“If There Were No Internet” by Đán Trương

In celebrating poetry, a class project for Đán, the goal was for students to respond to poetry through movement, speech, or art to further their understanding. Students had to share the poem they had written in a creative way such as drawing a poster, acting it out, or singing it.

Sounded like a fun project, but Đán kept procrastinating. He came up with the concept, but he didn’t ask for help to execute it. Even though the project was due today, he had nothing over the weekend. I had to email his teacher to ask for the project requirements.

On Friday night, my wife made him sit at the table and write down everything before he could go to bed. She had to sit next to him to help him generate ideas. He protested, but wrote down the lines. Saturday morning, I helped him put together his lines into a poem even though I have no clue about poetry. He came up with the title: “If There Were No Internet.” Here’s the final poem by Đán Trương:

If there were no internet,
I would be bored to death.
I would fall down in bed.

If there were no internet,
I would stare at my Windows.
All I would see is my own shadows.

Because there was no internet
for me to play video games,
my brain burst into flames.

Because there was no internet,
I went to the skate park
and dropped into the bowl
like drowning in my soul.
And I didn’t stop skating until the sky turned dark.

One of the requirements was to use at least three forms of figurative language. He came up with three, “bored to death,” “stare at my Windows,” and “my brain burst into flames.” I helped him with the fourth one, “drowning in my soul.”

After helping him finish his poem, I went to Michael’s to pick up some posters for him to write and to draw. He drew an internet Wifi with a red strike, the Windows logo, his brain burst into flames, and a skatepark with him dropping into the bowl.

We practiced a few rounds of presentation. I kept reminding him to slow down, to speak clearly, and to engage with his audience. I hope he will do well. I am very proud of his work, which took the three of us to do.

Freedom to Learn

In the past few weeks, Đán has stepped up his rollerblading game. He has good balance, some confidence, and a bit of fearlessness. He dropped into a halfpipe without using the coping. He jumped over a ramp with a huge gap in the center, which scared the heck out of me. If he missed the landing, I would have to call 911. He picked up new techniques fast. I showed him how to do the T-stop and the power stop from watching YouTube and he could do them in no time. He loved skateparks because of all the adventurous things he could do. Watching him making improvements day after day made me realize how he thrived. He learned everything on his own and he always kept himself challenged.

In contrast, he didn’t do too well in a structured environment. When he was taking ice skating lessons, he was bored out of his mind. He didn’t pay attention to his coach. He made snowballs with his skate and gave them to his classmate instead. His techniques weren’t too good because he didn’t follow the instructions. He just wanted to get them over with. Even though he plays hockey now, he would rather go to a skatepark than an ice rink. Whenever I made him go to the ice rink to practice with us, he would just skate around us to get on our nerves.

Seeing his behavior at the skatepark and the ice rink becomes clear to me why he struggles at school. He is a bright kid who doesn’t like the structure of a classroom. Instead of paying attention to his teachers, he zoned out most of the time. When I asked him about his projects, he had no clue what he was supposed to do. I kept telling him that I wouldn’t be able to help him if he didn’t know the requirements. I can tell he has been trying hard because I warned him that I would ban him from playing video games if he didn’t keep up his grades. Despite his efforts, he seemed to be boxed in.

I wonder if there’s an alternative way for him to learn. Instead of giving him instructions to follow like ice skating lessons, we could provide him a skatepark-like environment to give him the freedom to learn and to explore on his own. The current educational system doesn’t accommodate kids like him.

When I was growing up, I didn’t know any better. I just had to follow the system. There were days I felt like I was in an educational prison. I counted the days until I graduated from high school. Even in college, I looked at the calendar every single day. I didn’t thrive until I finished my undergraduate. I learned design on my own and on the job.

In retrospect, would I need my high school, undergraduate, and graduate degrees for my profession? Hell no, but they are the papers that got me through the doors. I understand their values even if they don’t mean anything to me. I hung my graduate diploma on my wall not because I wanted to show off, but because I worked too damn hard for it and it doesn’t do anything other than taking up space on my wall.

I feel bad seeing Đán being trapped in the system, but until I could find an alternative solution, he just had to go through what I had been through. I would try homeschooling him to give him the freedom he needed, but I have to put food on the table for all of us.

ER After Halloween

The boys went out trick-or-treating around the neighborhood and got buckets full of candies. After that, we went over to my sister-in-law’s house for dinner. The kids hung out together and ate candies while my wife prepared mussels and her sister fried chicken. The kids played video games for a bit.

Everything went smoothly until we got ready to go home. Xuân put his hands inside his jacket and walked up the steps. He slipped and busted his chin open against the hardwood floor. His blood gushed out and my wife freaked out. We put a bandage on him and drove home.

I brushed his teeth and gave him a short bath. I opened up the bandage and saw an opening on his chin. It didn’t look too bad. Should we just let the cut heal on its own or should we take him into the emergency room to stitch it up? Thinking back to my own childhood, I couldn’t recall any incident like this happened to me. If it did, I am sure my mom would have done anything necessary for me.

My wife was freaking out because she had a similar experience when she was a kid and she still has a scar on her chin. We decided to take him to the ER to get him checked out. Fortunately, the children’s ER was empty. We were in and out in about two hours. Although the doctor reassured us that the opening was not so bad, he stitched him up. While the doctor and the nurse were doing the stitching, I held Xuân’s hand and looked away. I learned my lessons not to look at needles, scissors, fresh, and blood. I didn’t want to end up in the ER myself.

We left the hospital around midnight. Xuân wanted to stay in my bed. I watched him sleep for a bit. I was glad that he was doing OK. I will never forget this little accident.

Three Hours of Sleep

After I picked up Đạo, Đán, and Xuân from school yesterday, we headed straight to the skate park. We skated for 45 minutes and headed home. My wife made udon. Đạo, Xuân, and I ate quickly and headed to ice skating lessons. Xuân took his test. He didn’t do too well because he didn’t practice much. Except for one girl, all of his classmates struggled with backward crossovers and T-stops. I am not sure if I should sign him up for Gamma since he isn’t into it.

My wife took Đạo and Xuân home instead of waiting for me to take my lessons. When I came home, Xuân didn’t look too well. I took his temperature and it was around 102.2F. He fell asleep and I carried him to my bed. I checked his temperature again and it was still high. I was a bit worried even though he had his mask on the whole time he was taking his ice skating test.

I tried to go to sleep as well, but woke up after he made some noise. He opened his eyes and spoke a few words in Spanish. I didn’t know what he was saying, but I asked if he was feeling OK. He nodded and went back to sleep. Around midnight, he woke up again and said, “udon.” He must be hungry and wanted udon. I was getting a bit hungry as well because we didn’t have much udon for dinner. I took his temperature again and it hadn’t decreased. At this point I couldn’t go back to sleep.

Around 2 am, he sweated profusely. His hair and the pillow were all wet. His temperature went down to 101.6F. His immune system must have fought hard. I was a bit relieved but couldn’t go back to sleep until 3 something in the morning. I woke up around 6:30 am and checked his temperature again and it was down to 99.1F. I am happy about it, but I will be miserable all day due to lack of sleep. We’ll let him stay home today to keep an eye on him.

Having a fever is not uncommon, but I am a bit panicked because of Covid. I tend to worry too much because my mother-in-law is living with us. I do not want anything to happen to her even though she got her third booster shot.

Đi nông trại

Ít khi có dịp dành thời gian riêng với Vương nên hôm nay lấy ngày nghỉ đưa nó đi chơi. Bây giờ mùa thu thời tiết bắt đầu chuyển lạnh nhưng có nắng ấm nên không khí rất thoải mái và dễ chịu. Rủ luôn vợ và mẹ vợ đi nông trại để được gần với thiên nhiên.

Đáng lý ra là đi Cox Farms nhưng vé vào cổng đã bán hết nên chọn Great Country Farms cách nhà một tiếng đồng hồ. Khác với CF, GCF rất vắng. Đến nông trại cũng hơn 11 giờ rưỡi trưa nên chúng tôi đi ra đồng chọn một trái bí ngô về trưng cho có chúc mùa thu.

Mua bí xong chúng tôi qua bờ sông kế bên ăn trưa. Cuộc sống dường như chậm lại. Tôi không dùng iPhone để chụp hình và cũng đăng trên Facebook. Tôi chỉ tận hưởng thiên nhiên.

Ăn nhẹ xong chúng tôi quay lại nông trại để xem những thú vật như gà, vịt, dê, và heo. Vương được rong chơi trong khu vực playground gồm có gối nhảy, cầu tuột, và những trò chơi ngoài trời. Vương rất thích nhưng chơi không bao lâu phải quay lại để đón mấy anh tan học về.

Một ngày thứ Hai chỉ đơn giản như thế là đủ rồi. Thấy Vương tung tăng giữa cánh đồng chứ không ngồi cặm cụi vào iPad, tôi rất vui trong lòng.

Bad Dad

Whenever I banned Đán from playing video games, he would say, “I want a normal dad. Why can’t I have a normal dad?” His definition of a normal dad is a parent who lets him play video games all the time. If that’s the case I would rather not be a normal dad.

Đạo is not doing too well in school, not because he is struggling, but because he is slacking off. No matter how much I had talked and explained to him the importance of education, it seems to go into one ear and out the other.

Xuân seems to be doing good. He is just a bit too whiny and lacking motivation. He has so much potential in ice skating, but he just wanted to quit. He kept asking me when his class will be over and reminding me not to sign him up anymore.

Vương is a three-year-old badass who curses like a sailor. Whenever he said, “What the fuck,” he would followed up with the sweetest smile. How can I even be mad at him?

Speaking of profanity, I let Đạo and Đán listen to Kanye and Jay-Z in the car. Đán’s favorite tracks are “HAM,” “Monster,” and “New Slaves.” The beats on these tracks are crisp and clean, but the lyrics are so filthy. Đán told me that he blocked out the words and just concentrated on the beats and the flows. As for Đạo, he told me that kids from his school cursed more than the lyrics on his track. He knew all the words, but he never used them. I just have to take their words for it.

I am failing in the parenting department on so many levels, but I don’t want to be too rigid. Give them some space to grow.

Progress and Regress

For his third progress report, which sent home last Friday, Đán received 3s across the board. He listened to his teachers and followed their directions. We made it crystal clear with him that he would get ban from playing video games if he grades dropped. That seems to work. We are proud of his progress. He could earn 4s if he participated more. He didn’t want to share what he had done over the long weekend. We spent two nights camping and he had nothing to share. Academically, he still struggles, but we are happy that he is trying and improving.

Đạo, on the other hand, is not struggling but slipping. He started off strong but now slacking off. He failed his math quizzes but didn’t even bother to retake them to bring up his grades. He didn’t even complete his assignments. His teacher caught him reading his book in his class. Seriously? He was read The Hunger Game in his math class? Is The Hunger Game that addictive? He is banned from video games now until he pulls himself together.

I told him in the beginning of the school year I do not want to see any surprises on his report card. He promised to keep on top of his school work and here we are. My wife had to check his assignments everyday to make sure he had done them, but he still managed to screw up.

We had a conversation last night and was was mad at me for being a mean dad. I explained to him that banning him from playing video games is not being mean. He failed to hold his end of the bargain. I stressed the important of education because life will be tough without that degree in his hand. I love him too much to let him screw up. As a minority in this country, he has to have at least an education to survive. I hope he understands what I am trying to explain to him, but I know it went in one ear and out the other. I am writing this down so he can read it to remind himself.

On Social Platforms and Blogs

While our family was having lunch together yesterday, Đạo mentioned that I deleted all my Facebook posts. He knew about it because I asked him to help me, and he deleted 250 posts at a time until they were all gone. Đán asked if it meant I deleted all of their photos and videos. Unfortunately, I have not. Facebook doesn’t seem to allow me to do so in bulk. I kept getting the “No network connectivity” error. I gave up and deleted the Facebook app off my phone. I might just deactivate or delete my account all together.

I also mentioned to Đạo, Đán, and my wife separately that I am thinking of making this blog private. Đạo and Đán don’t want me too. My wife didn’t have an opinion, but she warned me that she will use it against me one day for all the shit I said about her. Fair enough. She did say that my blog posts are far worse than my Facebook posts.

Đạo and Đán started to talk about social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok. My wife explained the harms and the illusions these two platforms can do to kids. I don’t use neither platforms, but I have read about them, especially the negative impact on teenage girls, which led to suicide.

My wife dissuaded them from joining these platforms, but she encouraged them to blog, which surprised and enlightened me. She made the case that with social media platforms they constantly seek and compete for attentions. With blogs, people will follow if they liked what they read. Đạo and Đán don’t seem to be interested in writing much since they haven’t kept up with their blog.

I am glad that she encourages them to have a place that they can write freely about their own thoughts. Unlike their father, they don’t seem to have any socializing issues. They can make friends easily. As someone who is very social awkward, I found comfort in writing down my thoughts and this blog has provided me the space to do so.

I don’t know how to carry on conversations in real life unless I get a little drunk. I worried that I would make a fool out of myself or offend people. When I got a bit drunk, I just didn’t give a fuck. I am in that state of mind when I blog. When I talked to people, I worried that people didn’t give a shit what I had to say, but they had to listen. On my blog, readers can just leave.

I can get pretty unsocialized in my own family. My sister-in-law’s husband thought that I am ignoring him, which is totally not true. I have nothing but love and respect for him. We get together every weekend. It’s to the point that I have nothing to talk about. I enjoyed coming over to their house for dinner. The kids loved to play games together on their iPads. My wife, my sister-in-law, and her husband also on their own device; therefore, I often read until dinnertime and I am cool with it. As along as everyone turned off their devices during dinner.

Some Progress

For months, Vương used the phrase, “What the heck!” on a daily basis. The day after he turned three, he switched to “What the fuck!” My jaw dropped the first time I heard him say that with a smile on his face. To be honest though, I found his cuss to be quite cute. I just can’t get mad at him. I also can’t imagine what other people will say or think if they hear a three-year-old using that phrase. He must have picked it up from YouTube. We let him watch more YouTube than he should since both my wife and I have to work. I have gone back to the office Monday through Wednesday. When I work from home on Thursday and Friday, I try to take him to the playgrounds and lunch. Yesterday, I drove him to a playground around 10 in the morning and fell asleep. I parked my car, pulled out my phone, and worked. By work, I meant answering emails. I have a new, wonderful assistant who can help me do the tasks so I can be away from my laptop for a few hours.

Xuân started kindergarten this year. Due to the Delta variant, I was not sure if he should attend in person, home-schooling, or just delay a year. My wife didn’t want to take him out for the year. Neither of us has the time to devote to his home-schooling. With hesitation, we sent him in person. It turned out well for him. Xuân is very sociable. He makes friends easily. In his first few days of school, he told us that he has five friends and he can speak Spanish. As far as Covid, there have been a few cases. The school has done a great job of keeping everyone safe. Xuân has been getting used to wearing a mask all day.

Đán is doing well in fourth grade so far. He shows tremendous improvement. In his first progress report, he had mostly 3s and a few 2s for things like not listening to his teachers, not following directions, not being organized. We talked and I made a deal with him. Any 2s he gets, he would get banned from playing video games. In his second progress report, he got a 2+ for listening, a 3 for following directions, and still a 2 for organizational skills. I didn’t ban him because he made some improvements. In his third progress report, which he received yesterday, he got all 3s except for his organizational skills. I am so glad that the school implemented progress reports often. It helps us and him to see how he is doing so far and where he needs to improve. As long as he continued to keep up the good work, he should be fine. As much as I hate to let him play video games, they are his reward and motivation to do his work in school. Đán wears a mask all the time now even when we go to skateparks. I can’t wait for him to get his Covid shot when his age group is approved.

Đạo is doing exceptionally well in seventh grade. He started secondary school this year and seemed to adjust fine. His first progress report was good except for a C- in Spanish and a D+ in PE. I had to contact his teacher to see he performed so bad in PE since he is quite active. He does rollerblading and ice skating quite often. It turned out that his teacher was on vacation and didn’t get a chance to update his grade after he took a quiz. In his second progress report, his Spanish improved to a B. As long as he keeps up the good work, he should be good to go.

After a year of virtual schooling, it makes me appreciate in-person school even more. Mad props to the teachers, administrators, and staff members for their important role in our children’s education as well as their future.

Ý thức

Cuối tuần vừa rồi gia đình qua nhà chị vợ ăn tối. Chị nướng nguyên con gà nhìn hấp dẫn. Vừa đặt lên bàn ăn thì thằng cháu cắt ngay hay cái đùi gà cho vào đĩa không cần biết bà ngoại và những người lớn xung quanh. Con nít không ai trách cả. Là vai trò người chú, tôi định góp ý với nó nhưng thấy cha mẹ nó im lặng để thằng con thưởng thức cặp đùi gà nên tôi cũng không lên tiếng.

Chiều hôm qua bà xã nướng một khúc cá hồi nhìn khá hấp dẫn, nhất là miếng da giòn rụm. Vừa đem lên bàn thằng Đán lấy ngay miếng da cho vào chén. Tôi nói với nó rằng con cắt một miếng thôi hoặc con hỏi bà ngoại, ba mẹ có ai ăn không cho con xin. Dĩ nhiên người lớn sẽ nhường cho con nhưng con phải hỏi. Nó giận lẫy bỏ lại cả miếng da và chỉ ăn cơm trắng với nước mắt. Tôi cũng mặc kệ nó.

Ngày xưa mẹ thường nhắc nhở tôi khi ăn phải nhìn trước ngó sau, nhất là khi có người lớn. Lúc lấy đồ ăn cũng phải để ý đến người khác. Tuy lúc còn nhỏ không hiểu lắm nhưng tôi cũng làm theo lời mẹ dặn. Lớn lên hiểu được những gì mẹ dạy là lễ phép và tế nhị. Dù ở Mỹ hay ở Việt Nam, chúng ta cần phải có ý thức tuy giờ đây thức ăn không thiếu thốn.

Lúc hè, tôi trò chuyện với cô giáo dạy kèm cho thằng Đán. Tuy là người Mỹ nhưng cô vẫn nhắc nhở nó rằng khi ra đời nó là người đại diện cho cha mẹ. Những biểu hiện của nó sẽ phản ánh đến người lớn. Tôi cảm ơn cô đã thay thế tôi dạy dỗ cho nó không chỉ những bài học trong trường mà luôn cả những ý thức trong đời sống.