Một tuần nghỉ mát nhanh chóng trôi qua. Chúng tôi chẳng làm gì nhiều. Sáng thức dậy ăn điểm tâm rồi ra boardwalk đạp xe. Cho tụi nhỏ chơi playground và claw machines. Trở lại nhà trọ ăn trưa nghỉ ngơi. Trong lúc tụi nhỏ ngủ trưa tôi dành thời gian đọc sách. Đến ba hoặc bốn giờ trưa chúng tôi kéo nhau ra biển. Tụi nhỏ mê biển lắm nên chơi đến sáu hoặc bảy giờ về ăn tối. Sau đó chúng tôi lại đi dạo boardwalk và chơi games. Sau đó thì đám nhóc lăn ra ngủ. Tôi vẫn thức đọc sách hoặc thiết kế lại trang blog cho đến khuya.
Lần này chúng tôi giao hẹn là không được đem theo iPads. Bốn thằng con chúng tôi cùng hai thằng con chị vợ chơi với nhau dĩ nhiên là có cãi cọ nhưng người lớn cũng dè dặt nên không mất lòng. Thế là tốt lắm rồi. Tôi ngại việc cha mẹ bênh vực con cái của mình lắm. Tôi cố gắng để giữ vị trí công bình chứ không thiên vị con mình.
Chỉ bấy nhiêu thôi mà thời gian trôi qua thật nhanh. Ngày mai phải trở lại với công việc làm. Thôi tạm dừng bút ở đây vì tôi quá buồn ngủ.
Dad: Why did you kick Xuân?
Đạo: I didn’t kick him. I just pushed him with my foot.
I made up a peeing competition to make it easy for Xuân to go pee pee.
Xuân: I win again.
Dad: You’ve always won. Can I win this time?
Xuân: Sure… We both win.
Hôm nay tôi dành thời gian riêng với Xuân, thằng con trai yêu dấu thứ ba của tôi. Cũng không làm gì nhiều. Hai cha con đến công viên chơi xe lửa (hai lần), nằm dưới bóng mát, ăn potato chips, và cùng nhau đọc sách thiếu nhi. Chỉ như thế thôi tôi cũng hạnh phúc rồi.
Dĩ nhiên lúc nào đi đầy đủ mấy anh em cũng vui nhưng lâu lâu phải dành trọn sự chú ý cho mỗi đứa để nó biết cha mẹ luôn quan tâm đến nó. Chỉ ba tuổi thôi mà Xuân đã biết rất nhiều. Khi nó không hài lòng là hờn dỗi rằng, “Tôi khóc vì không ai thương yêu tôi cả.” Nghe nó mếu máo mà mình cũng xót xa lắm.
Xuân thường hay gây gổ với thằng Đán nhưng khi đi riêng với tôi nó cư xử rất ngoan. Có lẽ nó không cần phải tranh cãi để được sự chú ý của người lớn. Tôi rất quý mến những giây phút riêng tư đó.
Đã lâu rồi tôi không có dành thời gian riêng với Đạo. Chắc chắn phải tìm cơ hội.
Lizzie Widdicombe writes in The New Yorker:
What are we doing to our children? We fret, we helicopter, we listen to the wrong people. We pore over transcripts of two-year-olds chattering and turn ourselves into amateur statisticians. But, ultimately, many of the outcomes aren’t in our control. And that’s a problem that all the data in the world won’t fix.
Đán woke me up at four in the morning because he wanted some ice-cold water. I went downstairs to get him ice water and he already went back to sleep when I came back. I, on the other hand, had trouble getting back to my sleep.
I woke up around seven o’clock with a sleep deprivation. After breakfast, we headed out to school. We were already a few minutes late and I could not find a temporary spot to drop the kids off. The only spot available was a space that didn’t fit my entire minivan. I ended up blocking a bit of someone’s driveway. No big deal. I just needed to walk Đạo and Đán across the street to their school and I would be out of the way.
Just as I got out of the car, someone honking and yelling, “It’s my driveway.” I told Đạo and Đán to wait for me at the corner while I moved me car. As I pulled out of his driveway, the guy turned back. We both rolled down our windows. While I said to him, “I am so sorry,” he yelled back at me, “You’re a fucking asshole.” I also turned back to check on the boys and to find a space close by because Xuân was also in the car, but still no spot available. Fortunately, a mother who walked her kids to school saw what happened stood next to Đạo and Đán to keep an eye on them. She told me she could walk them across the street for me. I thanked her and told the boys I love them.
As I drove off, I wondered why people are so mad these days. Did he have to curse at me for such a small inconvenience? I didn’t care that he called me “a fucking asshole,” but I was upset that he used that language as the kids were walking to school and my three-year-old son was in the back seat.
As I needed to calm myself down, Xuân started to complain that he was hungry and that he wanted chocolate coin. I told him that I did not have any chocolate coin with me and that mommy will get some later. He was not giving up. His demand escalated and I was about to lose it, but I stayed calm and explained to him that daddy is a bit upset right now so please be good. To my amazement, he listened and switched the subject. He asked me, “Daddy, why did the worm die on the sidewalk?” I explained to him, “He must had left the soil to the concrete. The heat was so hot and he did not get any water; therefore, he got dehydrated and died.” He replied, “Daddy, I want to buy him some milk, feed him some phở, and give him some Gatorade.” It was such an expected response.
In contrast to the angry white man, Xuân’s kindness put a smile on my face and relieved my tension. That was what I needed to get through my day. We walked to his class together and I escorted him to the playground with his teachers and classmates. He was a bit sad when I left, but he knew daddy had to go to work.
Last week, I went on a field trip with Đán. In the morning, all the parents gathered outside the kids’ class. After introducing ourselves, the conversation began with a father telling other parents how hard it was for him to get half a day off from his boss. Others joined in with their own work-life story.
Fifteen minutes later, Đán’s teacher came out to assigned the chaperones with the kids. I was responsible for two boys and two girls. The trip was to George Mason University to watch a play; therefore, the ride was less than five minutes away.
One of Đán’s friends was super friendly. He called me “Papa” and held my hand as we walked from the parking to the theater. Maybe he didn’t want to get hit by a car. By the time we arrived at the front of the theater, his mom was standing at the door waiting for him. He ran over with joy to give her a hug. I greeted her. She turned to her son and said, “I have to go to work. Please listen to Mr. Trương and enjoy the show.” They waved goodbye and she left.
I thought she was going to join us, but she went out of her way just to say hi to her son. It was just eye-opening. She made me realized even a small gesture mattered. We don’t have to do all the grand things for our kids to show that we cared.
Whenever I had a chance, I would join my sons for lunch at school. I have to take advantage of the age when they are still proud of me in front of their friends. Years ago, an uncle’s friend told me that his teenage son was so embarrassed of him that he had to walk in different direction when his son and his girlfriend were in the mall. I hope that day will never come for me.
When Đạo was in kindergarten, parents were invited to have Thanksgiving lunch with their kids at school. I was debating whether I should take off work or not, but I was glad I went. When parents sat with their kids at lunch tables, one of his friends was in tear because his parents weren’t there with him. He didn’t even touch his food because he must had felt left out. Fortunately, his teacher saw it and sat next to him. After what I witnessed, I have not missed Thanksgiving lunch with my kids. I didn’t think it was a big deal, but it meant a great deal to the kids.
What I also enjoyed about school lunch was that the cafeteria and the food took me back to my days in elementary school. My experience was much different than theirs. I sat by myself most of the time because I did not speak any English and I did not make any friends. Both Đạo and Đán have close friends and they all liked having me around.
Sáng nay mưa lớn thèm được nướng tiếp nhưng phải thức dậy đi làm. Sau khi đưa Đạo Đán đến trường và Xuân đến nhà trẻ, tôi ghé vào quán café làm việc thay vì vào văn phòng. Đến mười một giờ trưa tôi trở lại trường học để quan sát hành vi của thằng Đán.
Hôm thứ sáu đang làm việc thì nhận được email từ cô giáo dạy nhạc của Đán. Nó lại không nghe lời cô. Cô than phiền rằng nó mà cứ tiếp tục không tuân theo sự hướng dẫn của cô, cô sẽ đuổi nó lên văn phòng hiệu trưởng để khỏi ảnh hưởng đến việc học của bạn nó.
Tôi cũng không biết phải trả lời cô như thế nào vì lần trước tôi nói với cô rằng nó đã hứa và sẽ vân lời. Suy nghĩ một lúc tôi hồi âm xin cô cho tôi đến lớp để quan sát tình hình. Nếu như nó không giữ trật tự, tôi sẽ đưa nó ra khỏi lớp và cô đã đồng ý.
Tôi và bà xã đang mỏi mệt với thằng Đán và cũng đang tìm cách để xử phạt nó. Nói đi cũng nói lại rồi. La lên cũng la xuống rồi. Cấm iPad thì cũng đã cấm rồi. Nó hứa cũng đã hứa rồi nhưng làm vẫn cứ làm. Vợ chồng cũng đồng ý rằng đứa con giữa cần có sự chú ý của cha mẹ. Như thế vợ để cho cha và con có những giây phút riêng.
Chiều thứ sáu tôi xin phép xếp cho về sớm. Hai cha con đi Costco và Home Depot mua một chút đồ. Sau đó ghé qua quán sushi buffet mà nó rất mê. Tôi phải gọi thêm một bình saké nóng để lấy can đảm nói chuyện với nó. Hai cha con vừa ăn cua huỳnh đế vừa tâm sự. Nó cũng biết nó đã làm gì sai và nó cũng không dám hứa mà chỉ nói rằng nó sẽ cố gắng nhớ những lời tôi dặn dò. Thế cũng quá đủ rồi. Ăn uống no nê tôi đưa nó đến trường đại học George Mason xem triển lãm sách của những đứa học sinh mới ra trường về ngành thiết kế đồ hoạ. Nó nói sau mà chỉ có nó là nhỏ thôi. Tôi bảo rằng, “Vì con đặc biệt.” Nó mừng rỡ gom hết danh thiếp cho tôi. Sau đó chúng tôi ra công viên hứng gió trước khi trời sập tối phải trở về với đại gia đình.
Sáng nay trước khi đưa nó đến trường tôi nhắc lại với nó những gì hai cha con đã bàn trong nhà hàng buffet ngày thứ sáu. Nó gật đầu nhớ và đồng ý. Tôi đến lớp sớm để chào hỏi cô giáo. Thì ra cô giáo của nó cũng khá trẻ. Cô mời tôi vào lớp ngồi chờ. Lúc lớp của nó bắt đầu vào thì mầy thằng bạn nó chạy đến. Đứa thì ôm tôi. Đứa thì gọi là “Papa.” Còn đứa thì hỏi chừng nào liên lạc với mẹ nó để hẹn playdate. Từ những lần đi field trip và những lần đi sinh nhật tôi gặp gỡ bón chúng hơi nhiều nên đứa nào nó cũng nhớ cả. Khi Đán thấy tôi nó rất mừng rỡ. Tôi ôm lấy nó và nhắc thằm những gì đã bàn bạc.
Nó đi vào chỗ ngồi và làm đúng những gì cô giáo giảng dạy. Ngồi quan sát mới thấy cô này cũng hơi nghiêm khắc. Bước qua nhạc cụ cũng bị phạt. Đánh nhạc cụ lúc chưa cho phép cũng bị phạt. Nói mà không giơ tay lên cũng bị phạt. Sau lớp học ít nhất là sáu đứa bị phạt. Cũng may là thằng Đán không có trong số đó. Cô cũng công nhận rằng hôm nay nó kỷ luật hờn tuần trước nhiều.
Tôi rời khỏi trường trời vẫn mưa nhưng trong lòng rất vui. Thằng con này đúng là cần phải dành thời gian cho nó. Mấy lần rồi tôi đã đề nghị với vợ rằng mỗi một tuần cho tôi một vài tiếng đồng hồ dành riêng với mỗi thằng con để cho cha con có cơ hội bên nhau và để cho chúng nó biết nó được sự quan tâm và chú ý riêng. Vợ nghĩ tôi viện cớ đi ăn nhậu. Thì cũng có uống một vài ly bia để có tinh thần bàn chuyện đời với con. Như vậy cũng tốt mà.
Before heading to Myrtle Beach for a week vacation, I deactivated both Facebook and Twitter. We made a commitment to the kids to spend screen-free time together. The boys agreed to leave their iPads at home. I brought my phone with me, but mostly used it to take photos and occasionally to check my work email just in case something urgent came up. Other than those two tasks, I hardly used my device. I didn’t even need to touch my laptop.
Our vacation was so much better when the devices were away. We spent more time with nature and with each other. We should definitely do this on every family trip. The ride from Virginia to South Carolina took about eight hours. I checked out a dozen of DVDs and books from our public libraries for the kids to entertain themselves in the car. Only Đạo did some reading, the rest watched a movie or two, and they all napped for several hours.
My wife rented a room at a resort with full kitchen and a beautiful ocean front from the 17th floor. We made breakfast and went down to the beach. We brought beach toys so they could play on the sands. The water was a bit cold, but the boys had no problem crashing into the waves in their wetsuits. They played for hours before heading to the indoor pool for more fun time. Even our little Vương loved kicking his feet and waving his arms in the water.
When not spending time in the water, we went hiking. Under the beautiful weather, we enjoyed being close to nature and away from digital devices. Time slowed down as we breathed in fresh air. I appreciated every moment of it, especially being surrounded by my love ones. I also took the boys fishing for the first time. Đạo and Đán each caught a fish. They were thrilled. We spent hours relaxing on the pier breathing in cool air and fishing for fun. I can’t wait to the day when I just sit back and read while the boys do all the fishing.
On the day that Dave & Buster’s had unlimited video games and wings, I took the boys there. Not having screen time, of course the boys were excited. Đạo and Đán were pretty much on their own as soon as I handed them their unlimited card. I just had to find them when the wings were ready. I still had to look after Xuân and my five-year-old nephew. I had to have a few drinks to keep myself entertained. D&B’s was the kids’ reward for not having their iPads. They thought it was definitely worthwhile after spending five straight hours in the joint.
On a rainy, stormy day, we stayed at the resort reading and watching movies. It was the first time I watched the entire Moana, and what a visual treatment. My reading was much slower than previous vacations. I only had a chance to finish a Vietnamese novel, which I already read half before we left. After that, I started to read The Unwinding of the Miracle by Julie Yip-Williams and my eyes were tearing within the first few pages.
As if four of our kids weren’t enough, we agreed to take on my brothers-in-law’s son with us. We didn’t think much of it because he stayed with us for a few weeks last year. This time, however, he was a bit different. His emotion has developed and he missed his dad. The poor kid asked me everyday to take him back to his dad and he counted each day to get back home. Even though we included him in all of our activities, he must had felt left out. Our kids had their parents with them, but he did not. He was close to my mother-in-law, but they had not lived together for a while. I felt bad that I did not considered how he would have felt before accepting the responsibility.
Other than that, we had a great time together as a family. Without iPads, we were forced to be more active. We did more outdoor activities. Unlike in previous vacations, especially with multiple families, adults let Steve Jobs watched over the kids so we could do our things. I was guilty as well for letting them had screen time so I could read as many books as possible. With just our family, the concept was easy to implement. When we agreed, no one can do it. With multiple families, it was harder to carry out if other parents let their kids had screen time. When one kid had an iPad, other kids would gather around like magnets. It annoyed the hell out of me to see my kids acting like addicts waiting for their fixes.
This was the second time we went on vacation without digital devices and it worked out well. We were present in each other’s company. The kids did not once complained they were bored. Xuân had also kicked his diaper to the curb. Life is great.
I am taking the iPads away from the boys again. The weather is getting nicer; therefore, I want them to get out of the house and off the screen.
Last several weeks, we let them loose a bit. As a result, Đạo and Đán were out of control. As soon as they woke up they asked for iPads. Before they went to bed, they wanted iPads. Last weekend, their cousin had a birthday party. As soon as all the kids left, they hopped on their iPads for hours. When we came home, they didn’t want to take a bath or brush their teeth. They were drained physically and mentally.
These days, hanging out with their cousins means playing on their iPads. Even a two-year-old can’t eat his meal without YouTube glaring at maximum volume. Adults can’t talk. Older kids get out of their seat to watch instead of concentrate on eating. It’s irritating.
On our next vacation, I want us to be screen-free. It is easier to do when we go alone. It is much harder with extended family members. I tried to bring this up to other adults, but they can’t commit to it. Their kids need to have their screen fix.