Do butterflies ever reminisce about being caterpillars?

When I was eleven, I flew alone for the first time. My flight transported me from Phoenix to San Diego, from one world to another. I reluctantly looked back at my parents as I slowly passed through the security checkpoint. I remained eerily silent as I was escorted through the terminal. A huge badge with a smiling airplane was slapped onto my chest and I was seated next to the other nervous children. A little girl my age was reading Stuart Little and a boy, about six, spilled his Sprite on me within a few minutes of boarding. “Why can’t I just sit with the adults?” I sighed to myself.

After an hour of watching castle-shaped clouds twist and billow outside my window, after tuning out of that chaotic, yet boring cabin and allowing my imagination to wildly float off to unexplored territory, we arrived at San Diego International Airport. My grandparents were waiting for me and had an exciting itinerary planned, which include: playing at the beach, boating and fishing, In-N-Out Burger, Sea World, the Wild Animal Park, Charlie’s by the Sea, visiting relatives, Seaport Village, and many other exciting excursions. That week is a treasure box in my mind, a time capsule that holds some of my fondest memories.

One of the most memorable moments of that trip was passing through two hanging chain curtains at the Wild Animal Park into an exhibit brimming with the most vividly colored butterflies I had ever seen, more wonderful than I could ever imagine. I felt like I was entering “The Secret Garden.” I was amazed and overwhelmed with awe. How could so much beauty be contained in such a small enclosure? 

On the way in, we passed by a smoker. I scrunched up my face and held my nose as I glanced up at him with obvious disgust. 

Imagine my astonishment when that same man walked into the exhibit and was greeted by dozens of gorgeous butterflies! They fluttered gracefully toward him and perched on every exposed inch of him. I felt a sharp pang of jealousy in my chest and sadness in my heart. I envisioned the delicate origami insects catching flame, their bodies slowly contorting as they burned, their iridescent ashes carried away in the light breeze until not a trace remained. I was devastated.  

Every now and then, I think back on my childhood. I miss the sense of awe and wonder over every little thing – butterflies, airplanes, new animals, new people, new places, new ideas. I miss my naïvety and innocence; I miss being ignorant of the world’s problems. I miss my sense of fearlessness and my eagerness to go out and explore that vast new world and experience life. Sometimes I miss being taken care of and having decisions made for me, having that responsibility placed on someone else’s shoulders.

But then I realize that I’m a lot like a butterfly. We all are, really. I have experienced and learned so much in the past 11 years and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. As much as I am inherently the same person, I am so different than I was as a child. I am kinder,  wiser, and have even acquired a bit of social tact. Even the bad experiences – even flocking towards a smoker to taste his bittersweet poison – have their place, have something beneficial to offer.  

I don’t think butterflies reminisce about being caterpillars. 

Each of us is on a journey, which consists of self-discovery and building a legacy (whether through family, work, or something else). Once we recognize what’s holding us back, we have the chore of overcoming those barriers. Recognition can be equated to emergence from one’s cocoon. A new life awaits you. However, what’s the point of having beautiful and expansive wings if you’re too afraid to take flight?

Butterflies don’t look back on their past life because they are free. They have nothing holding them back. They keep moving forward because they have nothing to lose; they know that they have everything in the world to gain.

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Life is cataclysmic and surreal

Sometimes life rattles our bearings and sends cracks creeping through our foundation. Every now and then, we need to be reminded that we are still alive, that this mediocre and monotonous life can be so much more. This life is so much more.

A natural compulsion drives each of you to the edge, where you stand with your toes desperately clinging to the rim. The clatter between your ears roars as you try to focus. Your hopes, prayers, and dreams are overwhelmed and you are left helplessly crouched alone on the cold, hard concrete.

Suddenly, you feel a harsh jab into your side and a voice from within screams “Stop lying to yourself! You aren’t the puppeteer of your life, you don’t dictate the rules, and you certainly don’t control your destiny. You never have.”

People often say that a traumatic event has the power to awaken them from their dream life. Disaster opens their eyes to reality. Negative is transformed into positive through lessons learned and new realizations of potential.

Adversity likes to take me by the arm and drag me along to places I have no desire to go. He throws punches and knocks me under the chin. My violent teacher tries to teach me lessons I don’t want to learn. He makes me doubt myself.

I don’t fight back. I don’t feel anything. I can’t win. I never could.

When the pending cataclysm finally strikes, reality ends. Reality is shattered. A million shards of glass litter the garden path of my mind.

Rather than waking to truth and substantive existence, I shut it out. I shut down. After countless hours hiding under the bed or cowering in a corner, I fall asleep. I fall into a terrible nightmare, a phantasm in which my deepest secrets and and darkest fears are made reality. I descend into a world in which life is a distant dream, a world in which I no longer exist.

Trauma doesn’t jar me awake. Life’s upheavals lead to despair and emotional detachment. The walls of my life collapse around me, burying me deeper and deeper. I reach for help. Tears well up behind my despondent eyes. I lose hope. I give up and sink into the endless abyss.

Trauma shuts me down. Emotionally. Physically. Socially. Mentally.

Pain hurts. I can’t deal. It hurts. I just can’t deal.

What new reality? What new realizations? There are none. I don’t know what everyone else is talking about. Life is a joke and I’m just a simple pawn, a little piece of carved maple wood governed by a cruel and menacing outside force.

But that’s not true.

Sorrow seeps into the fissures of your cracked foundation. That anguish freezes, expands, and erodes the pillars of your mind from the inside out. When the core of your being is on the brink of collapse, what the hell are you supposed to do? What are your options?

You can stand in the midst of the crumbling structures and watch as the rubble of your life topples over and piles up around you. You can give up hope and give into failure and destruction. When Adversity chuckles in your face, you can hang your head and wait for his fierce blow. You can give into fear, give up without even putting up a fight.

And the other option? You can grab a tube of caulk and start filling in the cracks. Reinforce the structure of your mind, your beliefs, and your way of life. You have the power to fight for what you believe. Fight for the life you want to life, the life you deserve, the life that you know you deserve.

Each of us has has been equipped with knowledge and intuition that hold power beyond our comprehension. You and I know both what is inherently good and right for our own life, as well as what will be harmful.

Your life, your future, your potential lies in your own hands.

Don’t invite the Trojan horse outside your door in for tea; don’t kindly motion the world’s most violent army into your home.  Rather, actively choose to overcome fear and adversity, fill in the cracks instead of watching them expand, and take responsibility for your life.

A cataclysmic and surreal life could be equated to a depressing and detached existence. However, a cataclysmic and surreal life may also involve embracing changes with an open mind and sense of wonder. Change is inevitable. Your response to that change is in your hands. So, what are you going to do?

Preschool in three cultures: Japan, China, and the United States

What is the purpose of a preschool? How should the teacher and students interact with one another? What should a child take away from the experience – socialization, an academic education, or nothing in particular? These questions are complicated independently, but even more so because they vary across cultures.

In Preschool in Three Cultures: Japan, China, and the United States, Tobin et al compares the structure and experiences of preschools across the globe in this fascinating cross-cultural study. (The results were collected in the late 1980’s, but I did some research and much of what was found in this study is still relevant today.)

Ethnography. The researchers went to each of the three countries and sought out preschools that were typical of the country. They then visited the schools and discreetly filmed an average day. After capturing videos from each country, the researches showed all three of the films to preschoolers, teachers, administration, and parents in each country. For their native country, people rated how true-to-life the scenes were and also took questionnaires about what they expect from their preschools and teachers. Individuals in each country watched videos of the foreign preschools and commented on what thought.

The results were fascinating, with several surprises.

Japan. The culture is often viewed as placing a high priority on academics and structure; however, surprisingly, these traits are not seen in the preschool setting. Japanese preschools follow government guidelines that emphasize play and socialization, which is intended to supplement parental teaching (e.g. children should learn to read at home). The schools are chaotic, loosely structured, and easy-going. Children spend 10 to 12 hours each day at preschool while their parents work. There is a 30-to-1 child-teacher ratio; this inevitably leads to chaos, but it encourages children to resolve conflicts amongst themselves, rather than seeking the help of a teacher. The older children (3-4 years old) are expected to help take care of the toddlers. In times of conflict, teachers act neutral and only interfere if someone could be hurt badly. For example, in the book, the teacher did not respond to any of the following incidences: a boy pulling down his pants, intentionally stepping on another’s hand, and throwing cards over a balcony.

China. The Chinese culture is generally viewed as one in which education and acedemics are of utmost importantance and this perception is relatively accurate. Chinese preschools are not regulated by the government, so those in urban areas tend to be more modern. However, the preschools all have the same emphasis on academic instruction, being a good member of society, and counteracting parental spoiling (teachers should be strict and discourage selfishness). Most children spend 12 to 14 hours a day at preschool while their parents work; others are boarded at school and only see their parents once or twice a week (boarding is far less common today than when the study was performed). In the Chinese schools, there is a focus on order, silence, doing things correctly, and impressing foreigners with song and dance. Teachers hold a high level of authority and enforce the rules with a strict hand, although they are not allowed to punish with anything more than a stern glare.

United States. The US culture highlights the importance of individuality, freedom, and independence. In American preschools, there is a strong emphasis on discovering and builing up each child’s special gifts and talents. The US meshes academics and play. children either attend full-day (7 hour) or half-day (3-4) programs, occasionally staying for after-care. In American schools teachers run the show, are diplomatic with children (voting, taking responsibility for one’s actions, and making negotiations), and resolve problems before they get out of hand rather than letting children work things out among themselves.

Despite all these striking differences, preschools in Japan, China, and the United States have several similarities. Across cultures, parents of preschoolers find themselves torn between their desire to nurture, indulge, and bond with their children and the pressure they feel to build up the qualities of self-reliance and perseverance. In addition, all feel that spoiling and the giving children too much attention are a problem. Each country has lower fertility rates than in the past, is educationally competitive, and is an industrial society; thus, parents cannot afford to invest themselves emotionally in their children from birth (unlike countries with high fertility rates, where the primary goal is to keep each infant alive), so they place some of that responsibility in their child’s preschool. Child-rearing is labor-intensive, capital-intensive, and time-intensive for parents, so a high-quality education and childhood for their limited number of children become more important than having a large number of offspring.

In preschools, children are taught to find satisfaction in interactions with people other than parents and to draw attention to themselves by exhibiting competence, rather than neediness. Being in such a social setting requires children to take turns in the limelight and to find stimulation in both solitary and group play. In each culture, preschool is seen as an environment in which a child can learn to achieve a balance between the group and the individual and to act as a functioning member of the larger group.

Social constructions of masculinty

In today’s culture, men are expected to be powerful, emotionally impenetrable, extremely potent, and less sexually expressive than women. In the article Pills and Power Tools by Susan Bordo, it is suggested that culture breeds men to view themselves as resilient machines; men give their penises nicknames such as Torpedo and Destroyer because they suggest continual competency (whereas the human sexual organ is subject to anxiety and perceived failure). Impotence is defined as “weakness” and a “lack of effectiveness” – the term reduces a complex human condition down to chemistry (“it’s not your fault”), but reinforces the sense of shame (“you need to see a doctor and get on Viagra”).

 

Unlike women, men feel that they have to perform and, thus, expect themselves to be able to do so at the drop of a hat. Sexual dysfunction issues are difficult for men to talk about because they feel that it signifies a loss of masculinity. Interestingly, the original Viagra ads failed to mention a partner – it was simply a man, a pill, and his member; it seems as though the theme was about living up to expectations of masculinity, rather than about satisfying one’s self and one’s partner. Sexual dysfunction is no longer defined as the “inability to get an erection” and is no longer seen as related to feelings and pleasure, but rather is based simply on performance and living up to society’s and one’s own expectations. Viagra and the dialogue surround the little blue pill is perpetuating the myth that men’s bodies should function as power tools and worsening the problem of sexual dysfunction in the United States.

The social constructions of masculinity affect young boys, as well as men. Although many advances have been made in the past decades in regard to gender-neutral child rearing, gender nonconformity is still often viewed as a problem because it is linked both implicitly and explicitly to homosexuality. Thus, it is important to look into new ways in which research on gender socialization can contribute to research today.

According to the article William Wants a Doll. Can he Have One? Feminists, Child Care Advisors, and Gender-Neutral Child Rearing by Karin A. Martin, the traditional feminist perspective suggests that it is beneficial for children to engage in both male and female gender roles, while other parties suggest that there is no harm in it, but that there is not necessarily any benefit.

When parents ask professionals about their child’s gender nonconformity habits, advisors generally respond that the parent shouldn’t worry, as it is their discomfort that causes the problem, not the deviant behavior itself. Another subset of advisors tell parents not to worry about gender nonconformity and help them to recode the behaviors to be gender-acceptable (e.g. a boy may like wearing dresses because they’re comfortable, not because of sexual aberration).

Although gender nonconformity is rarely posed as question about a child’s (adult) sexual preference, over half of the advisors remarked on the connection (or lack there of) between gender nonconformity and homosexuality. The fact that the topic of sexuality was brought up at all suggests that it is considered to be an issue, whether by the healthcare professional or society in general. The medicalization of gender and sexualization in young children (childhood gender identity disorder) is a hotly debated topic – some argue that gender deviance predicts future homosexuality, while others don’t see the gender deviance to be a problem unless it carries on into adolescence and adulthood.

Both readings address the issue of masculinity; however, the constructs of masculinity are clearly different for adult men and young boys – men are expected to exhibit their sexuality and live up to (sometimes) unrealistic standards, whereas little boys are expected to adhere to the male child gender role (e.g. playing with trucks, wearing pants) and sexuality doesn’t come into the picture unless the parent expresses concern about homosexuality. The topics are both seen as taboo and rarely talked about; however, both issues permeate our culture and complicate life and social interactions for men, boys, and everyone else in their lives.

Sexual constructions are guidelines implemented by society that tell men and women how they should behave and what they should believe. People are presented with and expected to uphold different rules and standards, based on their gender and age. These readings present the masculine construction that men and boys are expected to live up – to be sexual machines as adults and to embrace “masculine activities” over more feminine ones as a child. These constructs are powerful and have the ability to influence how a man views himself sexually, how he views sexuality in general, how he perceives gender roles, and how he allows these standards to influence his own behaviors. By studying the masculinity constructs, one can better understand what society expects from men and boys, as well as how men and boys respond, whether positively or negatively, to these expectations.

Cosmetic surgery for middle-schoolers?

What mother would urge her 12-year-old daughter to undergo cosmetic surgery?

Far more than you would imagine, according to my school textbook.

Throughout history, people have decorated, manipulated, and mutilated their bodies for religious reasons, social prestige, and beauty. However, over the past 30 years, the number of cosmetic surgeries have skyrocketed. As of 1991, the industry was taking in $300 million per year; I’m sure that number has only risen over the past three decades.

The chapter I wish to discuss is entitled Medicalization of Racial Features: Asian-American Women and Cosmetic Surgery, written by Eugenia Kaw (from Sex, Self, and Society by Tracey L. Steele). The author addresses how many Asian women feel that their features make them seem more stereotypically Asian, e.g. slanted eyes, eyelids without a crease, and a flat nose indicate “sleepiness,” “dullness,” and “passivity” in one’s character.

All women interviewed in the study consider themselves proud of their Asian decent; however, most feel they are not naturally beautiful, that they cannot leave their home without makeup. Several of the women underwent cosmetic surgery for double eyelids and nose bridges at a very young age – many between the ages of fourteen and sixteen, and several more in their early twenties.

What kind of mother would allow their little girl to undergo such a frivolous and seemingly unnecessary surgery? It is not clear in the chapter whether the adolescents ask for the procedure, or whether the option is presented by the mother; either way, I don’t think it’s right. The procedure takes 90 minutes, the scars take over a year to heal, and there are several risks involved (as with any medical procedure).

 

In nearly every case, the women claim to have pursued the surgery to overcome stereotypes based on their features (such as sleepy, nerdy, and no fun). They opt for cosmetic surgery in hopes of becoming more employable,  more well-liked, and more successful.

Doctors often agree to perform the procedure without question. Disturbingly, the doctors often describe the Asian features as abnormal and perpetuate the link between those characteristics and negative stereotypes when talking to their clients.

 Cosmetic surgery among Asian-American women for nose bridges and double eyelids seems to be heavily influenced by gender and racial ideologies. The standards of Western beauty are strong and influential, often making minorities – in this example Asians – feel inferior and less attractive than the American ideal. On top of that, the medical community enforces this standard and classifies the typical Asian characteristics as abnormal and something that needs to be fixed.

I found this article to be extremely disheartening. Society’s standards of beauty seem to be so skewed and unrealistic. I believe that each individual is beautiful, that everyone has something unique to offer the world, and that it’s what’s inside that really counts. It saddens me that society, in general, doesn’t seem to hold the same philosophy.

I wish I could go stand outside a cosmetic surgery clinic and plead with these people to listen to me, to believe that that truly are beautiful, regardless of how much they deviate from what they perceive to be “normal.”

Each of us needs to come to a place where we can see ourselves as beautiful. People rely so heavily on others’ opinions and I believe that it does more harm than good. It could be argued that those who created the stereotypes – let’s say, for example, white Americans – are going to hire and befriend those who look and act like they do. However, I would argue that someone who is confident and happy with themselves is going to radiate a positive and attractive energy, especially if they have reaching this state without altering their body. I would imagine this particular group – those with a healthy self-concept and self-love – are going to be most attractive to anyone looking for a new employee or friend.

Who cares if you have slanted eyes, a flat nose, big hips, or wrinkles? I’m disgusted that a woman would encourage her 12-year-old daughter to undergo such procedures to “help her in the future getting jobs”.

Teach her to love herself. Suggesting that she needs to change what she looks like to be successful is only going to hurt her self-esteem and perpetuate these harmful stereotypes. People need to learn to love themselves. If parents neither teach nor encourage their child to love themselves, just as they are, then who will?

So, what is it like to get “freshly pressed”?

I schedule each of my posts to be published just after midnight. I like waking up knowing that I’ve already accomplished something great for the day.

Last Thursday, just like any other day, I tossed around post ideas and pondered what to write about. However, after a long day – three classes and a 100-mile drive to Phoenix – I was exhausted and didn’t feel like writing. “But,” I told myself, “you committed to the Post-a-Day Challenge. Write something, even if it’s simple, and then you can go to bed.” I wanted to write something, but what?

Then it struck me. I knew what I had to write about.

Upon arriving home, the first thing I do is call out the animals’ names – Beau! Sebbi! Owen! – and smile brightly as they enthusiastically race to greet me. On Thursday, I went to my parents house to pet-sit for the weekend. My family has always had pets and they have always been special friends to me, so why not write about them? I would compose a simple little post about each of their histories, silly quirks, and why I love them so dearly.

Apparently my simple little post struck a chord with many people, as I realized Friday morning when I opened up my flooded inbox. Yep, I had definitely accomplished something great that day! On the two-month anniversary of my first post, I had been “freshly pressed”!

My initially reaction was shock – not that my dog’s face was on the WordPress homepage, but rather that such a simple and seemingly unprofound post, entitled The pet effect, would make the cut. But not long after, I began to understand. Pet ownership and a love of animals are nearly universal. Everyone has something to say. I was moved by how much love people have for their four-legged friends. I enjoyed the stories of rescued animals, obscure tricks and traits, and I sympathized with people who had lost their beloved friends.

So, what is it like to be Freshly Pressed? In one word: Overwhelming.

Thousands of new views, hundreds of comments and likes, and dozens of new subscribers. Yes, it’s exciting, very exciting! I love writing and want others to hear what I have to say – I feel so humbled to have been given such an opportunity. However, it’s a lot to deal with; it is extremely overwhelming.

Am I obligated to respond to every comment? Should I take my full name off my site (just in case)? For how much longer will the “mark as read” button in my email be my best friend? Does this mean that I’m good enough to pursue a career in writing? Are my “blogging buddies” happy for me or jealous or my good fortune? A million questions raced through my mind as I struggled to empty my inbox and approve people’s comments.

Having been “freshly pressed” is exciting, but I’m happy things are starting to slow down again. I hope each of you has the chance to experience it at some point – WordPress is filled with so much talent and each of you deserves to be recognized for your efforts! (I plan on browsing and subscribing to some of your sites, as time allows.)

To all my new readers, thank you for reading and following me; I hope you will enjoy and appreciate what I have to say. And an even bigger thanks goes out to those who have supported me since I began my WordPress journey! I couldn’t have done it without you.

The pet effect

I talk to my animals. A lot.

I love coming home – whether after several weeks or five minutes – and having my “babies” run to greet me. My dog smiles brightly as his tail wags a mile a minute.  My two kittens purr loudly – one jumps right into my arms and climbs onto my shoulders while the other collapses at my feet waiting for me to pet him.

I’ve always had pets and can’t imagine life without them. The kind souls love you unconditionally, are grateful for every moment of your time, and have the uncanny ability to brighten the worst of days.

Beau. A huge, matted mess showed up on our front porch on my last day of third grade and refused to leave. We boarded him for a week while my parents were out of the country, got him groomed and de-ticked, spent a summer calling him “dog,” and eventually gave in and invited him to stay. We fell in love with him instantly. He’s gorgeous and has the most wonderful disposition. He hates vegetables and has never learned a single trick, other than “Smile, Beau!”

Sebastian. Often refered to as Mr. Straddle Pants (his favorite position, as you can see in the picture). My mom has been dying for a “cuddly gray kitten” for years and he finally showed up this past summer. Someone had found three kittens in an abandoned house and we offered to give two of them a good home. Sebastian is as affectionate as can be, loves playing fetch, exploring with his brother, grooming the dog, cuddling under the sheets, and racing to be the first to use the clean litter box.

Owen. Nickname: Monkey Boy. He loves climbing as high as he possibly can, in attempts to attack the ceiling fan. He comes flying from across the house when he hears a door open, in hopes of venturing outside; however, when he does get out, he just stands there, in awe of that vast new world. Owen is a risk-taking adventurer, but he balances it with heavy doses of affection. He enjoys sprawling across the keyboard (especially when someone is working), watching birds through the window, tackling and grooming his brother, eating and then knocking over houseplants, and climbing on people’s shoulders, heads, and backs.

I absolutely adore my pets! They can be naughty and troublesome at times – more often than not, but they are so easy to forgive. I know that having pets has enhanced and continues to enrich my life. Pets are loving, loyal, trusting, forgiving, and really have so much to offer their humans.

They never have anything to say, but maybe that’s exactly why we love them so much.