what I can do for myself in order to be able to provide the right “framework” for my children to grow up in. Yes, I like that word – “framework”.

Women Hold Up Half The Sky

I used to be a feminist when I was in high school, naively arguing with my classmates (especially egoistic males) about gender equality and insisting on doing most of the things without asking for the guys’ help. When I entered university, I observed that many of the females who were talking about equal opportunities for both genders, also complained that males nowadays were not chauvinistic anymore. I was perplexed… if we want equality, why are we expecting to still be treated as a weaker sex? I suppose the arguments are complex and I just oversimplified the whole picture. Since then, I stopped thinking about gender equality and bought more into equal opportunity and meritocracy. Give us a level field to play in, and judge us based on our capabilities. Unfortunately, this is not the case in many parts of the world.

I came to know about Half The Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn when they were interviewed in The Oprah Winfrey Show. I am aware of rampant poverty in Africa and some parts of Asia. Coming from an Asian family myself, I am also very familiar with the cultural perception that “boys are more worthy than girls”. Nevertheless, reading the book horrified me. The details of what girls in the two places mentioned above went through just because they were girls, redefined the need for equal opportunity, especially in education. They are not talking about who had to wash dishes or had to take care of the babies. They are talking about gross violations of human rights – human trafficking, being denied of pre- and post-natal care and child marriages among others.

Things will not be perfectly fair, but I believe that creating an awareness as such on the plight of others can change our mindsets, hopefully our attitudes as well, and in turn make the world a better place to live in for both males and females.