A Small Gesture

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.

School Lunch

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.

Con cái cần có ân cần

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.

Screen-Free Vacation

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.

Screen Addiction

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.

The Harm of Screen Time

Nellie Bowles reports in The New York Times:

Screen exposure starts young. And children who spent more than two hours a day looking at a screen got lower scores on thinking and language tests, according to early results of a landmark study on brain development of more than 11,000 children that the National Institutes of Health is supporting. Most disturbingly, the study is finding that the brains of children who spend a lot of time on screens are different. For some kids, there is premature thinning of their cerebral cortex. In adults, one study found an association between screen time and depression.

A toddler who learns to build with virtual blocks in an iPad game gains no ability to build with actual blocks, according to Dimitri Christakis, a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital and a lead author of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ guidelines on screen time.

The kids get way too much screen time, especially when the cousins get together. It is easier for the adults to just throw them the iPad. Everyone else seems to be fine with it, but I feel guilty as hell.

Meeting With Xuân’s Teachers

After dropping Xuân off at his daycare, I sat in the lobby reading and waiting to meet with his teachers for a brief conference. He spotted me when his class went outside or a morning walk. I tried to hide, but he already looked right at me. He didn’t cry or anything. I waved at him and pretended to continue to read. He didn’t spot me when they went back inside.

His teachers told me Xuân is calm and creative. He invents his own way of playing with blocks, cars, or magnet stiles. He gets along with his classmates and they respect him when he wanted to play by himself. He follows direction and listens to to his teachers. They would like him to speak up more in group activities.

I don’t worry much about Xuân. He is a sweet and bright kid. When he knew that I was not happy with his behavior, we would always asked, “Daddy, are you happy?” It melts my heart every time. I love this kid.

Snowplow Parenting

Claire Cain Miller and Jonah Engel Bromwich defines snowplow parenting in The New York Times:

[C]learing the way for their children to get in to college, while shielding them from any of the difficulty, risk and potential disappointment of the process.

In its less outrageous — and wholly legal — form, snowplowing (also known as lawn-mowing and bulldozing) has become the most brazen mode of parenting of the privileged children in the everyone-gets-a-trophy generation.

They also wrote about A Vietnamese student:

Cathy Tran, 22, a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, is the daughter of people who immigrated from Vietnam who did not attend college. “They do give me a lot of emotional support, but they haven’t really been able to tell me about what I should be doing, like next steps,” she said.

Clearing her own path to college had some benefits, Ms. Tran said. “I actually think that I have a sense of independence and confidence in myself in a way that some of my friends whose parents attended college might not have,” she said. “I had some friends who didn’t even know how to do laundry. I guess in some ways I feel like I was forced to be an adult much earlier on.”

For parents, the entire article is worth-reading.

Đán is not into Reading

About two months ago, I stopped doing our daily reading with Đán. He fought back and screamed every time I asked him to read. It felt as if he were forced to do it. I just have to accept that he is not a reader and I need to let him do it on his own term.

On Saturday, I asked him to read and he can read most of the words without sounding out. He has shown improvements even though we have not read together for a while. Unfortunately, he simply got bored two minutes later. So we stopped again. He now has the basic knowledge of reading. It is up to him to continue. I wish he would read more like Đạo, but each kid is different. I don’t want him to hate reading because he has to read.

Xuân has been wanting me to read with him; therefore, I am going to focus on him next. I obviously learned an invaluable lesson with Đán.

Suicide Instructions Embedded Into Kids’ YouTube Video

Beth Mole writes Ars Technica:

Four minutes and forty-five seconds into a video, the cartoon cut away to a clip of a man, who many readers have pointed out resembles Internet personality Joji (formerly Filthy Frank). He walks onto the screen and simulates cutting his wrist. “Remember, kids, sideways for attention, longways for results,” he says and then walks off screen. The video then quickly flips back to the cartoon.

We must keep our eyes on what our kids watch or simply take the iPad away and play outside.