I want to play football

I met a woman who is in a dilemma.

His son is now studying in a private high school in California. He went through 8 years in a very competitive public school in China, where sports time was always occupied by the study of other subjects. The situation hasn’t  been changed from my generation to today’s teenagers. Sports in school mean the morning broadcast physical exercise, which lasts ten minutes with more than ten minutes for lining up to go to the playground and to go back to the classroom. In the written curriculum agenda for every week, there is place for sports. However, the math teacher or the literacy teacher will always tell you that we are late for the main courses and the exams are coming, which result in the cancellation of the sports time. Children are supposed to dedicate their free time to exercise, which is never realistic because they are overwhelmed with homework and additional trainings.

So this son, like many others, wanted to leave such a school setting. This mom, like many others, tried all to ensure a better future for her child. Money is not the problem, neither time and energy. She was a wonderful woman, diligent, smart and determined.

Now his son is very happy because he can play football! He enjoys it in school and after school. He made efforts to enroll in the school’s representative team and travels around to have friendly match. He loves school although his English is not yet fluent. He is happy.

Nevertheless, the woman is not totally satisfied with this situation because this high school is not one of the best in California. If her son continues his study there, he would have less opportunities to go to a famous university such as UCLA. To ensure the enrollment to a top university, she must push his son to go to another private high shool which is better ranked. Besides, she is certain that her son, like many other Chinese children, will achieve better academic performance if she pushes more.

“But, it’s highly possible that in that school I would not be enrolled in the football team!” His son is reluctant. He is right. The woman told me that in other private schools, football is more popular and the opportunities for being a member fo school team is limited.

“I cannot decide. All I do is for his good. Short-term or long-term? Happiness for today or Success for tomorrow.” sighed she.

“But why do you want to send him to a top university?” asked I.

She was surprised because my question is non sense. Who don’t expect his or her child to go to Harvard?

We stopped our talk. I have no reason to convince her, and yet I hesitate with my answer.



Be thankful…and Do not take it for granted

Thanksgiving is coming. We can even smell the sweetness in the could air. All the slogans, in the supermarket or at school, remind us to be thankful, generous and kind, as if every problem can be solved with a warm heart.

Be thankful is also a life motto in my family. My mom told me that kindness should be magic to solve any problem and for long long time, I deeply believed in it.

When I first went to France as an exchange student, I was full of hope and confidence, although my French was very limited. After the arrival at the airport, we should immediately find the nearby railway station and catch the last train. At that time, mobile phone was still a luxury that a student could not afford, neither a laptop computer. Unfortunately, one of my classmate lost his bag, which contained his passport and a new camera. He was desperate.

When all other classmates kept their silence and jumped on the last train, I remembered my mom’s farewell words and stayed with the guy. To our surprise, we did find the bag after looking around. One passenger had picked it up and returned it to the information desk. At that moment, we were so thankful, believing that France was an ideal world. The Autumn night was chilly but we wandered in Paris with a warm heart.

The next train to our destination was scheduled in the early morning, departure from another station in the center of Paris. We were so brave, testing here and there our limited French. We were so hungry but only ate a small bag of chips, given that the budget for the following year was only 6000$. The money was carefully stored  in our underwear pockets, pockets that moms sewed for this particular purpose. Thus, we had no money for hotel.

Now when I go to Paris, I barely dare wander after midnight and never carry a big amount of cash. But at that time, we were fearless. Exhausted, we finally found a public garage which seemed to have lights on all night. We sat down on the ground and began to kill time by telling stories of our childhood. It was not romantic at all because I began to feel the real cold. Several hours later, a black and strong guy appeared in front of us. No panic! we tried to explain our embarrassing situation. Without a word, he asked us to follow him.

The next station was the police ? No! We were so lucky and so thankful. He led us to the stairs which kept us from the cold wind. The only word we repeated was “Merci!” The next morning, my classmate suggested to treat us because of our survival and we entered a coffee shop at the railway station. That was the most expensive meal I had during the whole year in France although it was only a breakfast.

I still remember this adventure and the hope that my mom gave me with the magic motto.

However, not all things turned good even I paid attention to be kind and thankful. We were cheated by the residence owner, the bank agent, even the representative of a student union. Being kind sometimes equals being silly. However, my mom tells me that even you are hurt, your tolerance and generosity will reward you soon or later. She is right to some extent because I’m proud of my resilience. But she is wrong too because sometimes you are not willing to lose so much.

Nevertheless, I’m not as kind as before. Life also pushes me to be assertive and prudent. Sometimes, keeping a nice relationship leads to unlimited sacrifice. When the other takes it  for granted, you will never have chance to value your sacrifice.

So now I try to pass the same motto to my daughter, asking her to be kind and thankful. Besides, I also tell her to be assertive, to protect anytime her own rights and joy. If tomorrow she is willing to help a classmate at night in Paris, I would totally support her but warn her of caution and safety. If tomorrow she is asked to pay an extra rent because of her foreign student’s status, I would suggest her to seek protection by law.

We are thankful to life, who has gave us good lessons and bad ones. However, our kindness should be respected. On the other hand, we should also never take others’ kindness and generosity for granted. If we do so, we become a silly and arrogant turkey.

Because I’m a Chinese girl

At playground, Claire is always reluctant to try the Monkey Bar while other kids seems so good at it. “You can do it, just try!” In spite of our encouragements, she turns herself quickly away. If we continue to push her, she would say, “because I’m a Chinese girl”. She has made a good reasoning, since in China, we hardly see Monkey Bars in Kindergarten and she had never tried them before.

She will soon turn 5 and we are considering to put her bed in her own room. When her friends came for a playdate, we felt embarrassed to explain that she was still sleeping in our room because the other room is downstairs which makes her feel unsafe. In fact, kids and parents co-sleep much longer in China than in other countries. Now she still sticks to this idea and refuses to embrace her freedom: “because I’m a Chinese girl”.

We call her grandma from time to time and each time she reminds us to protect more and better her granddaughter, because Claire is different and the only one. The other day, when we mentioned that American young people were all financially independent and that young couple had tight budget, she repeated that we should absolutely save money in bank for our daughter’s future, because we were definitely a Chinese family.

I never have considered seriously the question of identity, believing that American is after all a “cultural melting pot”. I’m never involved in any discussion about the competition between US and China, believing that nationalism is an evil. We didn’t see much olympic games, avoiding the discussion of national pride at table but cheering for the admirable beauty and strength of certain athletes.

However, even all ethnics can enjoy the equal rights and been treated fairly, we still face so many questions risen from identity. Some are pseudo-problems, like the Monkey Bar, some are traditions, like co-sleeping, some are just personal perspective, like the financement. There are not big deals. But some are serious, like the recent Chinese community protest demonstration in Paris. Living in this multi-culturiste society, I’m shocked everyday by the media focus on race hatred.

One Chinese mom has decided to change school for her daughter, because she is the only Chinese girl in her grade with the majority of white people. She supposed that there would be more bully and more discrimination towards her daughter. She is more concerned about her daughter’s feeling of others’ judgements.

Claire is only 5 and she is lucky. She hasn’t experienced unreasonable harm caused by her identity. When one of her friend told her that his parents would forbid him from going to China even when he was grownup, she just made a sound comment: “Yes, because you may probably be sick by the smog, like me.”Her daddy and me didn’t make any further comments on this story, although we were kind of disappointed by the image of China that these parents might hold.

But Claire does become more and more aware of her identity and attributes it as excuse, guilty, frustration and loneliness. What I want to tell her is: Everyone is different, that’s nature, but everyone can be good, kind and strong. Keep trying!

Faster, higher, stronger

kids love sports, instinctively. But not all of them. They easily stick to some while abandon others. It usually depends on the sport’s difficulty and one’s confidence. Claire gives up quickly some activity when she has found herself not good at it.

One day, at the local Children’s museum, several volunteers were encouraging kids to do sports. They invited the small ones to sit on a board with wheels and to move foreword by their legs. A 2 year-old can already do this. The lady set the small boy at the start point. After the sign”go”, she turned on a stopwatch, which, for me, was a too serious object that usually doesn’t belong to a children’s playground. The path was only one meter and the little boy arrived easily. After the congratulation words, the lady showed the stopwatch to the boy, in a very surprised and serious manner, “wow, you did great job, only 15 seconds!” The boy thrilled.

It was the stopwatch that attracted Claire’s attention, who wanted to give a shot herself. She was excited to learn that her performance was better. This game was no longer an attractive activity for her age but she insisted to try again. “You can do better,” the lady generously gave her permission.

On the other side of the room, an other lady was animating a game, which is supposed to test the balance ability. Children were asked to hold a wooden spoon with a plastic egg on it and to move foreword. They held in the other hand a measure tap while the lady kept the main part of the measure tap at the start point. Concentrated and staring at the egg, Claire stepped out. “You have walked for 10 feet! Congratulations!” these words cheered her up and made her day. Even at home, she wanted to do it again and asked me to measure up the distance.

I was amazed by these professional tools, which turned to make kids more motivated to try and to practice some sports. We always say, “you can do it! you can do it better!” However, sometimes, these words are so common that thy don’t have a effective impact on kids.

When Claire turns the Hula hoop, she easily gets frustrated and even refuses to do it again. One day, I proposed to write down the number of turns she had achieved. The next day, I suddenly praised her former performance by emphasizing the number:” You did 9 yesterday, great job! You want to try again?” She picked up the hoop. Even she failed to do better, she didn’t appear to be annoyed. Maybe she was impressed by her formal performance that was written down. With some nearly “official count”, kids may imagine that they were acting professionally.

Learning to swim still frighten Claire. “I will always wear my jacket, even I’m thirty years old, one hundred years old, one thousand years old.”swore she. I needed to begin in the bath tub. “Can you put your heard one second under the water?” I suggested. “Too long!” refuted she. “Zero point one second?” I tried another day. “What does it mean?” she seemed interested. “A very very short time,” then I put her mouth under the water and cheered,” wow, you did it.” It was a false one but that made the thing become interesting. I will try another day the “on second” and made it a huge success. If the one second is passed, then two seconds, three seconds…

I’m not an exigent mom and I do believe that achievements should not shadow the joy. Maybe it’s too early to be competitive. Nevertheless, if kids are sensitive with numbers and progress, I will encourage them to do better and be as proud as themselves.

You can do it! You can do it better!

We are all educators

Claire and I were lining up, waiting to get on a Fire Engine, one of the most popular attractions in the local Children’s museum. Kids can hold on and turn the steering-wheel. A simulated road view appears in front of them, making the driving experience more realistic. Claire had put on a fire fighter’s costume, already in an excited mood. The line was not long, with only two girls and their mom, while in the vehicle were seated two other girls who apparently  were much more older.

The big girls enjoyed a lot their new roles, forgetting others. More kids and parents came over and the line became longer. Claire nearly lost her patience while the little kids behind us pushed her. I calmed her down, showing that the two girls before her were just waiting quietly.

Another three minutes passed without any turn effected.

The lady on the head of the line moved towards the girl who was holding the steering. I could not hear what she was whispering. However, all parents in line understood that was related to the turn. The girl said nothing while her friend hurried to get down of the engine. After walking back to the line, the lady waited again.

One minute passed with nothing changed. Her girls turned their face and made a sign to leave. I was staring at the girl who now became the center of attention. Was she really innocent or mean?

“One last minute!” said seriously the same lady.

At the end of this last minute, the girl finally moved away. She got a “Thank you!” when the other two girls climbed up. Claire was excited, seeing that she was the next one. One minute later, she got her turn. At that moment, a little boy behind us jumped in and climbed into the big seat. He was about two years old but moved quickly as a squirrel. I suddenly held up Claire, who became confused. The lady was surprised too, “It’s her turn!” She was about to get the boy out while I just smiled and said, “it’s ok!”

The boy’s mom was two feet away, busy with his brother. I let Claire climb to sit beside the little boy. “Let him drive first, it’s a small boy.” I tried to explain but Claire just stared at me. The lady said nothing and left with her daughters.

I suddenly became guilty and angry with myself. I admired that lady who was bold to educate others’ kids. Most of the time, I do nothing to kids, pretending that thy are still kids and even unconscious about their wrong behaviors. I have more excuses: It’s their parents’ responsibility to correct them; It might be misunderstood by other grown-ups; It’s non of my business; I don’t want to make kids cry; It’s shameful to argue with a young kid…

My indulgence is really good thing for kids?  Is it another form of cynicisme? Regardless their age, kids should learn to share and to obey social rules. My tolerance to the little boy seemed a crime and I believe it was not appreciated by the lady, who showed me what was more important than being polite and generous.

It’s education! and the lesson might be beneficial not only to the kids who were educated on the scene but also to all others who were witnesses.

Be assertive but not tough

One of the biggest difference between a Chinese classroom and an American classroom is the presence of discipline. Before coming to US, Claire had been in preschool for one and half years, which meant she was well “trained”. The first thing Chinese kids should learn at school is to sit still, with hands on the knees and eyes staring at the teacher.

One can easily imagine how noisy Claire found her new preschool. It’s a good thing to give kids freedom and respect their comfort. We were all cheered for such a lovable social climate. But for Claire, class organization was messy and confusing. She definitely was the most obedient girl at school, but sometimes didn’t know what to do in free time.

Two months later, she got much more used to the new rhythm of school life. Just one things bothered her: how to deal with those disobedient kids. When somebody did something wrong, she usually stood up and stopped him, even it was non of her business. Sometimes, she became very angry and even shouted, like a tough supervisor.

Claire’s main teacher used the word “assertive” to describe her, which made us bewildered. In China, teachers and parents loves those children who help to discipline the class. They are bossing around and gain the respect from most of the classmates. In general,the praise and the punishment are all very serious.

When Claire came home and told us how she stooped a boy from jumping into the line or grabbing others’ toys, we were reluctant to praise her, which made her confused. In stead, her daddy asked her to be nice to everyone and not to interrupt others. “You are a girl! Don’t be the boss! Make friends with everyone!” we tried to calm her down, while she still couldn’t bear others’ bad behaviors.

“She is brave!”, commented her main teacher, “which is good, especially in America.””But we don’t want her to be tough, even hated by others!” I admitted to be always over worried, “Yet, for a girl, isn’t it rude, if she takes everything seriously and tries to correct them?”

Later, we happened to discover a lot of picture books of school bullying. Our astonishment was big. Apparently, children in China are over protected. I naively thought that school was the perfect place to live together, with peace and happiness.

We began to hear Claire imitate one of her classmate who always says” I don’t care”. We were shocked by the sentence”I will shoot you” . Kids really repeat everything.  “Stop talking these junk words!” we scolded her. But when she had stopped other to say these words, we didn’t show any excitement. Sometimes, she came back home with tears and told me not to invite someone to her birthday party, although her birthday was far away. I never tried to confirm her judgments, believing that children at her age seldom know exactly what is hurting others. However, we are not proud of Claire’s boldness and continued to tell her to be nice and generous. “Don’t be the boss! Don’t quarrel! Teachers will judge!”

“It’s awesome to stop bad behaviors.” Having heard our concern, some friends supported Claire. We know it’s politically correct, but as parents, we would not like our  kid to be the hero. Are we wright?

Keep busy in summer

It was the first time that Claire refused to go to school. She got up  with a stuffy nose and complained about her tummy ache. “O.K.,” we said. She stayed home and enjoyed playing with me. We tried all games that I could imagine : puppet show, painting, writing, Lego, pretending, Playdough… I was exhausted.

The next day, she turned out better but remained reluctant to attend school. Her dad sent me a message: “You daughter refused to get off the car in the parking, so I took her to my office.” It was a wonderful day for Claire but a terrible one for her daddy. “I had no time to work!” sighed he.

The third day, she cried when we pushed her into the car. “No school, no school!” shouted she, as if we were so mean to her.

Almost everyone loves summer, which should be a playful and relaxing period. But I recently realized that kids would not agree with it. They may become very excited to go to the beach, even dream the Disneyland. But most of  the time, they think it’s boring. “it’s boring!” Claire commented on her school day, which surprised me.

Compared with various activities they took in the school year, summer is indeed boring. Her preschool is open to children whose parents need to work.However, most of their teachers take vacations and rotate for the day care. There are several activities, e.g. water play and crafts, but kids spend more time by themselves. At the preschool age, they are easy to be bored without being organized.

“But we paid a lot money for school,” Claire’s dad wanted to be serious, “School is fun and you should keep learning.” To a 4 year-old, reasoning is useless. All she thinks is playing joyfully. All she needs is not time to wonder, nor to stay with her swing, but time to discover new things.

At home, she asked me to be her teacher, who is on vacation now. We repeated the routine school day she had before summer camp : sing a morning song, story time, playing outside, snack time, gym time, art time, games, lunch, dance, writing, counting, etc. “Can we have a valentine’s day in this week? ” me asked she.

“Summer Camp is boring,” asserted she,”it’s silly.” We are disappointed with this situation, wondering if other camps would be a more interesting adventure. I searched information but most of thematic camps are offered to older children and last only for two weeks. We are already lucky to have a preschool which offers flexible hours.

As grownups, we allow ourselves to be lazy and slow in summer. Being busy is so tiring all the year around. We deserve a period with empty head. But kids works another way. They enjoy being busy all the time.

“You should go to school, be good, and then we can go Disneyland.” Sadly, we began to use the last strategy to cheer her up in the morning. Maybe it’s time to have vacation, to change, to satisfy her curiosity.

I heard a lot about “summer slide” for children. In China, summer is a very busy period for kids, especially in big cities. They need to attend different summer schools for maths, English and all kinds of art skill. If they stay at home with TV, they lose not only knowledge but also the studying habit and their curiosity  of learning. School can hopefully keep them busy, while the busy TV at home can only make them inactive.