Time for Jr. Kindergarten

I’m a private, Type A, non-emotional, realistic type of person. I rarely cry or get choked up on situations. I don’t think I’ve shed a tear on any situation until I was in my early 20s and had to put down my childhood pup. I used a good half a box of tissues there. I tend to cry over poor animal treatment on TV - PETA and OSPCA infomercials, movies about pets, death scenes on Planet Earth, etc. The next time I cried was in my late 20s when I was dropping off Sir Snoopy at my parents place (they took care of him during the week for me). The look on his face, of yearning and confusion, it just got to me.

Ironically though, my motherly instincts just resided with animals and not much more because I did not cry when I gave birth to Mister Four or Missus Two. (I guess half the female population just swear and breathe a huge sigh of relief after punching out a gooey infant, so that doesn’t count!).

But over time I guess motherhood changes even the stoniest person like myself. The last time I got all choked up was when I had to leave Mister Four at daycare. He was this tiny, little man that just turned 2.5 years old, barely spoke any English because he was raised at home with Grandpa. He was so engrossed with this classroom full of kids his age and all these new toys that he’s never seen before. I stayed with him for a week during the mornings and I would always get choked up as I sneaked myself out of his sight and the classroom to leave him for the rest of the day. For months I wondered how he fit in, how he communicated, how he learned a new language, how did he fend for himself if another kid was more aggressive… and that was in a licensed ratio-capped daycare where there were no more than 16 kids in a classroom!

Today, at a solid four years old, my partner and I escorted him to his first day of Junior Kindergarten. He had just caught a cold over the weekend so I was worried that he wouldn’t make it to his first day of school, but he did. As we walked around in the schoolyard waiting for the school bell to sound, I could sense a small bit of nervousness from him. So many parents, so many kids. I reassured him that it was going to be fun but at the same time I was getting worried myself. There are so many kids. Some we recognized in relief because they’re from the same daycare. Others I looked at suspiciously. The public school ratio is about 30 and that’s twice as many that he’s used to. Is he going to be fine with so many kids? How many among these 30 are bullies? How many of them come from crazy backgrounds? Will the teacher be able to focus at least five minutes a day on my own Mister Four? By the time he walked into the classroom, following a line-up, I was starting to think that this was a bad idea. Flashbacks to my own childhood flooded my brain and for a brief split-second I felt myself come to a halt and stood still long enough for him to walk slightly ahead of me. I can do this, I remember thinking to myself.

It’s now 3 p.m.

In 30 minutes school is done and daycare will pick him up. Kids are resilient. Mister Four is smart and amicable, plus he has a few friends he recognized from daycare. He should be fine.

I hope.

Time to go prepare for tomorrow’s lunch option!

Mother's Day is not really a celebration

Daddy works A LOT.

Oh really?

Yes he does. He works all the time!

Where does he work?

At home and at work.

Does Mommy work a lot?

You work too. But not a lot.

And that’s when I realized that, at face value, my “work” (efforts, care, sacrifices, etc.) are not recognized enough and will not be for the next 10 to 15 years among my children. By then, these little grown-up, teenage monsters will be too pissed off at something I’ve done to appreciate my existence, let alone my valuable sacrifices.

Mother’s Day. A day that means nothing to me as a mother but everything as a daughter. Dinner with both my own mother and my mom-in-law, plus small gifts of appreciation, was where our efforts concentrated. After all, where would we be if not for the free time donated by these lovely women who think everything of our offspring but not much more of us? They should really call it Grandmother’s Day.

Does Mother’s Day mean anything to anyone anymore? Theoretically, it’s an occasion for us to teach our kids why the day exists, why moms are important, and be thankful for all that they’ve done. Commercially, it’s time to take out the plastics and swipe up some nice gifts. But what does it really mean and what can moms expect on this special day? Is it a day off for us? Can we drop everything at home and do anything or nothing that we want? Can we say “no” to breastfeeding a baby on Mother’s Day, or “Go away” to kids who needs help wiping their bums, or put up a sign that reads “Come back tomorrow” and stay in bed to catch up on the thousands of hours lost during the early years of parenthood?

For me, none of those options were available to me. On Mother’s Day, I still had to be everyone’s alarm clock, dress and clean little humans that don’t take my surname, come up with some breakfast options, and shuffle them off to extra-curricular activities that I paid for all the while nagging and wiping their runny noses.

My only gift? A plant with some radish seeds that Mister Almost 4 quickly put together at daycare. He had no idea why he had to do it but the idea of bringing home dirt and seeds and spraying water into the pot was a good enough reason for him. That pot is now outside with the tiny fruit flies it generated.

Anyway none of that matters. It’s not about the presents. Or the day that I wanted to take off and do nothing mom-related (while having the peace of mind that my children are in safe hands). It’s about reflecting on how much I have done and how much effort I have put into this mom job, and what I am getting out of it. Is it worth it? Would I do it all over again?


Kicking 25 in the ass with 35

Thirty-five is a good age to celebrate for most woman… generally speaking. I turned 35 years old this week and I didn’t shed a tear, at least not literally anyway. I think I started getting grumpier and grumpier after 28 and by the time 31 came around I just stopped recognizing my birthday as a day worth celebrating.

But this year, turning 35 gave me new meaning. I gave it a lot of thought in the weeks approaching my birthday and I couldn’t help but realize that whether it’s a birthday or not, I am at a place in my life that is worth celebrating. I’m not writing this to boast about “my good life” but rather to give myself perspective.

Growing up, I had very little guidance from my parents. Don’t get me wrong, they were wonderful parents but like most new Asian immigrants, their immediate goals were to find a job, work hard and earn money to reach the next step of Maslow’s hierarchy. Play time with their child (me), creating dialogue and establishing a strong “Gilmore Girls” type of relationship was not on their To Do list at all. The teachings (more like demands) I received from them consistently were: get your education to find a good job; seek help if you need; save money and don’t be a liability; and put yourself in a position where you don’t need to rely on others. All very good tips for a six-year old girl and a sixteen-year old girl!

What I really needed was to learn about myself. What did I like and dislike, why? What are my strengths and weaknesses, why? What am I like? What is my personality? Who am I? How can I hone what I have to achieve that level of self-sustainability in life that they so desire? Honestly, I had no clue and I had to figure it out all on my own growing up, which really scared me in my high school and undergrad days because if I didn’t know myself THAT well then I run the risk of changing my path in school, switching careers and that means I failed the first time around (also a big no-no in the Asian culture, by the way.)!

As I began to reflect on my “old age” when March came and tried to be objective. I realized that 35 really is a good age to celebrate for me. I mean, school’s done and I either have some sort of career established or a relatively decent job that I enjoy most days. I have a permanent home and a family. My likes and dislikes are firmly established by now. My tastes, preferences and what I find comfort in are all things that I know NOW compared to when I was in my twenties and would continue to try things out. At this age, I’m pretty “set” in life.

What I learned HARD by 35 is there really is no more invincibility. Two natural births later, my age is showing and my body’s resiliency is slowing. I will need to work for it and work at it. I’ve also learned how important it is to be direct and speak up when needed, or, when possible, which leads me to another important lesson, to have no regrets. There have been so many times where I didn’t voice my concerns, discomforts or opinions and have missed out on opportunities or was dragged into doing something I didn’t want to do. I hated that feeling. Lastly, my last lesson and will continue to be a lesson in later years is to seize the day. I still have trouble doing it because I find it very hard to do. I’m always reflecting on the past or thinking forward in the future. Then I regret not living in the moment.

Turning back to 25 and what I had then… it really wasn’t much. Fresh out of school and looking for a job, finally landing that first full-time job only to find that it sucked. There was a newfound level of freedom back then but also a lot of unknowns and undecided factors. And since I’m a planner, I was easily started when the tiniest incident did not happen meet my expectations and I had to constantly re-evaluate and re-establish the plan inside my head. I think what the 35-year old me would tell the 25-year old me, hypothetically, is this… You’re doing great. Keep up with the spirit and perseverance, and things will work out the way they should. You’ll do fine.

Just right now, I’m wondering what 40 and 45 will be like… but I’m in no rush to find out.


Early onset of self-doubt parenting

Recently, my parenting skills were put to the test. I had to defend Mister Almost 4’s helpful behaviour to another parent and at the same time I discovered that he lied (about another matter) to me.

This was how it went down last Friday… I went to pick up Mister Almost 4 from daycare and found him waving a jacket (not his) in front of another mom. When that mother bent over to speak to him, his arms dropped and so did his enthusiasm. I stepped into the classroom to find that half the class was lining up for the potty with the ECE and the other half was running wild in the classroom.

As I approached them, the mother smiled and told me that my son had just taken her son’s jacket. I bent down to speak to him:

Hey, Mister, how’s it going? What’s that in your hands?

It’s [Bob]’s jacket. I took it off for him.

Why did you do that?

So I can lift him and bring him to his mommy.

That’s very sweet of you. Did [Bob] or his mommy ask you to help him?


I see. It’s very kind for you to help out others but next time we should ask them if they need help first, ok? Now let’s give this jacket back please.

I stood up and explained to the other mother that he was only trying to help. In broken English, she began to tell me that Mister Almost 4 always playing with her son and taking off his jacket. Clearly this was meant to be a complaint than an appreciation, so I counter-attacked (verbally):

Where is your son? (She points to this kid that was a head taller than my son who was climbing all over the activity shelf.) Does he belong in this classroom? Why is he here? (She tells me they’re here to pick up her daughter.) I knew that. I knew who she was and which kid in the classroom belongs to her.

Okay so why is he not sitting outside of the classroom waiting while you pick up your daughter and sign out? He’s obviously old enough to listen. You obviously have a hard time collecting and controlling your kids in a closed-door classroom, but let me tell you something: you let [Bob] come into the classroom and stay long enough for him to wander off and start playing with the classroom toys, he’s going to play with other kids who are in the classroom. It’s natural.

She didn’t respond. I didn’t know if she understood but she left with her kids finally. As we drove home, I kept replaying my confrontation over and over in my head. Did I overreact? Did I embarrass Mister Almost 4 and myself? On the contrary, did I not react fast enough or harsh enough? Did I properly defend my child and his kindness to the degree that I should as his mother?

I couldn’t figure out what bothered me more: teaching my innocent, friendly and kind-hearted son to stop taking initiatives to help others… or the picture of another parent “disciplining” my child without my presence or knowledge that kept reappearing in my mind. Hmm… first world problems?

Then later that night after Grandma gave him a bath, I learned that the smokey smudge on his forehead was a bruise. I didn’t understand. Two days before, I had noticed the smokey smudge and asked him if he got hurt. He said it wasn’t, they were colouring today. I thought it was odd because black was never a colour that he used frequently, so I rubbed his smudge and asked if it hurt and he replied No as well. So now, two days later, Grandma finds the truth out from him.

When did he learn to lie? Why did he lie to me? I was baffled. I didn’t know what to think or to do. I definitely felt like a failing mother. I thought the lies would come when he’s a teenager, not at four-years old (and he’s not even four yet!)!

How do I turn this around into a teaching moment?

Grandma's mommy died

Hey Cutie Pie, Grandma is sad now. I want you to give her a BIG hug and say, I love you.
Why is she sad?
Because her mommy died.
Your mommy?
No, Grandma’s mommy died.
Did someone kill her?
No, she died because she was old.
She die because someone kill her because she’s old?
No, she died because everything inside her body was old and not working.
Nobody kill her with a knife?
Nope. No knife, no killing, no pushing, no punching. Nobody did anything bad to Grandma’s mommy.
Oh I seeeee
So remember to give Grandma a hug when you see her later ok?
Sure I will and I will tell her I love her and not to be sad.
Thanks, you’re a good boy.
Yep sure I am!

This was how my week started. I woke up and read the text message from my mom letting me know that my (maternal) grandmother had passed away. It took a bit of time for me to process this because I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to react.

I didn’t know my grandmother. She lived her whole life in Viet Nam with my uncles and cousins. I was born and raised in Canada. My parents brought me back to this birth country of theirs when I was eight years old, but since that visit I’ve never been back. So my immediate feelings were nothing more than curiosity - what? when? how? I was more concerned about how this would affect my mom and what kind of support she needed.

When the rest of the family started to wake up, I gave Mister Almost 4 an important job of hugging my mom and telling her that he loves her. I wasn’t quite sure if this was the best time to explain death to my son. He definitely had trouble understanding the family tree. Last summer, we tried to explain that his grandpa was his daddy’s daddy, but had no luck. Maybe we’ll try again when he’s five years old.

Anyway, after a while he seemed to have understood that everybody has a mommy and Grandma’s mommy died. I still don’t think he knows what death means except he seems to associate it with dramatic violence from the TV (whoops!). But I suppose this is a good start.

As the week went on, I found myself circling back to my grandmother’s death and trying to identify my feelings about it. I don’t know if this is called grieving or how I grieve but five days later, I think I got it.

Growing up, I’ve always longed to have a grandparent or two integrated into my life. Someone to tell me stories, share experiences, provide wisdom, and spoil me silly! But as I grew older, I’ve learned to accept that, for many reasons outside of my control, I did not have that luxury.

As I sort out my thoughts and feelings with the death of my only grandmother, I think I can finally say that I am, in fact, grieving. I didn’t think I would grieve over someone I never had a relationship with. But come to think of it, I guess we did have a very brief bond.

My initial impression of our sole encounter was a very positive and memorable one. When I first met my grandmother, she was full of smiles and very welcoming. She opened her arms for me immediately, hugged me and took her time to check me out from head to toe. She was also a very good chef. She cooked some delicious pho for us to eat. I believe I inherited her dog-loving, animal-caring traits too. As an only child, I know I would have valued having her in my life.

It’s a shame that we didn’t get to build a life together as grandmother-granddaughter. I’ve always wondered what my childhood would have been like if I had a grandparent in my life - hearing stories, understanding their experiences, and learning from their wisdom. Just like what my children have with my parents right now.

This also made me feel very grateful. My children are very blessed to have all four grandparents here, in the same country and city, to play with them, care for them and get to know them. They’re both still very young (a barely four- and barely two-year old) and may not remember these times when their grandparents are still relatively young and mobile, but I’m hoping that they will grow up and enjoy the luxury that I never had. The luxury of grandparents.

Our own memorable moments of precious family time captured on camera and then turned into canvasses.

Our own memorable moments of precious family time captured on camera and then turned into canvasses.