Letting Children Fail

When I think about parenting challenges in my future, I think a lot about failure and perseverance. I’ve always had a natural tendency to not want to do anything I’m not good at, which is something that I’ve tried to work on in my adult years. As such, even though Zoe’s still so young, it’s very important to me to instill in her a desire to work at things that don’t come naturally to her, and to learn how to deal with failure.

The fact that some failure is an inevitable part of living a normal, well-balanced life was a difficult lesson for me to learn. Once I embraced it though, I could start learning how to deal with both the initial failure and my own reaction to it. It’s humbling work, but so important as I try to become a better person every day. It’s hard though: even now, the starkness of the word “failure” still startles me, and I am fighting the compulsion to soften it in this post by changing each occurrence to the more moderate “mistakes” or “errors” — I’m standing strong on this though, which, sadly for you readers, leads to a lot of word repetition!

All that’s just a long-winded (I’ve given up any attempt to work on my failure to ever be brief!) prelude to this fascinating article in The Atlantic, written by a middle-school teacher about the lengths parents go to to keep their children from experiencing failure, and how it can have an incredibly adverse effect on their development. I couldn’t agree more that failure and success are both integral parts in a child’s education, and that school is meant to teach kids so much more than just what’s in the pages of a book.

One of my favorite passages from the article:

But children make mistakes, and when they do, it’s vital that parents remember that the educational benefits of consequences are a gift, not a dereliction of duty. Year after year, my “best” students — the ones who are happiest and successful in their lives — are the students who were allowed to fail, held responsible for missteps, and challenged to be the best people they could be in the face of their mistakes.

And a great point from the comments:

One of the best things that schools, teachers, and parents can do for their students is to give them a safe place to fail. It’s much easier – and, generally, far less costly – for an 8 year old to not put in the effort and not reap the reward than it is, say, for a 24 year old to do so.

So what happens when an educational system turns out huge numbers of adults-to-be who have figured out (via their parents’ help, or on their own) how to game the system so that they never have to experience failure? Of course it has an effect on their individual personality as an adult, but what about on society as a whole? Intriguing stuff.

(Photo courtesy of St. John’s University)

Mini-Obsessions

I grew so accustomed to having an outlet here to indulge my spiraling, detailed thoughts on the ephemera that swirl through my head on a daily basis. When I took a holiday break, things began to build up in my head. Rather than inspire me to let loose with a string of posts come early January, the following would ensue: I’d have an idea of something to work through, and then instantly, I’d think, “oh, but I need to talk about Les Miz first, or that great book I tore through, or maybe it should be my college football postmortem, or hey, that service I used to print Instagram photos.” And then, all of those ideas crowding around the small door of opportunity and patience I have for writing would block each other, and like a putz, I end up saying nothing. And the pressure grows.

So, a bit of a reboot! Making a list lets me down never, so a list of my recent mini-obsessions, to clear the decks, as it were:

  • Nail art: I just bought an assortment of colors that come with teeny skinny brushes, and though I’m starting slow (a single yellow diagonal on dark grey nails), I can’t want to get super-elaborate! One lesson already learned: designs look WAY better on short nails than long.
  • Snow activities: we booked a mountain cabin weekend getaway with close friends today, and I am SO excited! We’ll be in Lake Arrowhead for Presidents Day weekend, which is apparently a great time of year to hope for snow on the ground. While spending most of our holidays in Ohio and Montana means we’re pretty familiar with snow, something tells me that experiencing it with a passel of small children (four under 4!) is going to make it a whole lot crazier, hopefully in a fun way.
  • The Manti Te’o Fake Dead Girlfriend Scandal: Y’all. Y’ALL!!! Maybe the most surreal sports story of the year, and it is MID-JANUARY. And given that it’s a bit of a slow time for news in general, people are jumping all over this, including these tweets.
  • The Africa They Never Show You: I’m guilty of having thought, sure, I’d love to travel more, but not necessarily to Africa. This Tumblr changed my mind in a jiffy. The above photo, showing the Simien Mountains in Ethiopia, is making me weak in the knees!
  • Churro Kettle Corn: From my glorious mecca, the reason I have taste buds. The world is amazing.
  • Safety Not Guaranteed: Now that I’ve seen pretty much all the prestige 2012 Oscar bait that I wanted to, I can confirm my suspicion from six months ago that this quirky indie — ostensibly about a crazy dude who thinks he can time travel, but really about the huge, real, breathtaking risk of real relationships, and the immense pleasures in life available when we drop the veneer of irony — would be my favorite movie of the year. I just rewatched it, and yup — it made me feel all the good tingles all over again… no, not those, you perv. Canadian tuxedos don’t quite do it for me. Trailer: [youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=82y3OQoPqp0%5D

Ahhhhhhh. It’s good to be back!

(Photo from David Ruiz Luna’s Flickr, via The Africa They Never Show You)

Holiday Gift Guides

I adore gift-giving. It’s shocking, really, from someone as selfish as I can be (I’m an only child! Not accustomed to sharing!), but I get so much joy out of figuring out what to get for a loved one that s/he will appreciate, but not have thought of for him or herself. So I let myself go a little crazy at Christmas, starting usually right after Thanksgiving.

But — besides the schadenfreude-laden glee that I get from reading Walmart-related tweets — I can’t stomach crazy Black Friday trips to the shops. There’s the pressure to grab-and-buy-and-grab-and-buy, there simply isn’t enough selection, and it’s rare to find a brick-and-mortar store that’s perfectly curated to my tastes. So, unsurprisingly, once I’ve gathered my list for the year, I turn to the internet for help.

And help it does! Gift guides are a very popular feature for blogs at the end of the year, because duh, these are my people, and having an opportunity to go into raptures about awesome stuff found in every crevice of the internet is pretty much nirvana.

I’m too late to do a gift guide of my own this year, but I thought, for those of you who are still searching for the ideal present, I’d do a quick roundup of some great guides that helped me this year. These are actual ones I used, so if you’re on my list and see something that you love, DO NOT BUY IT FOR YOURSELF. At least not till after Dec 25!

Happy gifting:

  • Design*Sponge’s gift guides, which are themed by both topic and price point, and absolutely chock full of exquisite, just-right things.
  • A Cup of Jo’s gift guide is targeted to specific people in Joanna’s life, but her thoughtful explanations of why each is a fitting gift will have you thinking of the folks in your life that would just love these things too.
  • Cool Hunting’s guide is a microcosm of exactly what the site is about: things that are insane, a bit superfluous, and sure to be appreciated by those folks that just get you.
  • Hammacher Schlemmer’s gifts are, yes, the ones from the SkyMall catalogue. This probably tells you all you need to know about me, but I think a lot of the things here perfectly skirt the line between ridiculous and useful, at least for my beloved friends and family. As it is, I’m mourning that our upstairs hallway’s walls are apparently not tall enough for the world’s largest write-on map mural!

(Photo courtesy of Design*Sponge’s jewelry gift guide. So sparkly!)

STFU, Parents

I’ve hesitated writing about STFU, Parents for a while, even though it’s quickly become one of my more rabid obsessions, taking over my life to the point where I think, “hm, what would STFU, Parents say about this” at least once a day. The hesitation isn’t because I think my obsession makes me seem like a bad parent (more like a sensible one, duh), but because I literally have SO MUCH to say about this that it seemed like a really intimidatingly long post to write.

But with the recent unveiling of Blair Koenig as the (previously anonymous) author of the blog, it seemed like a good time to share how amazing the site actually is. That link, like most of the coverage that STFU, Parents has been getting recently, pretty well misses the mark. STFU, Parents isn’t an attack on parents, or even a space for only non-parents to gather. I’ve been pregnant or a parent the whole time I’ve been reading, and far from being an unwelcoming space, it actually draws tons of parents who weigh in with their takes too.

So what is it? Nothing short of a complete, incisive takedown of the modern disease of gross over-sharing on social media. It focuses on the parenting arena, but could just as easily focus on people who can’t shut up about their pets, their medical ailments, whatever. It just happens that the experience of raising children particularly brings it out in people.
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Sherwin-Williams’ Paint Tools

We visited our new house for the final walkthrough today! It was the first time that we saw it without the sellers’ furniture, and it was incredibly exciting to imagine what the rooms are going to look like with our things in them.

As we walked around, I found myself especially daydreaming about what the walls are going to look like. Paint and wallpaper are so powerful in setting the feel of a room, whether you want it to be soothing or impactful, cheery or cozy. So since we can’t get in there and start painting yet, I’ve gone completely bonkers over online paint tools in the meantime.

Right now, I’m all about Chip It, Sherwin-Williams’ tool where you give them a photo whose colors you like or find inspirational, and they tell you what paint colors match the picture. Then you pop over to their Color Visualizer and you can look at that color (or related ones) in sample rooms to see how they look.

Without it, I never would have realized how cozy a dark bathroom might be:

Or how fun a juicy coral could be for Zoe’s room:

I can hardly wait to make some of these into reality. Play around, let me know what your favorites are!

Bonus link: TinEye’s Multicolor Search, one of my favorite color-inspiration tools. It goes the other way from Chip It: you provide the colors (and in what proportion), and it provides Flickr pictures that match those colors. Breathtaking!

The Last Name Project

Most folks who know me know that Phoenix is not my original last name. It’s fairly obvious when you see me, given that I’m 100% Asian. But I’m guessing that a lot of acquaintances assume I’m married, which I am, and that I took my husband’s last name, which… is partly true. Evan and I do share a last name, but that name isn’t one that either of us had before we married.

Instead, we made a choice that really fit both of our personalities and our relationship: we both changed our last name to something completely new.
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Feeling Old At 30


I was just reading this post today, and realized that feeling old at 30 is nothing new to me. In fact, most of her examples could have been drawn straight from my everyday life: I refuse to believe there are college graduates born in the 90s (RG3!?!), I don’t really acknowledge that my university has the shiny new (or, ahem, 6-year-old) basketball arena that was built well after my graduation, and just last night I was extolling the virtues of concerts where you get to sit down (while we’re at it, could they have them start earlier too?). My favorite part of the Glamour post is this:

You don’t start feeling older at 40, you start feeling old the second you’re made to be around people who’re younger than you masquerading as adults. I say masquerading because there can’t actually be adults younger than you, right? We all feel like the youngest adults.[emphasis mine]

It rings so true for me, because while I absolutely love being in my 30s and cherish all the experiences of the last decade, I also hands down still think of myself as young. That’s the thing that you never realize as a teenager: as the years pass, you may get old, but that doesn’t mean you feel old. You gradually add into your life the trappings of adulthood, but you don’t necessarily think of them as such in your eagerness to move forward. Then one day, you look at people 2-8 years younger than you and think, “Well, they may live on their own, but how? It’s not like they’re real adults!” And that’s it, my friends: you are old. And smug. And, by the way, if you think that literally raising an infant will steer you away from infantilizing younger adults… you’d be wrong.

So yes, there is something poignant, and depending on your outlook, even bittersweet about saying that final and probably overdue goodbye to your young adult years. Yet, when I think about the actual experiences I had of being 16, 20, 24 — I can’t believe all the things I didn’t know and how much smaller my world was. My friend recently remarked that you are supposed to know everything you’ll know in life by 30, which is a staggering thought. I’d prefer to think that in every decade, your experiences and knowledge explode exponentially, so you’re always looking back at younger you with a fond (and smug) smile. I like that, especially the thought that one day, I will look back and say about 30-year-old me, “oh, man. You knew nothing, Abby Phoenix.”

(Photo courtesy of Someecards)