“Crime and punishment,” Let the child decide.


It would be more accurate to say “mistake and consequence.”  My son has read the book by Dostoevsky — Crime and Punishment.  I thought the most severe punishment is a self-imposed one. In fact, here’s the secret for us parents, self-imposed punishment is the easiest one for us.

I know how resentful my children are if I tell them the rule and the consequence for not following it.  If I say, “No computer for one week if you fail to …,” my daughter would try to bargain for less, asking “How about two days?”  Even if I agree with her on 2-day-no-computer, she still murmurs, “Mom is so mean.”

I really do not want to be the “bad guy.”  Therefore, I always ask them to tell me the consequence of any wrong doings.  If my daughter suggests 2-weeks-no-computer, I would say, “That’s too harsh. Let’s make it one week.” 

Trust me it always has happy ending for all.  Sometimes, I am even rewarded with these words “Mom is so nice.”  Indeed!



Abusing Parent and Abusing Children; East Wind and West Wind


A Chinese saying goes “If the east wind does not prevail over the west wind, the west wind will dominate over the east one.” This is true regarding relationships among countries. Also does it hold good regarding relationship between parents and the children.

A friend of mine put it in a more straightforward manner, “Where there is no abusing parent, there is abusing child.”  As I observe the parent-children relationships in many families, it is in reality not far from the truth.  Children out of temper have the capacity of throwing their parents totally helpless.

When my little one throws temper at me and I feel helpless, I tell her, “It is not fair to abuse your old mom. Don’t bite the hands that feed you.”  I was hoping of appealing to her reason and sympathy by reminding her of her abusing position. Children are so wonderfully kind that I always get what I hope for in situation like this.

Of course, when the east wind relents, the west wind won’t dominate in my case.



Not Parent’s Expectation


I often hear people talk about parents’ expectations of their children.  To be sure, I myself also have expectations. It is so natural that we all have our reasonable expectations.  But I try not to let my children know what my expectations are.

Instead, very often, I ask them, “What do you expect of yourself?”  “What do you want to get done this summer?”  “What do you want to become of when you grow up?”  I encourage them to have a goal of their own and to expect something of themselves.  Instead of saying, “I am so disappointed of you,” I would ask them if they are disappointed of themselves. 

It would be a sad waste if they live their lives only to meet other people’s expectations without anything of their own.  Of course, I do not mind having my expectations met if they could be ever met.



Success mean being the best you, by Kaifu Lee 2


Success mean being the best you.  Everybody can achieve success by going beyond him/herself.

The author sketches the quality of success in the image of a circle.  The circle consists of three levels — value, attitude and action. The innermost level is core value, which is the foundation and the prerequisite of all.  Around this core heart is the middle level, which is made of six attitudes — active, sympathy, self-confidence, self-reflection, courage, and high aspiration (jiji, tong li xin, zixin, zisheng, yongqi, xiong huai).

The outermost level is actions. Equipped with the right value system and attitudes, you demonstrate the six aspects of behavior: pursuit of ideals, finding your interests, effective implementation, study hard,  interaction with others, cooperation and teamwork.  More on this later.



Success is a quality, by Kaifu Lee


To my son,
Yesterday I went to a friend’s house and borrowed a book from her. I wish you could read this book, titled Be the Best You  by Kaifu Lee.  I like his understanding of the concept of success.

Most people define success in terms of the amount of money you make, the material comfort level you enjoy, social position you occupy, etc.  Specifically, a successful person is very rich, living in a huge mansion, driving a luxury car, is your own boss or in the position to manage others.

According to the author, this understanding of success is very wrong.  What is wrong with this? From my understanding of the reading, it is wrong because you succumb yourself to the eyes and the judgments of the popular minds, without ever realizing your value and developing your potential.  The real sad part is you waste your dearest life trying to passively meet other people’s definition of success by amassing wealth and power, in the process of which you lose yourself and become a total loser.

You are a success if you have not wasted your life.”  Everybody can be successful in his/her own way. Follow your own route to success. A successful person constantly goes beyond himself.  Success is a quality that can accompany you and benefit you all the way throughout your life’s journey. I will dwell more on this quality tomorrow.



Find your Intangible Asset and Wealth


When my daughter asked me what she could do to make some money, I told her to capitalize on her strength. Upon hearing this, she said she was not aware of having any strength.

This reminded me of an old colleague of mine. Her husband developed multiple sclerosis when their child was very small. For over one and a half decade, she assumed main responsibilities in the care of her husband, managing the cost, meeting the needs of various aspects of the patient. It is an unfortunate event that could befall on anyone. Yet, years of caring an MS husband left her a wealth of experience in this aspect, so that when an opportunity came she got a good-paid job training people on how to give care to MS patients.

This is a classic example of someone who is aware of and taking advantage of her strength, wealth, and asset, who has successfully transformed her misfortunate into a fortuate, turned her intangible asset and wealth into something tangible. After writing this, I realize I need to exhaust my brain to get an inventory of my intangible assets.



Discipline, love and healthy head and soul


I talked with my sister about Gao Yanding and his education of his daughter.  I said, “If dad is really involved in the education of the youngster, most likely the child will be exceedingly successful.”  Look at Gao who laid out a blueprint of his daughter’s education and career advancement map and followed it through without any discount.  Indeed, he got what he originally shot for, unlike me who have to compromise and reconcile all the time.

My sister’s response opened my eye to some interesting phenomenon that I was not aware of before. She said, “Very often, dad made it a career or a huge project upon himself when it comes to the education of his child. He is often different from mom in his approach and the significance associated with education.  While moms tend to be more loving, dad more disciplining; mom more feeling while Dad more reasoning.”  She cited example of Lang Lang, Chinese pianist or “a genuine musical legend in the making.”  No wonder my children are so much in need of discipline.  I should have realized this.

While tender loving care provides the environment for a healthy psychological and emotional development, discipline makes character of the best steel which is badly needed in order to excel and stand out like Lang Lang.  It would be an ideal if the children grow up with both love and discipline from both parents or from one parent who plays both role.  But what would you choose if you cannot have both?



The Youth, the Privilege, the Luxury, and the Challenge


A few weeks ago, while my daughter was reading at Border’s, I was reading a book called The Privilege of Youth: A Teenager’s Story By Dave Pelzer. Just from the title and a picture of a teenager on the cover, I expected it to be about the privilege of a youth, like how lucky they are to have the whole world open to them, to learn and to explore, still carefree, reaching to a higher order of thinking in this period.  It turns out to be a rather sad story, well, sad to me at least.  In fact, so sad that I was on the verge of shedding precious tears.  Probably I have thought or rather imagined too much.

The author used to be a small boy, “always felt unworthy, an unwanted outsider. For the life of me, I could not do anything that was remotely acceptable for my mother … With every day, all I wanted, all I craved, was to simply belong. … It took 12 years, but I was finally liberated. I was placed into fostered care. Finally I was no longer an animal existing in a darkened basement/garage, but a real person.” p 15

For him, home with his parents was the last place he would stay. No word can describe the depth of tragedy of any child having such a childhood!  It is outrageously unfair to the child and a total shame to the irresponsible, unfit parents.

The message that I get from this book is we adults are so crucial in making sure that the child enjoys the privilege, the luxury, and the challenge of the youth. If we do not behave, we could make their lives a true hell on earth.

Upon sharing this with my daughter, she thinks it so irrelevant to her life.  With too much privilege and luxury in her life, I was hoping she should at least learn to appreciate what life would be without them.



Our Children Have Different Childhood Edxperience


I heard more than twice of parents telling their children about their own childhood. It goes like this — when we were your age, we did not have TV, nor did we have computer, games, internet. In fact, we did not even have toys. All we had were books and we spent most of time on school work. Children growing up here are so lucky. One parent said of my daughter, “When my sister was 12 years old, she could cook for the whole family.  Look at her at age 13.  What can she do?”  No doublt with some parents, the comparison often leaves them unsatisfied with whatever their children have achieved.

I often caught myself doing the same thing. Indeed, speaking of childhood experience, parents like me grew up in China have little in common with their children born and growing up in America.  I like to share with my children my childhood experience, which sounds like stories from a far-away ancient land.  They like to hear me telling them how I caught dragonflies or how I planted hot pepper in a broken wot on window sill.

I thought it a good practice to let the youngsters know of our past so that they are given an opportunity to appreciate their lives now and here from a new angle.  It is an even better practice to let them grow in their own culture and time instead of making them feel or look bad by comparison.

In fact, my children like to hear anything as long as I do not make them go an extra mile by comparisons.  It is not only impossible but also unwise to un-Americanize them by making them work half as hard as we used to. Another earnest joke.



Habit and character by William James


I was reading a book on The Principles of Psychology, by William James.  The writer was born around mid 1800s.

Habit is thus the enormous fly-wheel of society, its most precious conservative agent.  It alone is what keeps us all within the bounds of ordinance, and save the children of fortune from the envious uprisings of the poor. It alone prevents the hardest and most repulsive walks of life from being deserted by those brought up to tread therein. It keeps the fisherman and the deck-hand at sea through the winter; it holds the miner in his darkness, and nails the countryman to his log cabin and his lonely farm through all the months of snow; it protects us from invasion by the natives of the desert and the frozen zone. It dooms us all to fight out the battle of life upon the lines of our nurture or our early choice, and to make the best of a pursuit that disagrees, because there is no other for which we are fitted, and it is too late to begin again. It keeps different social strata from mixing.” (VOL1/P121)

The author drove home the crucial place of habit in a person’s life and in a society. His concept of habit sounds more like character to me. What does all this mean to parents?  Believe it or not, it means tremendously a lot. I believe family is the first nest where children’s initial habits/character are cultivated and nurtured. The key factors involved in the habit forming process are parents’ daily behavior and usage of language, parenting style, friends and school.  If you grow up with a banker, you learn how to count money; with a cook, you learn how to generate a delicious dish.  Well, yes, with exceptions.

If a child grows up into an undesirable social being, like doing shoplifting, bank robbery, drug-selling, his/her parents are the only culprits responsible for this habit.  Conversely, if he becomes a reborn Bill Gate, the credit goes to his mom/dad.  Don’t forget to share your profit with your creditors.



An interesting boy is coming to my life


I forgot to post an entry yesterday.
Yesterday morning I received an email sent to my office inbox. It was from my sister in Beijing, telling me that she and her 10-year-old son would come to America on 7/20, which is the coming Sunday. This is a pleasant surprise. I wrote down many things that I needed to do after I got back home. Thus I forgot posting.

Her son will go to school here, most of time under my care when she has to go back to China to take care of her work there. From my talk with her over Skype, I understand it is going to be a challenge to lash out the discipline to him.

I realize next 3 to 4 years will be a critical forming period for him, and the task might fall on me if my sister cannot be here all the time.  I am honoured or shouldn’t I be?  Lucky for me that my daughter agreed to help out on this.  On the much bright side, I have one more person to love and to be loved, to care and to be cared. Don’t you envy me for this?



Raising Bilingual Children in America


Speak like a native both in China and in America — a dream shared by many Chinese parents for their American-born children.  Easy to dream than to realize.

My son started going to an American babysitter a little after age 2 before he could speak Chinese.  He spent most of his waking hours with English speaking people, coming back home, speaking nothing but English. He even knew how to curse in English when he was two years and four months old! Better than his mom, though his mom could outdo him in Chinese and he did catch some of them. Worried? Yes. 

But being an over-concerned mom, I did more than being worried.  I not only read to him stories in Chinese, but also recorded my reading in a small children cassette player, placing it around him and playing the tape as soon as he got back home and letting it accompany him till his sleep.  I also bought many cartoon VCDs from China and watched them with him to make sure he understood them.

I took my children to China as often as my bank account could afford. Later I spent nearly a thousand RMB for a large bag of ping shu, series of story-telling by famous performers like Liu Lanfang, Yuan Kuocheng, Tian Lianyuan, Lian Liru, etc. My children got hooked on some of them.  I have bought many boxes of children books from China, not that they would read but I read to them.  I have tried to engage in conversation wtih them in Chinese, as often as they can tolerate me.

These efforts have helped create a Chinese language speaking environment. Their Chinese vocabulary was happily enlarged, though not spotlessly clean.  I did not have time to teach them how to read and write, but they can safely pass as native Chinese speakers from the way they talk when they are in Beijing. The best part of it is they have learned the language without knowing the process and totally effortless.  What a sweet thing to learn something without making an effort!

Lucky for me that I started during their early years when they did not have much choice but listening to me. By the time children turn teen, you and your language are pretty much out of their realm of interests.  Too late to be bilingual. An opportunity once missed is forever gone.

For all of my efforts, their main language is English, which is understandable when they have wallowed in the soil of English language for the large part of their lives.  Still, they are joyfully bilingual, as long as you do not ask them to read and write.



Beautiful Piano Lessons turned to be Lifelong Nightmare


This was accomplished by the piano teacher that my children had when they were young.  The supposedly beautiful experience with music turned out to be anything but beauty. 

Originally I sent my 5-year-old to piano lesson with the sole purpose of cultivating a love for music.  To be sure, she was not a good student but that was okay to me and she did learn and enjoy the piece once she could play it. 

I have been very careful communicating with my children, trying to set a good example.  Who could have thought that all these efforts were nullified by their piano teacher, who exercised absolute no self-discipline when it came to releasing her anger or frustration. Banging and shouting at the top of her lungs simply pervaded the whole lesson and took the place of actual teaching and learning.  My heart ached when I was going through the class with them.  About two years ago, I could not tolerate it any more and took her out of her class.

When thinking back, I regret tremendously of ever sending my children to that teacher.  For years that followed the end of it, the mention of piano has brought back nothing but nightmare and unspeakable hatred of piano and music.  So much for the love of it.

I deeply regret it because the whole experience ran against my belief in raising children.  We do not simply teach but shape and influence their lives.  I would rather give them a happy childhood than having them learn something while tormenting their tender hearts, leaving irreparable psychological scar. They can always learn some skills if they have not done so at young age, yet an unhappy childhood can haunt them for the rest of their lives.

Music, piano, nightmare, much as I have tried, I found nothing amusing today. Just want to get it out of my chest for now.



Driving from Indiana to Virginia — holding the two-year-old


A 2-year-old girl was happily playing in the arms of her mother.  The sight of this reminded me of the long-gone past, the time when that little girl was my daughter, when I was driving from Fort Wayne, Indiana to McLean, Virginia in January 1997.  With one hand on the steering wheel, the other hand being held by that little girl. 

To be sure, she was not two yet.  The journey was too long for her.  She could not sit in her car seat for that long without being held by mom.  She cried for mom and insisted on having me holding her.  I explained to her, “Mommy got to drive.  Mommy cannot hold baby.”  She knew it, so she said, “Baby hold mommy.”  With that, she crawled out of her car seat to the front, trying to reach me.  I gave her my hand.  She was so content just holding my arm and laying her baby head on it.  The best moment for her was to sit in my arms and have me read to her.

Thinking back, I must have been out of my mind at that time, keeping myself crazily busy with teaching, taking computer courses, trying to make more money. I never seemed to have time for my little girl. 

Before I realized it, the little girl is as tall as I am now and has no need of me.  Hold your little girl before they become the memory of the past.  Otherwise, hold the teddy bear that she once held, for that bear never grows up.



“Mom drink milk and grow taller”


My son revised my word and used it on me when I told him, “Baby drinks milk and grow taller.”  When I told him to eat more meat so that he would have more meat in him, he said “Baby eat more vegie, baby have more vegie in baby.”

Things got serious when he imitated me so closely. Once I was driving with him sitting in the back. A car suddently cut in front of me, forcing me to hit brake suddently.  Needless to say, that driver deserved a sound lashing. So I did.  Before I finished my profuse cursing, I heard a tender, childish voice behind me uttering exact the same words.

It was at that time that I realized I needed to bleach my mouth really hard in front of this little mimic.  Like it or not, parents are said to be the first all-time teacher of their children.  The desire to bring up a good decent person forced me to be that person first.  So that is what I have become, for the sake of my children.  That is why I say in the process of their growing up experience they have changed me as much as I have changed them.



He was made to drink “a pint of piss”


This truely happened in America by seventeen-century parents, specifically carried out by Samuel Byrd of Virgina. If one of his dependents had wet his bed, he punished the child by making him drink “a pint of piss.”  At that time, respected, well-educated parents beat their children with good intention, often severely, in order to get rid of the undesirable aspects that they saw in their children’s character.  (J.H. Plumb, “The New World of Children in Eighteenth-Century England,” Past and Present 67 (1975): 64-95).

People tend to look back nostalgically at Mark Twain’s carefree Huck Finn. But his dad was a never-stay-home drunkard. No TV, computer, cell phone, not even a dear home.

I read this “a pint of piss” episode to my daughter reminding her how lucky she is right now.  She could not believed it.  I had to show her the book to clear the doubt about this. We do need to look back in order to appreciate our blessings today.



Writing as the best domestic fire extinguisher


Writing has been used as a wonderful means of communication between my children and I when both or either one of us need time to calm down. I have found it especially instrumental in dealing with children growing up in a culture where shouting and yelling, violence and fighting are so rampantly aired on TV.

To be sure, things were not rosy before that. Both of my children have their temper, which can be hot and destructive if ill-handled.  I cannot guarantee myself to be level-headed all the time. At some point, I have realized that when the child’s fire of anger is scorchingly hot,  as a  parent, the worst thing I can do is to pour gas on the fire, making the burning last longer and hot. You think you talk louder, mine louder than yours.  I have witnessed this too many times. I do not want fire to go out of the roof, so I started using writing.

I wrote to them when I was too upset to trust my own voice. Instead of timeout, I asked them to write down what happened and what punishment they should get if it happened again. I also ask my children to write down any of their promises, New York Resolutions, summer plans, or any action plans that they talk about.

Of course, in the process they learned how to express themselve in writing, which was a windfall in our anger management efforts.  Writing is a wonderful tool.  Right now, I write much more often than before, mainly because I am tired of talking when I don’t have an audience who is ready and willing to listen.



A Wonderful Dad Got Up at 4 Every Morning for his Children


21 years ago, my father left us on July 11. He would be 79 years old if he were still here with us. Too soon, too early that he went.

An old colleague of mine talked to me about how important he felt toward his family now.  Nothing seems more important than his family with the two wonderful children.  We used to work at the same company (PHI) eight years ago.  This is the first time that we met after 8 years.

In order to spend more time with his children, he gets up at 4 AM every morning, heading for his office as soon as possible, so that he can leave for home at 2 PM and be with his children.  His face exuded joy and unspeakable happiness when he talked about his son, and with such a loving smile when he talked about his daughter. He talked with enthusiasms about saving for his children’s college cost. I love my children, but I have not gone this far for them. Shame on me.

In sharp contrast, some of the parents that I know of worked until after 10 PM, leaving their young child home alone. Later, the guilt-ridden parents tried to make up for it by providing plenty of money, satisfying the needs of the child. Now the child has graduated from a local university, feeling completely alienated from the aging parents. The parents are reasonably and hopelessly sad.  “Such an ungrateful child,” they complained. When the mom was sick and needed help because of her poor English, the child told her, “Go back to China.”  Some people gained money but lost child. 

The world would be a different place for children if we have more dads like that old colleague of mine. What a sweet dad!



An ideal self –Reading on Psychologist Carl Rogers


When my son went to college, I was torn by an inner struggle — on the one hand, I wanted to know what was going on with him and, as before, keep a watch on him, not so close though; on the other hand, I realized it was high time that I let go of him so that he could make his own decisions and develop into an independent and responsible individual.  It was high time that I stopped being the one behind him pushing him forward, as if he needed me.  But there got to be something else that motivates him.  What a worry-headed mom! 

I wrote to my son about my dilemma in a long letter to him. I handed the letter to him when I went to Boston last October, making sure he read it. Below is part of the letter on ideal self advocated by Carl Rogers. This only reflects my understanding of his theory, which may not be what he had in mind when he wrote it.  Sub-consciously I must be looking for a surrogate mom.

Psychologist Carl Rogers believed there exists in most of us a self-perceived self, a real self, and an ideal self. The ideal self is the one we aspire to be. For some people, the ideal dies with the passing of their youth years.  Yet, I think the ideal self is extremely important in our life — it shapes our vision, influences and determines to some extent our future.

It is the ultimate internal driving force that keeps the momentum going throughout our life and keeps leading us toward a higher level of existence.   It serves as a beacon illuminating our life’s journey, a goal, a star for us to chase, and the best spiritual company. If we realize it, that ideal no longer exists and that inner force dies, and we cease to find life meaningful.  So sad.

To my pleasant surprise, last winter he told me what his ideal self was.  I don’t remember what his ideal self is.  But I am glad he remembers it.



Follow your passion and Look Straight Ahead


Son, during your last winter break at home, we went to Auntie Wang’s house, where we met her friend.  He had a long chat with you. What I remember most is his remark — Find where your real passion is and go for it. I am sure you will be exposed to all kinds of ideas which will influence your decision on your major and on where your energy will be applied. I hope you can always keep in mind what this uncle said.

This Tuesday I met a nice lady, a monitor, during work.  She does not work at our clinic. Here is what she said.  “You don’t look right; You don’t look left. You look straight ahead.”  If people on the right side are successful, you feel happy for them; if people on the left side is not, you help them out. You always have your eye on your chosen path, your goal, your star that leads you, not get distracted by your surroundings.

Son, you will ask “Mom, why do you put these two things together?”  Well, let me put it this way — you certainly do not have time to check what everybody is doing when you have found your passion and have your eyes fixed on your goals and your energy fully engaged in your interest. Know-your-passion is the prerequisite to look-straight-ahead.

Remember the song “Do not pick the wild flowers on the roadside”? Well, you can appreciate whatever beauty nature has to offer as long as you do not get distracted by the wild flowers on the roadside.



Reading nonsense to your baby


During last few weeks I took out plenty of books from my children’s rooms, some in Chinese and some in English.  They have long outgrown these books, as my son put it, “I am not easily entertained now.”  I gave away three boxes of English books to a charity place, not in great shape after them, still readable though.  Last weekend I gave some of the Chinese books to a friend of mine.  This is what I shared with her about reading at an early age.

I started reading to their attentive ears when both of my children were a few months old.  Some people would challenge me, “Did your kids understand what you were saying?”  You would miss my point if you still do not get the answer after reading my posting.

The main purpose of your reading to baby is to grab baby’s attention, to cultivate an interest in books.  The way you read to her is to have her see the pictures, the color, the shapes on the book, talking nonsense while pointing to this or that pictures.  Gradually, they will imitate you, I mean literally, talking nonsense with their fingers on the book.

My daughter could retain nearly 100 percent of what was read to her, so amazing that she took books to her daycare in Falls Church, Virginia and started reading to other children of her age.  The children sat by her, listening so attentively that some would not go home when their parents came.  One mom stood there, listening and watching, then she asked me, “Can she read?”  I said, “No, she just read out of her memory.”  “She certainly acts like she is reading.”  She was about two and a half years old then when most of her peers brought toys and she brought books with her.  Both of my children have grown into avid readers.  As long as they have books in hands, they seem to have invisible companies, never feeling lonely or bored.

The only drawback about reading is they all end up wearing glasses at an early age and then contact lens, which is a constant draining from my purse.  It is not funny at all when you have to pay for new glasses every year.

4/7/2009, now I believe more than ever the benefit of reading or forming the love of reading after the stay of the 10-year-old nephew at our house. Read to them and teach them how to read as early as possible. It is so much fun.



My children do not get paid for doing household chores


Both of my children, being good students of capitalism, have at some point in their primary school years tried to get money out of me by offering to do some household chores. “Mom, how about I help you do the dishes and you pay me $5?” my son would come to me with this offer. My daughter would not settle for less than $10.

My reply often went like this, “How about you pay me $1 for cooking for you, $1 for doing laundry for you, $1 for cleaning your room, $1 for helping you when you have homework questions, $1 for taking you to school, $1 for taking you to your friend’s house, $1 for reading Chinese stories to you at bedtime, $1 for  …” The list could run longer than his body length.  My son would stop me before I completed my list, “Never mind, mom. You can keep your money.”

I realized many American kids get paid for helping around the house. I do not do something just because all the rest of the humanities do.  My daughter has heard it again and again the concept of social group.  The theory goes like this, we all belong to some kind of social group at any point of our lives.  Family, school, club, team are all different forms of social group.  Everybody is expected to contribute to the social group he/she belongs to.  If, instead of adding values to the group, you are seen as a burden or a pest, people would say “Good riddance” instead of “Good bye” when you leave this group. I am sure you do not want to be got rid of like this.

They understand the theory and are eager to be key players and have their presence appreciated by the group they are in.  They all have contributed to their class at school by raising the average grade of their class.  But at home, let me tell you a secret about having two children — household work is like a football, they kick it to each other. Too bad they have each other to kick about.  I often violate the rule by picking up the ball most of the time. To be fair, my son did a lot more when his sister was too small to walk and my daughter does even more when her brother is in Boston.



“I want to be white” Growing up Among White Americans


My son said this when he was in a Methodist church daycare in Bowling Green, Ohio. He was the only Chinese there and there was a black girl called Amber. One day my three-year-old son came back asking me,
“Mom, am I white or black?”
“Why do you ask?”
“I don’t want to be black,” he said.
“Why?”
“Nobody plays with Amber,” he told me.
Now I understood what was on his mind. Keen observer but a sad observation for a three-year-old. I had not expected people in this small town behaved differently from this, yet I was truely amazed at his choice. I told him he was a Chinese, neither black nor white. He said “I wanted to be white, not anything else.” Oh-Oh, identity crisis, self-rejection in this melting pot, I said to myself. It was hard to explain all this to him at this age. I wished I had a magic wand and transform him into a white boy and then transformed him back to Chinese when he was ready to accept himself as a Chinese. So I promised him I would try some magic and do the transformation. He was happy with this and forgot the whole thing the next second, but to a mom with a worried bone, the incident left me thinking for a long time about many big sociological concepts, which I just learned.

When my son was little and I was at school, my family in China sent us a lot of clothes to help us out. Also because clothes cost a lot less in China than there. He never complained about it until he entered primary school in Fort Wayne, IN. He refused to wear any clothes that had Chinese characters or that did not look like American clothes. One day he came back with an unhappy face and talked with a whining tone because his classmates called him Chinese. So sad. We had many talks on self-acceptance, self-esteem, diversity, etc. But no radical transformation in his soul ever took place. I thought it took certain level of maturity to really accept yourself. Look at me, a century passed before I became a little bit mature. With that, I really needed to give him more time and let him mature at his own pace.

As I observed, he slowly started accepting himself and became proud of his cultural heritage. By high school he had traveled to China many times, read or been read about China, watched Chinese movies and TV shows, listened to Chinese stories, and learned about famous Chinese people.

The cumulative dose of Chinese cultural essences must have worked its magic. Also, he met some other Asian students in high school and during his national competitions, some of who have become his best friends. Here’s a telling evidence proving knowledge is not only power but also key to self-acceptance and feeling on the top of the world. With that, everybody is happy ever after.



Temper Tantrum if You Pointed out his Mistakes


My son would make your day utterly miserable when you pointed out the mistakes in his “home homework.”  That happened during his primary school years.  When he dashed through his homework and made tons of mistakes, I could not say anything for I knew his reactions to my criticism.  “Mom, at least I did it.  If you don’t want me to do it, I’m not going to do it at all.” he threw these words at me.

I knew he was a reasonable boy, so I reasoned with him. “Do you want me to be silent when I see you have done something incorrect? Don’t you want to learn from your mistakes and become smarter?” I asked. “Yes, but you said it again and again and I’m fed up with it,” he replied. “Ok, I promise I will say it once and you got to promise not to lose temper the first time I correct your mistakes.”

We both wrote down our promise. To this day, I still have his hand-written promise. However, the written promise had failed to help him keep his temper.  I needed to think of something else to buffer the effect of my unwelcome criticism.  So here’s the next trick.  I told my him, “Son, I have something to say but I dare not.”  He would encourage me to say it.  I would say, “Only if you promise not to throw a temper at me,” I said with a smile inside. “I promise,” he said seriously. 

That was how I approached him with his mistakes. Not long after that he happily outgrew his temper tantrums and transformed into a person with a much gentle nature.  I have learned that love alone won’t always make both you and your child happy; sometimes a little finesse could avoid a home-made World War III. 



No Child left behind and no child can go ahead


Indeed, if your child is above average and feels bored at school, chances are your child gets very little attention in public school.  One of the sure ways to get attention is to drop your grade to F.  As the matter of fact, keeping your little ones challenged and interested at public school has been a concern on many parents’ minds.  My son told me he could get a decent grade by dozing off half of the class. My daughter had zero patience listening to some of her classmates spending 10 minutes struggling through one line when she could scan over the whole page in that amount of time.  Both of them were buried their heads in thick chapter books when their peers were laughing out loud over picture books.

While the teachers at their schools did not have time to do anything to keep them challenged and interested in learning, I took up the chores. I assigned to them some “home homework,” which they protested vehemently.  “Not fair. None of my friends have this so-called ‘home homework’.” My son refused to move out of his comfort zone and do anything extra. Well, nice try, I told myself.

Here came the power of persuasion and othe feasible tricks, which I used until they reached middle school age.  I asked them, “Most of the kids in your class will go to our local universities, do you want to be like them?” “No way,” their resounding answer bellowed out of their chests without hesitation. “Then you got to do something more in order to take a different route.”  Plus, always remember mom’s words “Extra work makes you extra smart.”

Thus, both of my children had done mom-assigned extra homeworks in their primary school years instead of waiting for those who lag behind.  They did them without leaving their comfort zone, though.



Esmie Tseng Killed her mom — how can we prevent it?


Yes, Esmie Tseng, a 16-year-old American-born Chinese stabbed her 55-year-old mom to death with a knife. Shocking but true. That was in 2005. Years of conflicts between two generations and two cultures, represented by a parent from China and her American-born child, consummated in the tragic death of one party and imprisonment of another.  Who says parent-child conflicts are trivial matter?  It’s the matter of life and death!  

Esmie did not receive as long a punishment as my daughter said she should, “She should stay in prison for at least 16 years for the length of the time her mom had cared for her.” What an interesting logic, harsh yet not without reason. I told her, “The murder itself is a punishment enough. Like the never-washed-away blood stain on Lady Macbeth’s hands, the murder will haunt and torture her like a nightmare for the rest of her life.”

While we were shocked over the tragedy, we were also thrown into deep thought, questing for an explanation and hoping for an prevention. The mom, like most of us wishing her daughter to be outstanding in school performance,  had gone to the extreme, to the point of totally burning the bridge with her life gone in the air. Among many explanations, I would think failure to manage conflicts and to adjust your expectations accordingly are the number one culprits.  

Otherwise, the not-so-young mom should have learned Chinese martial arts and worn a knife-proof jacket in her battle with a teenage rebel.  A heavy lesson for all: surrender if you don’t have either brain or muscle power.

The killing was also carried on BBC news,
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4967340.stm



Christmas gifts — Absolutely no


Yes, it is true I don’t give Christmas gifts to my children.  What a bad mom!  Yes, I know how bad I am, hopelessly and honestly bad.  We often spent time at Border’s or doing something else when other people were busy holiday shopping.

First, I don’t want to give the children the illusion that Santa Claus has a fathomless well of free money to give away.  I told them, “See the Christmas shopping spree. It is not Santa but the parents who buy and give toys.”  Plus, my children are too critical to accept the idea that an overweight Santa can squeeze through that slender chimney.

Second, they were surrounded with mountains of toys and never felt the need for it at all. They did not appreciate an over-supply.  Why wasted money?  My son never felt deprived when he saw one of his American friend’s room was tightly jammed with toys.  I have kept drilling into their heads this idea — “Count your blessings not your presents.” My daughter has learned from very young that Christmas is the season of giving not receiving.  Until now she never passes a Salvation Army bell without giving something.

By the way, if I ever bought toys for them, on most occasions, I waited till they were on sale, or even better, during clearance season, which, too bad, was during not Christmas time. 



No allowance for my children


At some point during their primary school years, both of my children asked for allowance. “All my classmates have weekly allowance. No fair I don’t have,” my son said with the whining tone when he was around 9 years old. Yes, I never gave allowance, even though I was aware of this practice in America.  This I had told him and also had explained to him. “The real No-fair is when you get something for nothing. Remember there is no free lunch. For anything you get, you have to earn it. If you have been a good student, I will reward you something when I am happy.”

By his six-grade he pretty much figured out it was hopeless to get easy money like his classmates. So he started making money himself. He learned from some class how to program in Basic language. He programmed some small games, saved it in a floppy disk, and then sold them to his “allowance-rich” classmates.

My daughter made much quicker money than her brother. She took to school two individually wrapped cakes and sold each of them for $5. The whole box containing 10 cakes only cost $1.



A Chinese girl wants barbie hair


This happened when my daughter was in kindergarden.  Like most of normal girls growing up in America, my daughter liked barbie dolls ever since she laid her eyes on them at any department store toy section.  Nothing could hold her attention longer than a barbie doll.  She could spend hours over that section.  To make her happy, I bought tons of them for her.

One day, a disater came.  She declared she wanted to have barbie’s blond hair.  “Mom, I don’t like my black hair.  I want golden hair.”  I guess she did not know the term blond.  ”Your hair is brown, not black,” I tried to comfort her.  “No, it is not!” she insisted.  “Ok, whatever color is your hair, you look gorgeous with your hair,” “No, they are ugly.  I want her hair.”  After a few futile explanations, she would not listen and began using her best weapon – temper tantrum, the only thing she was good at when she was frustrated at that age.  I think I ended up buying her one more barbie. Then smile came back and peace prevailed.  But that incident has foreshadowed more storms ahead, not about blond hair though.



Respect each of the hard workers


“Just one thing about your write on 6/28: ‘I would save my children’s face by not working in a Chinese restaurant.’ Need to throw a brick on this point. What I think is that if the mom is a hard worker in Chinese restaurant and always try to do things better. The children should be proud of her. You know people are different. Some people can not do the professional things as some others. Need to tell children to respect each hard workers instead of only the 体面 (decent-looking) professional workers…”

The above was emailed to me from a friend of mine.  I think she raised a very good point and should be shared here.  I shared it with my daughter on the way to Border’s today.  Indeed, we should not only respect each human being but also show respect to the choice that people make.

To my children, life can be seen as a matter of choices.  Just as ten fingers are of different length, so are people in their choices regarding jobs and education, etc.  Respect and recognize all who make honest efforts in their own way.



Four seasons in one day


Back in my college years, I learned the word “capricious” in this sentence — “women are as capricious as the weather.”  It surely did not come out of the hands of a woman.  Anyway, I never cared to know the meaning of this sentence until now when my dearest little girl becomes a teenager. And then we started experiencing four seasons all in one day, not everyday though. One moment it is cloudy and I am totally clueless of her surliness; next moment the sun bursts out of the cloudy sky completely when she laughs out loud and is eager to give you a choking hug.  We do have stormy moments. Luckily, it never lasts longer than an hour and are never as destructive as Katrina.  To me, the best season is spring when she is completely engrossed in reading with her angel-like face as serene as a beautiful flowery lake in a picture.  The good news is spring-like scene always lasts longer than stormy ones. 


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