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.

Our Baby Vương

One good thing coming out of this lockdown is witnessing my youngest son progressing and growing. I get to see the changes in him day by day. It has been an amazing experience watching a 19-month baby adapting to his environment and expanding his horizon.

While we are living in an abnormal circumstance, he is having the best time of his life. He used to stand at our front door crying when his brothers went to school and daycare. Now he gets to hang out with them everyday and they indulge him. He wanted to join them in every activity and tried to keep up with them. He danced with the crew, watched cartoons together, jumped off the couch like his four-year-old brother, raced his tricycle against the big boys around the house, and laughed his head off when they entertained him. They adored him and he admired them.

He listens well and does everything I ask such as throwing trash in the trash can, giving daddy a kiss, or closing the gate. As soon as he hears the word “biking,” he drops everything he’s doing and goes find his helmet. Whenever he wants something from me, he grabs my hand and leads me to it. He takes me to the refrigerator for food, the door to go outside, or the basement for toys. His requests have been impossible to turn down because the way he gets us to do things for him is too damn cute.

He has begun talking and seems to pick up a new word each day. He says “bú” to his mom when he wants to get breastfeed. He says “higher” when he wants me to push the swing harder. He can say “mommy,” “daddy,” and “Đán.” He can sing a few words from the birthday song. Of course, he throws around “no, no, no, no” all day long.

He is catching up fast. I suppose it is inevitable when you live with three older brothers. He is so vital to all of us at this moment. He brings joy and energy to our family. I love waking up in the morning catching a beautiful smile on his face. That’s when I know the sun has shined. It’s a new dawn. It’s a new day. And I am feeling good.

Teleworking and Parenting

We’re living in a strange, scary time. Today, the weather is beautiful, and yet we are stuck at home. We are still navigating and juggling between working and taking care of our four kids. I don’t know how we will survive for a month or longer, but we have to.

Yesterday I took off work to give my wife the time she needed to put in her “Count Monday.” I did the best I could, but I was exhausted. When I had to take care of the kids by myself, I took them out. Time went by faster when we had fun places to go and good restaurants to eat for me to have a drink or two. As long as we could find those two activities, I could babysit them all day long.

Being trapped at home was a challenge, especially with no iPad allowed on weekdays. Luckily we had my mother-in-law helping us out. Without her, I don’t know how we could do it. With her tremendous help, we managed to get by. Đạo and Đán played with each other. I accompanied Xuân. Vương was naturally attached to his mother, but my mother-in-law tried to keep him away from her while she was working.

Today I set up my home office, which consisted of an iron board to place my MacBook Pro and a stool for me to sit, right inside my bedroom. I usually woke up at five in the morning to read or to write, but I started working this morning instead. I wanted to get as much work done as I could before the kids got up. Around eight, Xuân came over as usual when grandma woke up. I closed my laptop and snuggled with him. I held him in my arms and fell back to sleep. Around nine, everyone was up. I brushed my teeth as well as Xuân’s and Vương’s. I went downstairs and enjoyed eggs and bread prepared by my personal favorite chef Đán. I sipped some Trung Nguyên instant coffee and headed back to my fancy office.

My wife’s office is in the lounging room, which has a glass door to the deck. While working, she had to come up with fun, creative activities for the kids to do in the backyard. They took out recycle boxes and cans and whacked them with a baseball bat. Somehow they found the physical act satisfying. I took a break and kept an eye on them just to make sure they didn’t whack each other’s on the head by accident. I also made sure that they picked up everything and put them back into the recycle bin.

Around noon, I got hungry and grabbed something from the fridge to eat. My wife prepared lunch for the kids while I fed Vương. As the older boys were having their lunch, she put Vương down for a nap. Witnessing my wife working and taking care of the kids, I have greater respect and deeper appreciation for her role. Unlike my job, her job is based on performance and production; therefore, she can’t cheat her way out of it. Even though she changed to part-time after her last maternity leave, she had to put in the time in order to meet her production. Many late nights, she went downstairs to work while Vương was sleeping. Her love and sacrifice for our family are unmeasurable.

As for Đạo’s and Đán’s continuing home schooling, we haven’t figured out the routine yet. One of Đán’s teachers has been sending us like 20 emails a day. I simply could not keep up with them all. Xuân’s educators are sending us daily activities with videos, but we’re just going with the flow. My only encouragement is read, read, and read. Đạo and Đán have plenty of books I checked out from the libraries to keep them busy if they wanted to. We still have a whole month to figure things out.

Our Xuânshine

Last Friday, I sat down with Xuân’s teachers for a brief parent-educator conference. They reported that Xuân was friendly, communicative, and energetic. He participated in more group activities than before. He shared his ideas and enjoyed meeting time with his friends. He cooperated and helped his classmates and teachers.

He preferred the manipulative and construction areas where he can express his creativity. He spent a long time at the book area reading picture books and telling his friends stories based on the illustrations. Lately, he had been interested in the art and dramatic play areas where he got to explore his crafts.

Areas they were working with him including improving personal boundaries, solving problems on his own, and focusing on some activities. He got distracted easily.

Overall, Xuân was doing well. He seemed to find his groove. In the beginning of the school year, the educators’ constant turnover had a huge impact on the kids. Xuân didn’t want to go to the daycare. Everyday he told me he hated school. When I dropped him off, he wouldn’t let me go. The teachers seemed to be staying, the class had settled down. He told me he loved going to school now and he would say goodbye during drop off.

One of Xuân’s skills his teachers appreciated was his expressive communication. He told them exactly how he felt and what happened when he and his classmates got into conflicts. Xuân had good ears for words. For example, he had been telling me, “Daddy, I want to ride my bike without the stabilizers.” I responded with a surprised, “Stabilizers? Do you mean training wheels? Where did you learn that word?” He smiled and replied, “Yes and I learned it from Peppa Pig.”

From Đạo to Đán to Xuân, what I have learned was that communication is such an essential skill for kids. Most problems can be solved through communication. His mom and I weren’t worried too much about Xuân because he told you exactly what was on his mind. Everyday when I took him to daycare and parked my car outside the gym, he said to me, “Daddy, you need to get some exercise. You’re too fat.” I always laughed and responded, “Thank you for telling me the truth. I will take your honest criticism seriously. You are my motivation and I will drag myself to the gym when I get the opportunity.” I was not sure if he understood everything, but I tried to use my best vocabulary in my sentences for him to pick up. He simply replied, “You’re very welcome.” I am so proud of our Xuânshine.

My Athletic Đán

Đán is a good athlete. Because of his brave and wild personality, he can pick up any sport quickly. He learned to swim at the age of four by jumping into the deep end of the pool and trying to make himself to me. Đạo and Xuân never trusted me enough to do that.

When he learned to ski, he picked it real fast as well. He always skied at the edge of the slope or tried to find hills he could jump off. He made Đạo and his cousin went on the blue and black slopes with him. I sometimes worried about his fearlessness.

He wanted to take up fencing because it sounded cool when he told people that. He’s really into it and he does it quite well. The instructors encouraged him to practice more and get into private lessons to focus on his technical skills.

He picked up ice skating fast too. The first time he went out on the ice, he didn’t use the wall. He just walked, fell, got up, and walked again. He quickly found his balance. I instructed him to start skating instead of walking and he began jumping. In the last few weeks, I started to learn the hockey stop from watching some YouTube videos. He saw how I sprayed a bit of ice and got intrigued. He asked me to teach him. He got impatient at first, but I assured him that he could do it quickly. Not only he now can do the hockey stop, but he can also skate backward, crossover, and even one-foot eagle. He just tried out whatever he saw other people do that looked cool. He has the natural ability and now he just needed correct instructions. I wanted to enroll him into private lessons, but he is doing so many activities. He seemed to love all the sports he is playing and he didn’t complain about any of them.

Last week, Đạo and I joined him to play soccer from 9:30 am to 11 am. Then I took him ice skating from 12 pm to 3:30 pm. I was exhausted, but he had swimming class from 5 pm to 6 pm. After his lesson, he wanted extra time to play in the pool. He went straight to bed and slept right through the night after dinner.

I wish his academics were as good as his athleticism, but you can’t have everything. He had been diagnosed with ADHD. Sports seem to help with his overactive mind and body. He burned so much energy without feeling tired. If he sat around, he would get bored and beg for iPad time. Reading seems hard for him to focus. He is slowly improving; therefore, I am backing off making him read every night. He got in trouble in class once in a while for not paying attention or not listening to his teachers. He struggles with Spanish. We’re thinking of pulling him out of the immersion program next year so he can focus only in English. We’ll see if he would improve or fall further behind at the end of this school year.

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