The kids had a sweet Grandma. She pushed her comfort zone to hang with us – she got on that 30-hour trip to Bangkok for our first kid and tried everything (durian, street foods, even a tuk-tuk ride straight out of the movie Ong Bak!). She always had a thoughtful gesture – I’d forget my own birthday and anniversary if it weren’t for her cards. And she loved our friends. She was always there.
When we transitioned back to the US five years ago I thought turbulence was the new normal, given all the changes in healthcare (mergers, acquisitions, hospital closings and new value-based arrangements that lead to all sorts of complex partnerships). There was a lot of restructuring in the sector and especially in the public hospital system where I worked. But that pace of change pales compared to this 2020 pandemic.
It’s now eight weeks into “New York on Pause” (our lockdown). We’re patiently waiting, yet aware that nothing will be “normal” again soon, if ever. It’s easy to descend into existential despondency at the state of the US (abysmal levels of incompetence and obstruction from the White House, anti-Asian discrimination and crimes, etc.). But we’re also at a critical threshold of opportunity. Conversations I’m having these days is how this crisis is impacting career, work, and raising kids, given that all long-term goals have to be re-evaluated now. And wow, where to start, so I will skim through the leading thoughts.
The unifier-in-chief in all this is New York Governor Cuomo. His daily briefings are so valuable because there’s new information every time I look at the news. Most of it has been bad (new pathologies were emerging almost every day for weeks) but there’s also a lot of good (so much neighborly efforts, like helping elderly people who are at highest risk get their groceries). But always, even through the roughest patches, he looked at the positives. He looks for the things that are doable, he asks for help and ideas, and he tugs on your sense of community and shared values. Whatever the shortcomings of his approach, he brought us all together on this. His briefings are broadcast daily across the globe.
And if you followed these briefings, there are a lot of things to learn about how the future is shaping up, at least in New York State. The leadership here at least seem to recognize the golden opportunity at this juncture to re-imagine and re-shape the future of this region. It’s not a stretch to think how our careers, lives and our kids’ education will change to accommodate all of this.
Cuomo frequently refers to the upstream factors around our epidemic and the response. Why are specific demographics more vulnerable? Why are hospital systems not coordinating? Why is the distribution of needed equipment and supplies so poor? The problems are so disparate, so far upstream, and yet they converged to create so much disruption and deaths in NYC. Cuomo identifies a lot of these, including issues of equity and social justice:
- Over-reliance on the federal capacity
- Too few geographic sources of raw and finished products and equipment (China)
- Industries’ ability to coordinate (healthcare workers) and pivot production to where things are needed most (ventilators and masks)
- Lack of resilience of community infrastructures
- The role of systemic environmental racism, which consistently puts communities of color at higher risk of health issues – more crowding around homes and workplaces, associated poor quality of home and work spaces, the type of service work our communities typically take, unstable access to food / childcare / healthcare. This is just to mention a few!
Given the national political landscape, it’s so refreshing to have a regional coalition of governors who coordinate data-driven initiatives to 1) get us out of this mess, 2) guide the re-opening, and 3) lead the recovery.
(The daily briefings – over the course of two months now – literally touch on all the principles of population health. Watching them are like a refresher course on public health and epidemiology.)
These briefings and other developments in the country offer clues as to where all of us will be pivoting. In New York State and the Northeast, there is the creation of new industries to source our own products. This doesn’t have to revolve around manufacturing factories. There are plenty of maker space opportunities. In healthcare, hospitals will start coordinating more across the public-private-civil sector space, for more effective responses to crises. For education, California State University and others will conduct all Fall classes virtually. In business, NYC’s largest finance, consulting, banking, research firms won’t be returning their workforce to the office this Fall, and are contemplating a much reduced commercial real estate footprint in the future.
Notwithstanding current challenges, the implications are massive. These developments will be upending opportunities and re-organizing the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
In civil society / community-based organizations / communities, for decades there have been dialogue about the importance of cross-sector partnerships, and attempts at institutionalizing arrangements that incorporate voices from civil society. Who else knows how to navigate our communities and channel synergies at the grassroots? Certainly not the executives or academics or politicians! In this recovery phase, our communities’ role in the policy sphere is a no-brainer.
- How do we get our community-based organizations and non-profit groups to become crisis-adaptable?
- How do we tap into the sense of civic duty and shared social responsibility?
- How do we build organizational capacity and the civic infrastructure to channel grassroots response? Hong Kong got through their epidemic despite their government! Why couldn’t we?!
For education and homeschooling, what does it mean to go through this period where all of society had to pivot to address a crisis where we have no idea what we’re up against? And then there’s the sheer pace of technological advancements during this time. Global crowdsourcing of clinical observations, preliminary research findings, emerging pathologies mean we’re deluged with information that is unfiltered and haven’t gone through rigorous peer review. How do we teach our kids:
- To be data-savvy, literate and math-literate?
- To expertly navigate the massive amount of information and to incessantly fact-check all information?
- To stay current with advancements, such as the practical emergence of big data, the use of artificial intelligence and virtual reality technologies?
- To navigate collaborative spaces, and work across industries and disciplines?
There’s so many opportunities here, at all levels of personal and work space, in community dialogue and the policy sphere. This experience with covid-19 has scarred a lot of us, where most of us in NYC do not know at least one person who died. It is a numbing experience, but it is a chance to turn all this into something positive, and it starts with each one of us who is navigating careers while raising kids. We just have to remember, no matter how bad things look, there’s always an upside. And we create opportunities from that.
Whether on city streets or deep in the Cardamom Mountains, in a poor village or inside a gated Phnom Penh villa, you’ll invariably come across small makeshift houses hanging from prominent locations in businesses and homes. They are so universally present where Khmer people are, that they collectively fade into obscurity, mirroring its relative decline in recently documented Khmer history. Chasing the Elves of the Khmer delves into this Cambodian tradition; it’s a photo essay that captures the creativity that goes into these omnipresent “spirit houses” and celebrates the popular practice of erecting shrines dedicated to the Mrenh Gongveal (ម្រេញគង្វាល), or Elves of the Khmer.
Ask any Khmer about spirit houses and a common explanation is that they “bring luck.” Dig deeper than that, and you soon find that the origin story is elusive. The Khmer word Mrenh is explained by some to mean literally “tiny” while others might refer to the slang for “one who catches fish.” Gongveal means “keeper” or “herdsman” or “guardian”.
The spirit house range from a simple container to elaborately designed mini-mansions, reflecting the residents’ economic means. They contain toys and figures for the spirits, and offerings are regularly placed in them, such as small cups of water or food.
Researching it doesn’t clarify things. There’s no single accepted system of transliterating the Khmer script to the Roman alphabet, which complicates historical documentation and retrieval. For example, in addition to “Mrenh Gongveal”, variations include M’ring Kung Veal, Merang Kengveal, and Mrén Kongvial, etc. On Wikipedia it is spelled Mrenh Kongveal.
From the book:
“Mrenh Gongveal seem to be similar to the elves of western folklore. The author found they were originally perceived to be nomadic beings in the jungle, where they were the guardian herdsmen of wild animals, especially social animals that travel in herds, such as elephants. Hunters, farmers and mahouts (elephant trappers), would make baskets to leave offerings for Mrenh Gongveal, to bring luck in the hunt, to help them capture young elephants and buffalo, or to ward wild animals away from their crops. Today Mrenh Gongveal are thought of as akin to supernatural guardians, associated with a person, place, or institution. They protect or offer guidance to their benefactors, usually through telepathy (heard as whispers) or influencing dreams. They can’t be seen by adults but belief holds that they can make themselves appear to children between the ages of 6 and 14 who are “pure of heart”, and many Cambodians claim to have seen Mrenh Gongveal as children. By anecdotal accounts the roots of Mrenh Gongveal appear to be uniquely Khmer. Mrenh Gongveal are small in stature with bodies comparable in size to human children, and are fond of mischief. Offerings are often left to them when seeking their help.”
So for those similarly fascinated by this particular Khmer mythology, this book is an artistic endeavor, a journey of photos, anecdotal accounts and archived historical info. Read about it in Goodreads, or get it on Amazon. It was listed as a “2018 Summer Reads” selection in BookWorks Destination/Vacation category.
It is really cute to watch kids run a race. New York Road Runners has a Rising New York Road Runners program that helps get kids out and active. At the end of popular races, they also have kids compete in age bracket-specific competitions. (Think of the two-year-olds trying to run 50m and try not to smile!) They even get their very own very funny sports commentator rattling off race highlights.
I’m biased, yes, but aren’t these cute:
Establishing healthy habits in kids is no easy task. But it’s more important than ever, considering the gamut of health problems caused by inactivity – from poor mental and emotional resilience to disabling and fatal diseases.
Like other families, we’re constantly challenged to stay active. How do we encourage kids to make a habit of integrating movement into daily life, a basic skill that affects so many aspects of mental, emotional and physical well-being? It’s an exercise in creativity to make physical activity routine, while at the same time creating memories and strengthening our relationship with them.
And how do you make that habit stick?
While we love organized sports, it’s a significant commitment. The kids are age-segregated so won’t be in the same camp time/day. This increases the time, effort and expense of shuttling them to practices/games that are on fixed schedules. Did I mention the costs? There are so many points in this chain where our motivation can break no matter how we prioritize it.
For economy of effort, we focused on making the little things count. And we looked at running as a cost-effective and convenient activity (doable anywhere and anytime) that draws several goals together for us as a family.
Here’s our ongoing journey, from the daily efforts to running in NYC’s Bronx Zoo Run for the Wild 5K to developing a homeschool curriculum around the lessons we learn along the way.
Even with a compelling wealth of evidence, more of our own efforts at modeling healthy habits fail than not. So it’s even tougher to help our kids understand the system that impacts their choices and the long game that is their mental, emotional and physical health and well-being. This makes every effort count because the human mind and body are capable of amazing things when it’s in the best condition it can be. The healthiest life attainable is our goal.
Read the entire article at Multicultural Kid Blogs, written for National Physical Fitness and Sports Month.