Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Long Walk of Mandarin Shame

It's taken me a few days to sit down and write about this since I've found myself strangely emotional and guilt ridden about the fact that Ava has put her foot down and does not want to attend Mandarin classes at Chinese school any longer. She says it is boring and she doesn't like boring. God forbid the poor child be bored for more than 3 1/2 minutes. This is the price to pay for the permissive parent. She been fighting me for over a semester now and I woke up a few weeks ago and agreed to let her quit. I just can't take the persistent whining on Sunday mornings, "How many more hours until I have to go to Chinese school?" I can't stomach the refusals to attempt homework. I can't even entertain the thought that she would grow up with a bitter distaste of Mandarin language lessons or worse yet Chinese culture. So, I let her quit. I tell myself I'm letting her chose, I'm respecting her decisions. I'm honoring her choices in life. But, then I find myself wondering is this isn't a cop out. She's 7, what does she know about the lessons of tenacity, seeing something through even though it is hard. What am I teaching her?

When I told her she could stop Mandarin classes she cheered giving me a loud and resilient "Yes", complete with arm pump for effect. I shot her daggers with my eyes begging her silently not to gloat. She's been at the school since she was 3 years old. We've been at the school since she was three years old. We lasted 4 years as a blended family in a sea of authentic Chinese families, which is longer than most if I look for a silver lining. She knows a whole host of Chinese children's songs, she understands the 4 tones, and she counts to 100 like a Beijing native. She really is learning, it's slow going but she is learning. Until now.

Over the years I'd learned to smile politely amongst a cafeteria full of Chinese parents, being the only or one of a very few white parents. It used to unnerve me a bit being so blatantly, a minority an outsider, but now I suppose I'm used to it. I never broke into the inner sanctum of Chinese folks at the school. I never had that picnic in my backyard where I envisioned I would invite all of our new Chinese friends over for American hot dogs and hamburgers. Chinese ladies that could really cook would bring their yummy dumplings and leeks with pork in mismatched covered dishes. This back yard party of my imagination would have been a united nations, laughing, coming together as we watched our children play on our gym set. Because after all, children all over the world are truly all the same right? In my fantasy these families would have become our great friends, the fact that we had 2 Chinese born daughters would have been enough to bridge that wide cultural divide. But, that's not true. Chinese school is a place for Chinese families to go where they don't have to assimilate for 2 whole hours a week, like they have to at their kids' schools, at work and out in the community. I can't say that I blame them for using the school as their cultural comfort zone. I would certainly do the same thing if I were an expat living in China. Thoughts of running with my daughter's crowd were perhaps a little naive on my part, admittedly so. But then, they aren't really her crowd either. She's so American now...living here for over 6 years. She has no memories of her life in China. Their food isn't as familiar as my white chili. She identifies with Miley Cyrus for heaven's sake. Giving my child two hours of Mandarin language instruction a week wouldn't be enough to to give her cultural familiarity to use in her adult life, I see that now.

This straddling of culture and ethnicity was brought to my attention again last night when after the girls' showers I was blowing Ava's hair dry. She studied herself in the mirror as I flung wet black hair all over the place. She placed her finger in her eyelid and lifted the fold. She giggled, "Why is it that I have no eyelid like you Mommy?" "Oh, you have classic Han Chinese eyes with a deep epicanthal fold. It is what makes you a gorgeous Chinese child." For one quick moment I saw her differently, she looked so foreign, so beautiful, but so foreign as I glanced at my tired and slightly wrinkly large eyelids and dark hazel irises. Then I blinked again and she looked familiar, the child I see every day, my dear sweet Ava.

I have no idea whether I did the right thing, letting her quit. These parenting moments where you just don't know what is truly best always get the better of me. I prefer parenting in black and white with a red bow tied on top. Once again, reality right? I plan to offer marital arts or dancing in the fall once the dust settles and she realizes she won round one. Maybe she will want to go back if it is more on her terms. Hopefully the story isn't over, only a short intermission on a long journey.

6 comments:

Stephanie said...

My six year old has been going to Chinese Sunday school for three years and HATES it. It eats up most of her Sunday and is pretty intense. There have been many times that I have been ready to throw in the towel due to her persistant whining, although my husband has insisted that she stick it out. Being one of the few mixed race families at Chinese school, we have bonded with two other mixed race families which we now consider our friends. They have the exact same issues with their children and Chinese school.

Elaine said...

If and when she returns to learning Mandarin (in college, where it'll suddenly be cool), she'll have a great foundation to build on.
I empathize with your wish for easy parenting. My 7 year old has similar issues with wanting to give up anything that isn't easy or quick. Including learning Bahasa Indonesian. Sadly I feel the same way about languages and am a pushover....
Courage. No shame. Doing what you can.

Traci said...

Big hug! Gloating sucks, right?

Traci

Johnny said...

You know that this has been a question many families debate. And most of the answers have been, "I'll drag her until she begs me to quit." So, it sounds about right!

Norma said...

my girls are 11,12 and 13 and still going twice a week 2 hours each time and finally getting it. they write well and can have a conversation. they still hate it and have to give up a lot to attend. it is the one thing i hang tough on and it is the norm now. i am hoping all those dollars time and effort pay off and not because they are chinese but because it is the language of the future. they also hate french at school by the way.

Suz said...

We are not even there yet! Julia is not ready to Chinese language class, maybe an extra serving of dumplings but no closer to China for her! But what you are going through is what my parents (first generation born in the USA) experienced. They fought with my brother and I to go to Ukrainian school every Saturday. Sadly to say, we won, stopped going, and our younger sibs never went. When I was old enough to come back to some ethnic identity, I learned to cook and bake. I do wonder where our daughters will end up ethnically, but we have set a course for them that is different even from other immigrant groups.