Lesson for Đạo

After taking a bath and brushing his teeth last night, Xuân asked me if he could play video games. I granted him permission, which was somehow automatically applied to his brothers. As they turned on their devices, I told Đạo and Đán to brush their teeth first before they could play. While Đán ran into the bathroom to get it done and over with, Đạo immediately released his frustration and protested, “You gotta be kidding me.” He did this every single time I asked him to do something and I had enough of it last night. I revoked his permission.

He threw a tantrum and said, “I hate you.” His sharp word was like a knife stabbing through my heart, but I stayed calm and quiet. I went into my bedroom to read. He brushed his teeth, stumped into my room, and dragged his blanket and pillows to his mom’s room. He came back and asked if he could play. I stayed firm and said no. He got more upset and accused me of singled him out and that no one loved him. I had to point out to him that if I didn’t love him or didn’t care about him, I wouldn’t have asked him to brush his teeth. There was no benefit for me to ask him to do it. My teeth wouldn’t get any cleaner or shinier if he brushed his teeth. He covered his ears and didn’t want to hear my explanation.

He said that I just wanted to make him unhappy. I asked him, “As a parent, what can I do to make him happy? Would allowing unlimited time for playing video games make you happy?” I explained to him the danger of addiction. The way he behaved when he was not allowed to play showed a sign of addiction. The fact that he hated me for not letting him play was a sign of addiction. Somehow explaining to him how game makers used psychology to get the players hooked got through to him.

He went downstairs to make me an ice cold cup of water because of all the talking I did. He brought back his blanket and pillows. He wrapped himself in a blanket, but reached out his hand to grab mine. We held each other’s hand and fell asleep. This kid can break my heart one minute and just heal it the next. I have nothing but love for him even when the love is tough.

Vương Turns Two

My Dearest Vương,

The past two years, especially 2020, have been tough. Fortunately, I have you to keep me from going insane. When I feel down, your beautiful smiles never fail to pick me up. You have brought so much joy into our lives.

It has been an amazing experience observing you grow day by day and listening to you say word by word. My heart melts every time you gently ask, “Bà ngoại (grandma), iPad,” “Mommy, bú bú (breastfeed),” or “Daddy, play.” Your brothers have nothing but love for you. I love seeing you imitate your brothers, Xuân in particular. As a result, you are catching up fast in both speech and sharpness.

Of course, you are no softie. Growing up with three older brothers has toughened you up. You scream and fight back when you have to. You show no sign of backing down. Still, you have been the calmest boy out of all them. I hope you will keep your cool temperament for years to come.

I love you with all my heart, son. I am happy to see you enjoyed your second birthday. I am sure we will have many more wonderful moments to come. Don’t ever stop smiling, kiddo.

Guns and Rubik’s Cube

Đạo, my twelve-year-old son, has been fascinated with guns. He reads about guns and observes all of their components. I asked him why he is interested in guns and he told me that he liked the history and the mechanism behind them.

He loved telling me his latest creations. He walked me through the features he had created based on various guns. From the magazine holder to the front sight, I was impressed with the way he translated what he saw from real guns into his LEGO creations.

Building LEGO guns is one of his favorite activities when he’s not on the computer. He used to build tanks, airplanes, and helicopters with LEGOs. I am sure gun is just what he is into right now before moving on to something else. I am glad that he finds his creative passion, but I can’t help being a bit concerned given the gun violence in America.

Đán, my eight-year-old son, on the other hand, has been fascinated with the Rubik’s Cube after watching Netflix’s documentary The Speed Cubers. Unlike his brother, he just spends time messing around instead of following instructions. He figured out how to solve one side, but showed no interest in solving all six.

I used to be able to solve all six sides when I was a kid. Now I can only solve one. In the past few days, I spent a bit of time reading instructions and watching YouTube videos trying to solve it. I got pretty close and messed up at the last step. I wanted to solve it so that I could teach him, but I got frustrated and gave up. He is just going to have to figure it out on his own.

Our Growing Vương

I haven’t written much about Vương and he will be turning two soon. I used to write a lot about our older sons. I suppose by the fourth son I am getting used to the novelty of being a parent.

Vương is indeed a very special child. He still puts on lovely smiles everyday. He wakes up in the morning and pulls up his mom’s shirt for breakfast. After that, he runs over to his grandma’s room, holds her hand, leads her to her charging station, and says, “iPad.” He takes her iPad to my room and grabs my finger to unlock it. He opens up YouTube and grabs my finger again to search for the video he wants to watch. As soon as he sees something he likes, he pushes my hand away. He is hooked on the digital device as much as his older brothers.

Vương gets all the love from everyone, especially his brothers. He can say all of their names now and he knows exactly who he can ask for favors. He wants to join them in everything. Even though he only knows a few words, he uses them well and continues to pick up more words from his brothers.

With the pandemic, we let him stay home for now. We might enroll Vương and Xuân once the coronavirus is under control.


The past few weeks had been tough. My mom fell and fractured her back. Although she is still in tremendous pain, she is recovering. She will be discharged on Thursday. I will return to Lancaster to spend a couple of days with her.

Last night my heart ached once again after finding out my oldest son broke my trust once again. Since we banned him from using his iPad in the day, he snuck it into his bedroom to use at night. For a very long time, he didn’t want to sleep alone. Now he just wants to sleep by himself so he could do things behind us.

When asked if he played during the night, he denied. Unfortunately, the evidence was right on his iPad. I gave him an opportunity to come clean, but he didn’t and that broke my heart and trust. I increased his ban for two months and that when all hell broke loose. He claimed that no one loved him or cared about him. He hated his life. He hated me. I made his life miserable. My eleven-year-old boy is no longer a kid. He is breaking out of my space. He told me to get out of his room and he didn’t want to see me anymore. That was a wake up call for me.

Later on when we both calmed down, I came back into his room. I asked him if he meant what he said. Fortunately, he said no. He was just angry. I gave him a hug and he held on to me tight. I told him I have never stopped loving him. I apologized that I made his life miserable. I asked if I could sleep with him. He held my arm and rubbed my skin like he used to do when he was a kid.

I watched him sleep and thought about our relationships. The lockdown has been tough on all of us, particularly on him. During weekdays, my wife and I have to work; therefore, we simply can’t do much with them. Even on weekends, we have nowhere to go. When they weren’t using their screen time, they were biking, playing water, or creating LEGOS. Then they would get bored.

I decided to make a change in our relationship. I wanted to try a less strict approach, especially in sibling rivalry. I wanted to show more caring and less yelling. I went to sleep tired, stressed, and overwhelmed. I woke up the next day and decided to start fresh. I woke up the kids and drove them to buy some Einstein bagels. To my surprise, my oldest son wanted to come along. After that he played nicely with his younger brothers. He didn’t make them mad. They watched TV and played military games. They built bases and stations. The younger kids loved it when the oldest brother made up games and let them participate.

At bedtime, I thanked him for his amazing behavior. I don’t know how long it will last, but I am grateful. I will do my part to make our relationship better. I hope this will be a new start for us.

Tình em dành cho anh

Chín giờ sáng Đán thức dậy xem TV không ăn sáng. Đán đợi anh Đạo thức rồi mới ăn. Không biết tối qua Đạo làm gì mà ngủ đến gần trưa mới dậy.

Khi Đạo xuống lầu, Đán tìm udon nấu cho hai anh em ăn. Lục tủ lạnh chỉ còn lại một gói udon. Tôi bảo thôi con nấu cho con ăn đi còn anh Đạo ăn món khác. Nó nấu xong dọn sẵn lên bàn rồi gọi Đạo lên ăn. Tôi hỏi còn phần của con đâu? Nó bảo nó ăn món khác.

Thằng em này tình cảm và dễ thương lắm. Cái gì cũng nhường cho thằng anh. Tôi khen nó và cho ý kiến rằng hai anh em chia nhau ra ăn. Nó khoái chí nấu thêm nước súp và cho thêm cua giả và chả vào rồi sớt qua tô lớn hai anh em cùng ăn.

Nhìn thấy hai anh em tụi nó đùm bọc nhau tôi vui và hạnh phúc.

Anh em nào phải người xa
Cùng chung bác mẹ, một nhà cùng thân
Yêu nhau như thể tay chân
Anh em hòa thuận, hai thân vui vầy

“Secret iPads 2”

Saturday morning, before leaving my house in Virginia to go visit my mom at the rehab center in Pennsylvania, I wanted to say goodbye to my kids. At 9:30 am, Đạo, Đán, and their cousin Khôi were still asleep. They had a sleepover. As I looked around the room, I found their iPads with battery drained. I suspected they stayed up and played video games again. I told my wife to talk to them when they wake up.

She asked them and all three of them said no. They were sleeping and didn’t play on their iPads. The day went on as nothing happened. I called my wife to get the scoop and she told me what they told her. After dinner, she pressed them again and Đán blew the whistle. They stayed up and played into the wee hours. When my wife told me the story, my heart sank. They lied to us the second time. At least, Đán confessed. Đạo and Khôi made me furious. Khôi is not my kid so I don’t have anything to say to him. Đạo disappointed me. He lost my trust for the second time. What we discussed the last time meant nothing to him. How can I trust him if he lied to me? If something happens to him outside of this house, how can I know for sure if he tells me the truth? For example, if one of his friends at school accused him of stealing, how do I know that he would tell me the truth? How can I defend him? I would have no doubt about Đán because he tells the truth. He still doesn’t seem to understand the importance of being trustworthy. I am deeply hurt that I can no longer trust my own son.

My wife and I argued over this issue. She doesn’t see it as a big deal because kids go through stages. Lying is unacceptable no matter how old they are. If they think they can get away with small lies, they will commit bigger lies, which will put them in deeper troubles. We cannot help them if they are not being truthful to us. I am frustrated that I could not get that point into Đạo’s head.

Đán is banned for a week from using his iPad and Đạo is banned for a month. I told him that his lies got him into deeper trouble. I gave him an opportunity to come clean. Whatever he had done behind our back, he could tell me now. He admitted he used his iPad at night after Đán fell asleep. I was mad, but glad that he tells the truth. I truly hope he has learned his lesson this time.

Bad Words

Last year Đán told me that his two friends taught him some bad words. Yesterday I had the opportunity to talk to one of them.

The issue came up when Đán asked if we could listen to hip-hop since they already knew all the bad words. I asked Đán what bad words he already knew and he spilled out, “Bitch, ass, dick, fuck, and shit.” I asked his friend where he learned these words from and he responded, “Just go to YouTube and type in bad words.” Kids nowadays know exactly where to get their information.

I can’t recall how the middle finger came up in our discussion, but the friend told me that his dad uses his middle finger a lot. I was a bit surprised; therefore, I asked him to clarify and he said, “When my dad teaches senior students, he uses his middle finger to point on the board.” I then remembered that his dad is a high school math and science teacher.

I played them some JAY-Z’s, but couldn’t help to wonder if I could show them George Carlin’s infamous “Seven Words” routine. No, I’ll let them discover on their own.

“Secret iPad”

Đạo, Đán, and Khôi (their cousin) are tight. Unlike when they were toddlers, they played together more than fought or argued against each other. They would spend all day on their digital devices if we let them. Because we live close by, they wanted to have sleepovers every weekend. Every time they had a sleepover, they would wake up at noon, ate brunch, then played video games while my wife and I redid our deck.

Last Saturday, we had no water in our house because we replaced our shut-off valves. All of us went over to my sister-in-law’s house to sleep. I was dead tired by 8:30 pm and just wanted to crash on the sleeping bag in the living room, but Đạo insisted that I should go to sleep in one of the bedrooms upstairs because the boys wanted to sleep together on the coaches. With my sister-in-law’s family, our family, and my mother-in-law, all the bedrooms upstairs were occupied.

By 9 or 9:30 pm I already passed out on the sleeping bag. Around 2 am, I heard voices whispering. I looked up and saw Đạo and Khôi chatting with some lights glowing. I got up to tell them to go to sleep and I was shocked to discover that they were playing on their iPads.

The next day, we had a parents-children discussion and we found out more shocking confessions. They had “secret iPad” time at night when they were supposed to be sleeping together in our house. No wonder they woke up so late. They secretly played on their iPads at the wee hours. My heart broke a little. They broke our trust. This is a sign of addiction. With the coronavirus and house-fixing projects, we let them loose for a bit with screen time and now they are sinking even deeper into digital addiction.

Now I feel so guilty for letting this happen. We need to get out again soon. Before the coronavirus hit, we limited screen time only on weekends. We would go out skiing, ice skating, swimming, or other activities. Nowadays Đạo hardly picks up his book to read. The only thing they have on their mind is screen time. We need to wean them off again.

Đạo Turns 11

Our oldest son turns 11 today. It is unbelievable how fast time has flown by. It feels like yesterday when we brought our tiny baby home for the very first time. I held him in my arms and worried that I would drop him. Now he is almost as tall as me.

Đạo performed well in academics until his school closed down due to the coronavirus. Like me, he is a voracious reader, but that’s where our common interest ends. He loves LEGO and video games. I am terrible at both. He built LEGO tanks, airplanes, and guns based on pictures he found on the internet. I can’t even follow instructions to build a set out of a box. He can play video games with Đán all day long if we let them. I get a headache playing shooting games for half an hour.

Đạo and Đán are really tight. They share a bed, wake up at the same time, and play together most of the day. As a result, they depend on us less than the younger two. Of course, they played, bickered, and fought like brothers do. At the end of the day, they are still brothers. Having each other help them navigate during the pandemic. They hang out with the younger kids too, but not as much. Đạo has become more gentle and patience with Xuân. He treats Vương well.

As Vietnamese parents, we expect more from him because he is our oldest son. He has been frustrated that he has been held accountable for his behavior. He thinks life is unfair that we asked him to be more compassionate and less competitive to his younger brothers. We don’t expect him to help us out. We just want him not to cause anymore sibling rivalry. It is still in progress, but he seems to get around to it. I am sure he will understand as he gets older. Đạo can be caring, charming, and loving when he wants to. We love him.