Speaking Spanish

Responding to Đán’s teacher about his interim report:

Dear Ms. B,

Thank you for your comments in Dan’s interim report. Last night, we talked to him about his unwillingness to speak Spanish in Spanish class. We’ve learned that his lack of confidence in Spanish has prevented him from speaking the language.

We encouraged him to do his best. All we are asking from him is to put in the effort. We’re also asking Dao, his older brother, to speak Spanish as well to give Dan more exposure to the language outside his class. Dan has promised that he will speak Spanish in class. Please keep us updated on his progress.

As for math, what is he learning and struggling with? We can’t help him with Spanish, but we can definitely help him with math. Please let us know what you are teaching in class so we can follow up with him at home.

Thanks once again for bringing up your concerns to our attention about Dan’s progress. We also appreciate your compliments. He is indeed a kind and thoughtful child. With your guidance and our collaboration, he will have a successful year.


Donny Truong

Vương Turns 4

As the youngest boy in the family, he gets all the love and attention. Despite being home with his mom and grandmother most of the time, he isn’t shy away from meeting new friends. He is outgoing and he has such an infectious smile. He is articulate for his age. He knows exactly what he wants. He is also an independent child who likes to do things for himself without getting any help for his parents and brothers.

In contrast, he isn’t quite ready to put breastfeeding behind. He still latches at night time to get his fix. He is still potty training. He doesn’t wear a diaper until he needs to do the number 2. He would request a diaper instead of sitting on the toilet. I am sure he’ll get over these two things this year.

Now that he is 4, I can start cleaning up all the toys he no longer plays with. They have been piling up in the basement for a long time. In retrospect, I don’t see him playing with toys too much. He is a digital-screen baby. He isn’t picking up sports as fast as older brothers. He seems to like skiing. I can’t wait to hit the slopes with him this coming winter.

The Powerless Parent

Friday was my remote working day; therefore, I took Xuân and Vương to Jolly Yolly Kids Indoor Playground near our house. I wanted them to run around the playground instead of sitting still in front of their screens at home. They loved this “beautiful playground,” as they referred to it, and it had decent Wi-Fi for me to do my work.

We were there for about two hours when Xuân came up to tell me, “Someone just bit me.” He showed me his back and I saw teeth marks. I asked him if he was OK and if he could point out to me who bit him. Both Xuân and Vương pointed to a boy in an orange shirt. He was a big boy, but probably was a bit younger than Xuân. I asked around to find out who was the parent of the kid. I finally approached a man who was gluing to his phone. I asked, “Is he your son?” When he replied yes, I followed up, “Did you know that he bit my son?” He replied, “Yes, I am so sorry. I told him to apologize.” I said, “Why did he bite my son? Was there a conflict?” He responded, “No, he wanted the balloon and he shouldn’t have bitten.” Then he turned to his son, “Preston, say sorry.” His son said nothing. He went on, “If you don’t say sorry, you will get time out.” The kid ran off and continued to play. I turned to the father, “I guess that didn’t do it. You better make sure he doesn’t bite my son again.”

I took my kids away and I told Xuân, “Thank you for telling me what happened. What that kid did was wrong. He should have said sorry to you. I am going to make sure that he won’t do it again.” Instead of getting back to work, I had to watch them play until closing time.

The father didn’t even come to me to tell me about the incident. I had to approach him about it. The kid didn’t even get a fucking time out. He kept on playing like nothing happened and the father went back to his phone. That was some shitting-ass parenting.

My Lively Đán

I love all my sons, but I worry about Đán the most. He always occupies my mind. As my wife and I have decided to give the kids a break from their digital devices for the summer, Đán is not coping too well without his PC. While Đạo, Xuân, and Vương find something else to play, he finds ways to get under their skin. Without video games, he plays the piano really fast or just slamming the keys at maximum volume to drive everyone nuts. When he is not irritating his brothers or getting on our nerves, he just withdraws and thinks about video games. He doesn’t want to do anything else. No skating. No rollerblading. No reading. None.

He has all the behaviors of ADHD. He also has some serious skin issues. Vitiligo seems to affect his confidence. He wears long sleeves and pants to cover his body even in the summer heat. We try to get him to wear short sleeves and shorts, but then again, he should wear long clothes to protect his skin. Like me, he is a keloid former and he already has a thick one on his elbow when he scraped himself from rollerblading. He is only ten years old and already developing keloids. That’s not a good sign at such an early age. He could get worse if he is not being careful with his skin. Any cuts or scratches could lead into keloids. That was part of the reason I was blowing up when his cousin scratched him. I hope those scratches won’t turn into keloids.

He is still a fun, silly kid and full of life. I hope he continues to play the piano to keep himself focused. I know he will turn out OK, but I just can’t help worrying about him. The hardest part about being a parent is that you have the responsibility of another human being.

Summer Screen Break

A week before the kids’ summer started, my wife announced that the boys needed to take a break from their screen for the summer. Even though I supported her decision all the way, she had absolute power in this house. My soul had crushed whenever I turned around and they would be sitting in front of their screens. When I asked Đạo and Đán to go to the skatepark, they acted like I asked them to commit a crime even though I would reward them afterward with boba tea. Even Xuân and Vương would rather sit in front of their iPads than run around the playground. I tried banning them from their screens, but my words had no power. My wife’s words, on the other hand, were rules the kids had to follow.

As soon as the summer began, we took a vacation in Wildwood. With the beach, boardwalk, arcades, and other activities, they were fine without their device. After the vacation, the addiction kicked in. Đán, in particular, had been miserable. He couldn’t function without having access to his computer. He couldn’t do anything during the day and couldn’t sleep during the night. He started thinking of ways to gain back his screen access. He started to write down his plans on his blog using my laptop. His “Remmus” (Summer backward) series is hilarious. He is allowed to write whatever is on his mind—even about his parents.

Without video games, he is bored out of his mind; therefore, he is picking up writing. The more he practices, the better he gets. He managed to get decent ratings in fourth grade, but he could use some help. In July, he and Xuân will start the Summer Olympians Aspire and Reach (SOAR) program. I am so glad that they were invited to take summer school. They definitely need all the help they can get. I hope they will have better focus on improving their math and language skills since they don’t have any distraction from their screens.


Me: Đán, do your homework.
Đán: I don’t need to do my homework. I already got a PhD.
Me: Yeah? What is a PhD?
Đán: A Pretty Huge Dick.
Me: OK, we are done listening to Kanye West.

Camping Weekend With Cub Scouts

I hadn’t had the opportunity to spend one-on-one time with Đán, my second son, too often; therefore, I was looking forward to our weekend camping trip together with his Cub Scouts. It turned out to be an enjoyable and memorable experience—at least for me.

Located right next to the skatepark, the Lake Fairfax campsite was a perfect spot for us. The clean family bathrooms were the bonus. On Friday evening around 5:00 pm, Đán and I drove to the campsite to check in and to put up our tent. Thanks to my wife for buying a CORE 6 Person Instant Cabin Tent with Wall Organizer, the setup was intuitive and easy. As someone who can’t put anything together, I guarantee that setting up a CORE tent is stress-free. After getting ourselves situated and setting up the zipline, we headed over to the skatepark around 6:30 pm to rollerblade and grabbed a quick dinner.

We returned to the campsite around 8:30 pm to join other families. While the kids were taking turns on the zipline, the parents gathered around and chatted. The kids and parents headed to bed around 11 pm, but I still sat around and chatted with a leader and another father. Out of all the parents, these two are my type of guys. We didn’t go to bed until 3:00 am in the morning. At night, the temperature dropped and it was too cold to sleep even though we had sleeping bags. Đán came close to me and told me I could hold him if I wanted. I was surprised because he rarely showed his affections. I wrapped my arms around him for a bit, but then I turned to the opposite side so that we didn’t face each other. I didn’t bring my CPAP machine; therefore, I didn’t want to snore right next to him. Still, I couldn’t sleep much.

Saturday was a busy day for the Scouts. They had many activities including setting up the tent, starting the fire, and cooking contest. They had their leaders running all the programs. The parents just observed and cheered them on. While the kids were busy with their activities, I went over to the skatepark for 30 to 45 minutes each time. One of the parents volunteered to cook phở and grilled BBQ. She had always been a great cook; therefore; her food had always been delicious. This time was no exception.

Later in the afternoon, I saw Đán sitting by himself on a rock. He used a stick to tap on the rock. I asked him what he was doing. He told me that he was practicing piano. After a while I asked him if he wanted to join me at the skatepark. He didn’t want to, but he wanted boba tea. I told him to hop in and I took him to Kung Fu Tea, which was about two miles down the road. After that, we joined the pack for dinner. The Scouts had more activities. Because I couldn’t sleep much the night before, I was sleepy and exhausted from skating. I went into our tent to rest and to take a quick nap. The kids were done around 9 something. We hung out for a bit and went to sleep around 11 pm.

We woke up on Sunday, ate breakfast, broke down our tents, joined the closing ceremony, cleaned up our area, then headed out around 10 am. Đán and I stopped by the skatepark before heading home. It was a great trip because we spent time outdoors and close to nature rather than sitting at home on our digital devices. Đán participated in all the activities and he made friends with his group, but he also seemed to be a bit distant at times.

Without his siblings, Đán behaved much better. I was so fed up with his constant fights with Đạo and Xuân. They got on each other’s nerves every five minutes. No matter how many times I explained to them the importance of bonding and getting along with each other, they never seemed to register. I was always upset and irritated to hear them insulting each other and to see them punching one another. At times, I wanted to beat some sense into them, but I knew I couldn’t. Banning them from their digital devices was my only form of punishment. When I was their age, I didn’t spend much time with my sister because she was already way older than me. On occasions she would slap me for doing something wrong. We didn’t have much memories together.

Determination and Perseverance

I can’t stop watching my three-year-old son, Vương, trying to climb up the curved ramp at the skatepark. When he grows up, I will show him this video when he would get discouraged. He can do anything if he puts his mind to it. Giving up is way harder than trying.

Đán Reviewed Popeyes

Two weeks ago Đán asked me to take him to Popeyes before his piano lesson, but I said, “No.” He replied, “OK, then I will fail my assignment.” He explained that he had an assignment on persuasive review and he had chosen Popeyes. I was not sure if he just wanted me to take him there or he was being serious. I took him and Xuân to Popeyes and ordered a family meal for us to share. I told him he better get a good grade or else I would ban him from playing video games.

Last week, his teacher sent me the following message: “Dan did a really nice job with his recent writing. It was a persuasive review and I am proud of how hard he worked!” She went on, “Have him share the assignment with you – it is on his computer!”

Yesterday, I asked him to share it with me. His teacher was right. His review was quite impressive and persuasive. I asked him to post it on his blog. Have a read.

I offered him a deal. If he would like to write any restaurant review, I would take him. He told me has five drafts already and Bonchon Chicken is on the list. Oops! I should have said one restaurant a month.

From Hip-Hop to Piano Lessons

As an immigrant kid from Vietnam, I learned English through hip hop. Because my English was limited, I paid attention to the way rappers enunciate their words and the way they put together their bars. 2pac was one of my favorite rappers. Once I got past his cussing, dissing, and gang-banging, I found the raw emotions in his lyrics, in which he spoke eloquently about police brutality, domestic violence, and personal expression. I listened to rap because I didn’t want to read.

My son, Đán, is not a reader; therefore, I wanted to see if hip hop could help improve his language arts. Before letting him expose to rap, however, I had to explain to him that he has to get past the explicit content. He cannot repeat cuss words, which he already knew. We often listened together in the car during our ski trips. He liked good beats; therefore, I let him listen to Kanye. We pumped 808 & Heartbreak at max volume. The productions on the album were top-notch and the lyrics were clean. On “Welcome to Heartbreak,” Kanye spat with AutoTune:

My friend showed me pictures of his kids
And all I could show him was pictures of my cribs
He said his daughter got a brand new report card
And all I got was a brand new sports car

I broke down the rhymes and the wordplays in those four bars. I also pointed out that “Coldest Winter” was a beautiful tribute to Kanye’s mother. After we listened to 808 & Heartbreak for a while, I had an internal debate if I should let Đán listen to Yeezus, which is Kanye’s strongest album. The productions were hard and the rhymes were harder. “New Slaves” is one of Đán favorite tracks, in which Kanye spilled a handful of references on racism, but the refrain caught Đán’s attention. When Kanye repeated, “You see it’s leaders and it’s followers / But I’d rather be a dick than a swallower,” Đán asked me, “What does he mean by swallower?” Kanye spoke his mind and he might offend people, but he rather be a jerk than to swallow his words. Obviously, I didn’t tell him about the other reference. The only track that he couldn’t listen to on Yeezus is “I’m in It.” It was way too inappropriate for him.

Next up was My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The productions on this album were fantastic. We always enjoyed the instrumental interlude to “All of the Lights.” Of course, his favorite track is “Monster,” in which Nicki Minaj contributed a monstrous verse. Đán asked me if I knew the word “sarcophagus,” and I did not know. He told me it’s a stone coffin. See, I also learned from my son.

In January, as we prepared to hit the road for our ski trip, I wanted to introduce Đán (and also Đạo) to something else other than Kanye. I remember Clispe’s classic Hell Hath No Fury. Again if we can get past the drug-dealing storytelling, we can enjoy the intricate rhyme patterns Malice and Push T had crafted: “I philosophize about Glocks and keys / Niggas call me Young Black Socrates.” What made me choose this album, however, was the productions supplied by The Neptunes. Just as I expected, Đán was drawn to the simple, crisp, and dark productions cooked up by Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo. After we listened to the entire album the first time, Đán told me he wanted to be a producer. I explained to him that in order to be a great producer, he had to know music. The best producers, such as Kanye, Dr. Dre, Pharrell Williams, Chad Hugo, and even Hoàng Touliver, know how to play keyboard. Learning piano is the foundation to beat-making.

Without telling me, Đán asked his mom to sign him up for private piano lessons. He started five weeks ago and had his first informal recital yesterday. He picked up fast and played well. I didn’t expect him to get into learning the piano, but he seems to have the chops for it. I hope he will keep his dream alive.