My husband is a software engineer who specializes in smart phone application development. Our four-year-old son described his father’s job as “very challenging.” He said, “Dad is always fixing phones, lots of phones. His lab is loaded with phones.”
I am an independent journalist and a freelance writer. Our son described my job as “very easy.” He said, “Mom is always playing with her computer, chatting on the phone, and traveling by air.”
So this is how my son looks at writing to deadline, phone interviews, and business trips. How cute, yet how annoying! My husband and I joked about this, and I told him, “So our son thinks your job is challenging and mine is easy. That’s not fair. I don’t want to be looked down on—not by our own child!”
For the first time I saw myself through my child’s eyes. I was both surprise and amused to realize that I actually have a fear of being looked down on by my child. Then I thought about my mother, and what she was like in my eyes when I was four years old.
Back then, I was afraid of my mother. She was a so-called “tiger mom” who spanked me often. Most of the time, I didn’t know what I had done wrong. I was constantly scolded for my “bad attitude” when I was too young to even understand what an attitude is. I vividly remember how scary my mother was when she was beating me, but I barely remember what I did to anger her.
There are a few things that I remember, though. Here is one memory. My mother used to make fried rice noodles and throw in a lot of dried shrimp. The smell of the dried shrimp totally covered the flavor of the shiitake mushrooms and the sweetness of the cabbage.
I asked my mom, “Can you not put so much dried shrimp in the fried rice noodles?”
She effectively silenced me with an angry shout: “This amount of dried shrimp is necessary in fried rice noodles! Shut your month and eat up, or I’ll beat you up.”
When we visited my uncle, his wife made fried rice noodles, but without the dried shrimp. It was delicious. I ate two bowls and happily said to my mother, “Look, Auntie made fried rice noodles with no dried shrimp! It’s good! Let’s try this, too!”
When we got home that day, my mother grabbed a tennis racquet standing by the door and started to strike me with it. She was too upset to find the rattan that she usually used. The racquet strokes fell on me like raindrops; the pain was great. I started to cry, “Why are you hitting me?”
She shouted, “Because you have a bad attitude! Stop crying or I’ll beat you even more!”
For a long time, I didn’t know why I was punished. My mother was an irritable and horrible person in my eyes. I guessed she hated me, but I wasn’t sure. I dared not ask.
Later, when I was in middle school, a friend of mine lent me her CD of Blur’s. I brought it home, totally forgetting that we didn’t even have a CD player. I put the CD on my desk.
My mother saw it and asked me, “What’s this?”
I said, “It’s a CD I borrowed from a friend. But we don’t have a CD player at home, so never mind.”
My mother asked me what a CD was. I said, “A CD is a compact disc. You don’t know that?”
She suddenly raged, grabbed a clothes hanger and hit me in the face. I cried, “Why are you doing this?”
She shouted, “Because you have a bad attitude!”
I was fourteen years old. While I was being hit by that hanger, I started to hate my mother. I thought she was being unreasonable. I thought she was just randomly beating me up because she happened to be in a bad mood, or worse, for no reason at all. I vowed that I would never become somebody like her.
Then I grew up. I left my parents a long time ago, but I’m still searching for the answer to the tough question, “Why my mother physically abuse me?” I tried to look at her from a mature woman’s eyes, and not from a child’s eyes. I finally figured out that maybe, just maybe, I knew one of the reasons behind my mother’s abuse. She spent her whole adult life as a housewife, and was kept at home for the whole time. My father’s parents did not have a harmonious marriage. My grandmother once ran away from home, and as a result, my father was insecure about relationships. He limited my mother’s social and career life. My mother hated to be isolated from the outside world, but she was helpless. She was afraid of being despised, especially by her children. And when I showed the attitude that she considered scornful—for example, by criticizing her cooking or questioning her knowledge—she beat me to maintain her dignity.
When I was a child, I first feared and then hated my mother, but I didn’t despise her until I became a teenager. Now, when I think of her sense of inferiority, my heart almost aches. But I don’t want to be sympathetic. My mother had a big ego, and it would be painful for her to know that her daughter had sympathy for her.
When my own son described my job as “very easy,” I realized that I too did not want to be underestimated by my child. So I reminded myself about my own mother. She was eventually despised by her own daughter, not because she made bad fried rice noodles, not because she didn’t know what a CD was, and not because she was an isolated housewife, but because she had abused her child. Ironically, she abused her child exactly because she didn’t want the contempt.
I realized that children are not confused. They only despise parents when the parents despise themselves.
I asked my son, “Surely Dad is great! When you grow up, do you want to be an engineer just like him?”
He said, “No. I want to be a writer just like you. So that I can play with my computer, chat on the phone, and get on airplanes all the time.”
How did you see your parents when you were growing up? How would you like your children to see you?
This is an original post for World Moms Network by To-Wen Tseng. Photo credit: Mu-huan Chiang.
The author serving as a substitute teacher at a local Chinese-language school in San Diego
I’ve served as a judge at some local children’s Chinese-language speech and recitation contests on several occasions. I still remember my first time. I saw a little boy in a suit and tie, speaking with a crisp voice, saying, “Summer is my favorite season because the sunny days are cheerful and inspire me to do great things for my people.” When speaking, he raised his two fists high in the air.
Then I saw a little girl in a dress and high heels, who with a clear but shy voice said, “Winter is my favorite season because it reminds me the Chinese fairy tale ‘Snow Child,’ a story that describes the noble sentiments of Chinese people.” Then she wiped her eyes in an exaggerated way.
These children were all born in the United States, of Chinese descent. They spoke Chinese in crisp, clear voices, but the speech content was confusing. I really wanted to ask the girl what she meant by “the noble sentiments of Chinese people,” or the boy what “great things” he was going to do for his people. I got the impression that most of the scripts were written by parents.
After the young children spoke, the older kids stepped onstage. A couple of teenagers in T-shirts and shorts hesitantly walked up, muttering things like, “We should respect our teachers, because…because Chinese people believe in their teachers, well I’m American, not Chinese, but… oh well, let’s just respect our teachers” or, “We should respect our parents because…because they are too old to understand anything we say…let’s just listen to them when we are home.”
It was funny to see young people of Chinese appearance speaking with such strong American accents – so strong that I could barely understand them. Nine out of ten parents sitting in the auditorium frowned, clearly not enjoying the speech. Were they sad because their teenagers were not speaking Chinese as well as they had in elementary school? Were they worried because their children’s speech was not good enough to get them into college?
While considering how to score, I thought of my own child. He was then nine months old. I couldn’t help but wonder whether he would be able to tell the fairy tale Snow Child in fluent Mandarin Chinese. Would he become an American kid with an American accent and complain that “Mom is too old to understand anything I say”?
I frowned, like all the parents in the auditorium.
In my family, we speak Chinese at home and English at work or school. My son was a late talker, but our pediatrician comforted us, saying that although bilingual kids can be slow to speak at the beginning, they usually catch up quickly. He encouraged us to insist on speaking Chinese at home.
We tried to create a Chinese-only environment at home with hopes that my son’s first word my son would a Chinese word. But the hope came to naught: his first word was an English word he learned at the daycare: “Daddy”. This was my first failure in raising a bilingual child. In spite of this, we continue to speak Chinese at home. Every night we read bed time stories together in Chinese. By the time he was three, my son could speak fluent Chinese, and tell “Snow Child” and many other fairy tales without help. I was very proud.
But my pride didn’t last for long. Just a couple of months ago, his preschool teacher told me that he had a hitting problem. The theory was that because my son didn’t speak English as well as other kids, his ability to stand up for himself in arguments was limited, and he turned to physical means of expressing himself.
The teacher suggested that we set an “English time” at home to help my son improve his English. I didn’t like the idea: the more I exposed him to English, the less chance he got to speak Chinese. Didn’t he speak a whole lot of English at school already?
But the hitting problem got worse. After consulting our pediatrician and therapist, I finally gave in and started a daily English storytime at home. Kids are really like sponges, and his English improved in no time. He stopped hitting his preschool classmates, but his Chinese language skills went backwards.
I started to understand why I kept seeing the same thing at Chinese speech and recitation contests: the younger the children are, the better their Chinese language skills are. I started to understand that my hope of raising a bilingual child fluent in Chinese might once again come to naught.
I worked as a staff writer at a local Chinese-language newspaper when I was young. Many times, I interviewed outstanding second or third generation Chinese-Americans. When I asked them for a Chinese name for publishing purpose, they often said, “I don’t remember my Chinese name.”
A Chinese-American anti-death penalty activist once “drew” down her Chinese name for me after an interview. I couldn’t read the symbols she had drawn. I tried to guess and wrote down two characters next to her drawing. She read my writing and happily announced, “Yes, that’s my name!”
When the article was published the next day, I got a phone call in the newsroom from an old lady speaking Chinese with a sweet Beijing accent. She identified herself as the mother of the anti-death penalty activist, and said that I had gotten her daughter’s name wrong. I apologized, and she said, “That’s okay, I understand. My daughter must have made the mistake herself. She never remembered her Chinese name. But I just want to let you know.” Then she was silent. “Hello! Hello?” I said, not sure if I should hang up. Then she started to talk again, asking me where I was from, if I was married, and if I had children.
At that time I was married but there were no children yet. The old lady aid earnestly, “Take my advice. When you have your own kids, always speak Chinese to them.”
“Sure, sure,” I said, just saying that to make her happy.
Through the years I’ve seen many second generation Chinese-Americans struggling to learn Chinese.
Since having my own child, I often think of the old lady and her daughter who couldn’t remember her own Chinese name. The thought is almost painful.
It is not just the America-born children who are struggling. The away-from-home adults are also struggling. I am a professional writer who was born to Chinese parents and raised in Taiwan, but who has spent her entire adulthood in the States. I struggled to improve my English during my first years in the United States. Now I write English more then Chinese. I can clearly see that I no longer speak Chinese as well as I used to. When I was in my twenties, I was eager to get rid of my Chinese accent. Now I’m desperate to maintain my Chinese language skill.
My son will soon be four, old enough to go to the Chinese language school. I decided to let him start this fall. He doesn’t like the idea of going to school on weekends, and asks, “Why do I have to learn Chinese?”
I didn’t know how to explain the concept of culture to a toddler. I just told him, “So you can read ‘Journey to the West’.” The other night I read him the chapter “Monkey Subdues White-Skeleton Demon” from the classic novel. He wanted to know if the Monkey eventually returned to his teacher Xuanzang. I wouldn’t tell him. I told him that he will read it one day by himself.
I still hope to raise a bilingual child who speaks fluent English and at least understandable Chinese. I don’t expect him to love the Chinese language right away. Language is always first a tool and then an art. I hope my son will first learn how to use the tool, and then, maybe one day, he’ll truly fall in love with the art.
Are you raising a bilingual child? How do you manage the cultural balance between more than one language?
This is an original post for World Moms Network by T0-Wen Tseng. Photo credit: David Sprouse.
I was in Taipei with family for Chinese New Year when President Donald Trump first announced the travel ban on citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
For days, concerned relatives and friends asked if the ban would affect us.
In one way, it doesn’t affect us—we are naturalized U.S. citizens.
But in many ways, it does affect us.
My 3-year-old son’s preschool teacher is a Muslim from Iran. We love her and truly worried that we would lose a great teacher over that ban. For days my husband and I tried to come up with a good explanation for our child, but we couldn’t.
At dinner table when the child was not listening, my mother-in-law said, “You don’t have to tell him anything. He’s gone through several teachers before, he’ll be fine. He probably won’t even notice that she is gone.”
My father-in-law said, “If he does notice and ask questions, simply tell him that the teacher left. He will forget about it soon anyway.”
My in-laws were wrong. Kids are not as ignorant and forgetting as we thought.
We came back to the States on the same day protesters against President Trump’s travel ban gathered at Los Angeles International Airport. When we were in the customs line, an immigrant officer asked the woman in front of us, “Does what happening in America these days worry you?”
“Yes, it really worries me,” the woman answered. She wore a Hijab.
My son overheard them and asked me, “Mama, what’s she worrying about?”
We stepped out of Tom Bradley International Terminal, and he saw the protestors.
“Mama, what are these people doing?”
We had to start the difficult conversation early. “Look, baby. Our new President just made a new rule that stops people from some Muslim countries from coming to our country. But there are people who think the rule is wrong, so they are here to tell everybody that what they think. And the woman with Hijab at the custom is probably a Muslim, so the rule worries her.”
I tried to use small words. I wasn’t sure if he understood. He thought about it, and then asked, “Do we know any Muslim?”
“Well, Ms. Parvaneh is from a Muslim country.”
He stared at me. And then all in a sudden, he started to cry. Not crying, but wailing.
While we were driving home, my son fell asleep in the car. He woke up two hours later, and never asked any questions about the ban again.
Luckily, the government suspended enforcement of the ban after a couple of days.
When I picked my son up from preschool on the day of his return there, I asked him how school had been.
“Great,” he said. “I’m very happy because Ms. Parvaneh was still there.”
I was surprised. I thought (or I hoped) that he had already forgotten about that ban thing.
But apparently he hadn’t. He asked me if the President was still trying to “kick Ms. Parvaneh out.”
“Well, he may try again. But don’t worry. The ban is not fair. People will speak up and help out.”
“Who will? Will you, Mama?”
“Mama, will you speak up and help Ms. Parvaneh?”
“I will, baby.”
This week, Trump is preparing to release a second executive order halting travel from citizens of the seven nations. And I’m taking time to write this post, because I promised my son that I would speak up. It is wrong to attack immigrant families with Executive Orders. Immigrants or the children of immigrants started 40% of all Fortune 500 companies. They own and run many small and medium businesses, and they are a critical part of our national labor force and community – including my son’s preschool teacher.
Trump has said that citizens of the seven countries pose a high risk of terrorism. But the 9th Circuit made it clear that the Trump administration “pointed to no evidence that any alien from any of the countries named in the order has perpetrated a terrorist attack in the United States.” This ban is simply not reasonable. As an American, I refuse to lose a critical part of my country – or lose a great teacher – over an unreasonable ban.
What are your thoughts on the travel ban? Would you, or anyone you know, be directly affected?
This is an original post to World Moms Network by To-Wen Tseng of the United States. Photo credit: Florencia Rojas.
This August in our neighborhood playground, a child threatened my toddler son, saying “Trump will kick you out of here when he becomes President.” For the past two months I’ve been praying for the victory of Hillary Clinton, so that I can tell my child “hate never wins”. The polls gave me some hope. But on the night of November 8, as the election results rolled in, I saw a very different America than the polls had predicted.
I put my child to bed that night right before the Canadian immigration website crashed. I stayed up late, thinking about how I would explain this to him. A few hours later, he woke up full of questions. He asked me if she had won. I told him no.
“But I want Hillary to be my president!”
“I know, baby.” I held him tight. He is too young to understand the candidates’ policies; all he knows is that if Donald Trump is in the white house, the bullies in the playground get a good line to yell at him.
Once again, I assured him, “We are American, this is our home, no one is going to kick us out of here, not even Trump.”
I’ve been repeating this to him for the past two months. Apparently it’s not enough. He asked me if we’re moving to Asia to be with his grandparents. I told him no.
“But I don’t like Trump!”
“But you do like America, don’t you?”
He thought about it carefully and then nodded.
“That’s right, baby. As long as it doesn’t change, we’re here to stay.”
“But I’m upset.”
“That’s okay, baby. I’m upset, too. We all get upset sometimes. But we’ll be fine,” I told him.
“If anybody ever tells you that Trump will kick you out of the country, just say, ‘No, I am American, this is my home, no one can kick me out of here.’”
He practiced the sentence a couple of times and seemed to be comforted.
There is so much more that I wanted to tell him. I wanted to tell him it’s not the end of the world. I wanted to tell him that human beings are resilient. I wanted to tell him that we can do better than running away. I just don’t know how to make a 3-year-old understand all of these things.
In spite of all the frustrations at this moment, I still believe in America. Sure, the election had modeled the exact opposite of the values I believe in and hope to instill in my children: the xenophobia that came directly out of Trump’s campaign has harmed my family. But I see that most of my fellow American don’t believe in the racism and sexism either. Clinton won the popular vote. Which means the majority of American believe that women should be paid the same as men, they care about climate change, they don’t want the implementation of aggressive surveillance programs that target certain ethnic groups.
This is the moment not to sit down with frustration, but to stand up and fight against discrimination, bigotry and hate. And there is so much we can do. We can volunteer. We can donate. There is Showing Up For Racial Justice that combats racism, Planned Parenthood that gives women the opportunities for proper healthcare, ACLU that upholds the individual rights guaranteed by the US Constitution. Most of all, as parents, we can continue teaching our children the values we believe in: honesty, gender equality, love. The election changed none of that.
Just like President Obama said on election day, “The sun will rise in the morning.”
What was your reaction to the US Presidential election? Did you or will you talk to your kids about it?
This is an original post to World Mom Network by To-Wen Tseng. Photo credit to Mu-huan Chiang.
A while ago, when my toddler son was playing in our neighborhood playground, another child said to him, “Trump will kick you out of here when he becomes President.”
It happened during the afternoon of hot summer’s day. My three-year-old bumped into an older child—probably five or six years old—when going down a slide. As much as I was tempted to defend my own child, I had to admit that it was his fault. I thought that I needed to remind him to apologize.
As I was walking up I heard, “Trump will kick you out of here when he becomes President.”
I froze in spite of the high temperature. It took me several seconds to realize that it was the other child who had spoken these words.
I wanted to ask, “I beg your pardon?”
I wanted to ask, “Why would you say that?”
I wanted to ask, “Do you believe that anyone should be kicked out of here?”
But before I could say anything, my son looked up at me and said, “Mama, I want to go home.”
So we left. I looked back a couple of times, trying to find the child’s parents. I didn’t, and I did not know what I would have done if I had found them.
My son was silent all the way home. Anyone who didn’t know him that well would have simply thought that he was tired. I drove, waiting for him to ask questions, but he didn’t.
So I broke the silence and said, “You know, you should say ‘sorry’ when bumping into other people.”
“And, you know, this is our home. No one is going to kick us out of here.”
It was too hard to continue the conversation, so I stopped there. We went back to silence, and I hated myself for not being able to come up with anything better to say.
When it comes to unfriendly comments about immigrants and minority groups, many Asian American people, including me, often have an illusion of “safety”. Trump has accused Hispanic American of bringing crimes;he has called Muslims terrorists. But hey, we are Asian Americans. We are quiet and shy, we do our math and science, we hurt nobody, we don’t even attract attention. Anyway, Trump said that he “had a very good relationship with China” right before having that crying baby ejected at one of his rallies!
But what happened in the playground in that afternoon taught me a lesson: when a hate movement and white nationalism becomes the mainstream, everyone can be a victim. Even a three-year-old boy can be threatened in his neighborhood playground.
My son was quiet for the whole evening. At the dinner table his dad noticed and asked, “Are you okay, buddy?”
“I want to go to bed now.”
He insisted that I sleep with him. I laid on his toddler bed with him. Just when I thought he was falling asleep, he asked, “Mama, who’s Drump?”
“Trump? He is a businessman. He is running for President.”
“Will he become the President?”
I got up and showed him the book “Hard Choices” with Hillary Clinton’s portrait on the cover. I was hired to translate the book into Mandarin Chinese when it published in 2014. “This grandma is also running for president, and one of them will become President.”
“Will she let us stay here?”
“Oh baby! We are American, and we’ll stay here as long as we want, no matter who becomes the President.”
I was telling the truth. Both my husband and I came to the States as international students. He earned his PhD in computer engineering from NC State University and I earned my Master’s degree in broadcast journalism from Boston University. We eventually naturalized through H1B working visas and EB2 green cards, which requires an advanced degree and exceptional ability. We’ve been calling America home and contributing to this country for more than a decade, and I honestly don’t think anyone can legally “kick” us out of here, not even Trump.
What worries me is that this kind of hate speech will hurt our family and our children, turning our country into a place that is no longer suitable for living in.
We’ve all heard Trump’s supporters shouting violent words and making crazy statements at the Presidential hopeful’s rallies, but it feels different when such words comes out of a young child’s mouth. I wonder if he really knew what he was talking about.
Either way, he certainly made it clear what Trump’s brand of hate is doing to this country. In spite of the frustration, I still hope for a hate free society to come. So vote wisely. It’s not about political correctness. It’s about being a decent human being.
Has your child been the target of discrimination at the hands of another child? How did you handle it?
This is an original post to World Moms Network by To-Wen Tseng of the United States. Photo credit: Mu-huan Chiang.