Letters to the Teachers

In addition to contributing to the end-of-the-year gifts, I wanted to get into a habit of writing short notes to to my kids’ teachers. They are loving, caring educators and I wanted to show my appreciations for what they have done for my kids.

To Xuân’s English teacher:

Dear Mrs. H,

We would like to thank you for all you have done for the kids throughout their first grade. For Xuân in particular, I reached out to you because I was concerned about his reading. Six months ago, he couldn’t sound out simple three-letter words. With your help and support, his reading has improved tremendously. We were reading together yesterday and my heart filled with joy. I deeply appreciate your efforts to help him reach his milestone. He will use the reading skills you have taught him for the rest of his life. We wish you a wonderful summer and we will send Vương, our youngest boy, to you in two years. Hopefully, you won’t be retired yet. LOL!

Regards,
Donny Trương

To Xuân’s Spanish teacher:

Dear Sra. D,

As this school year comes to an end, you will begin a new journey. We would like to thank you for everything you have done not just for Xuân, but also for Đán and Đạo. We were hoping to send Vương, our youngest boy, to you in the near future, but we are happy for your retirement. In a couple of our conversations in regard to Xuân’s poor decision-making in class, you said to me, “Never a dull moment in first grade.” We hope that there will never be a dull moment (in a positive way) in your retirement journey. We appreciate all of your love and support for our kids. We will miss seeing you around. Have a wonderful summer and happy retirement.

Regards,
Donny Trương

To Đán’s English and Spanish teachers:

Dear Ms. B & Sra. B,

We would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your love and support for the fifth graders this year. Đán, in particular, had such a great year. He told us that he had the best academic year so far and we could tell by his actions. He enjoyed school and thrived in a smaller group under your supportive guidance. We appreciate the discussions we had with you to get Đán the help he needs to succeed in his education.

We wish you a wonderful summer. We have two more boys sending your way in the next few years. LOL!

Regards,
Donny Trương

Our Sweet Xuânshine

The other day when I took Xuân out of school early for his dental appointment, he told me that his classmates laughed at his last name when his teacher called him for dismissal. Xuân is sensitive and emotional. He worries what others think of him, which
makes him an easy target.

At home Đạo and Đán often exposed Xuân’s vulnerability. They made him screamed in tears. Đạo’s and Đán’s behavior toward his younger brother infuriate me. No matter how many times I had told them that they were supposed to protect his younger brother, they had done the opposite. They accused me of favoring Xuân because he’s my golden child. I love all of my boys, but I sympathize with Xuân who is a sweet boy.

When Xuân was younger, he fought back hard and defended himself when someone attacked him. I am not sure when he stops hitting back when other kids hit him first. Even his little brother, Vương, is hitting him now and getting away with it because Xuân doesn’t defend himself or striking back.

Xuân is physically strong and he’s a tough kid. He is competitive in sports trying to keep up with his older brothers. I learned ice skating with ease after seeing his brothers zooming around the rink. He picked up biking to keep up the pace with his older brothers. He’s joining the swim team. He skis from the bunny to double-black slopes all on his own. He scooters hard at the skateparks. He busted his chin twice—one from falling off the ramp at the skatepark—and got stitches both times. I thought he would quit scooter after that accident, but he went back at it.

My main worry is that he can easily get manipulated if he wants to please others, especially his peers. He got himself into trouble a couple of times at school because he followed other kids breaking the rules. Several months ago we were at the skatepark and he told me that other kids told him to lie down on the ramp so they could jump over him with their scooters. I was horrified imagining if they landed on top of him with their scooters. I had to explain to him that he didn’t have to listen to them and he didn’t have to put himself at risk. Xuân and I bond because we always go to the skatepark together. Even when he was playing video games, he would turn it off and head to the park. His brothers had to be forced to get off and get out.

At the beginning of this school year, we did Let’s Read together and he was struggling to sound out the words. We stopped reading for a while because I lost patience. Midway through the school year, he was still struggling. I raised my concern with his English teacher and she told me that she would work with him. This is their last week of school and I asked him to do Let’s Read again. I was so happy that he could read fluently.

Xuân’s reading progress proved that I should back off and trust my kids to learn on their own.

Vương is a Badass

My four-year-old boy is such a badass, and yet he is so damn cute. Last week, he told me to “Shut your damn mouth.”

Last Friday, I tried to get him out of the house while he was watching YouTube. I invited him out for lunch at his favorite place: McDonald’s. He refused. I offered him a happy meal and he said to me, “You go buy it and bring it home to me.” I said, “You better recognize.”

After giving him a bubble bath tonight, I told him to put on the clothes himself. I joked with him, “You can put on your clothes yourself. You’re a big girl.” He asked me, “What did you say?” I replied, “You’re a big girl.” He hit back, “I am not a big girl. I am a big boy, you big dummy.”

I got nothing but love for this kid. I ain’t even mad at him.

Biking with the Cubs

Dear Cubs and Parents,

Our beloved Cub Master has appointed me to organize a group bike ride on Sunday at Occoquan Regional Park; therefore, you are cordially invited to this special event. To participate, please bring your bike, helmet, and water bottle (no plastic please).

We will gather in front of Shelter 3 (our assigned picnic area) at 10:00 am sharp. We will take the blue trail from the park to the Gerry Connolly Cross County Trail, which will lead us to the Workhouse Art Center (a former prison). Then we will turn back and stop by the Suffragist Memorial.

By the way, across from Shelter 3 is a volleyball court. If anyone has a volleyball, please bring it.

Heads up: I invited Chị Thi, Anh Nhan (I believe it’s Nhân not Nhẫn) and their twins to our picnic. They are looking to send their kids to scouting next year.

See you all on Sunday!

Donny

Digital Abyss

One of my sons had a long field trip yesterday from 7:00 am to 6:30 pm. The entire family, including grandma, came to pick him up. Once he got off the bus, I told him, “We’ll go to the skatepark for a bit and then we’ll go out to eat.” He flipped out, “No, I want to go home. I haven’t played yet.” I replied, “We go out as a family.” He said, “Family is no fun.”

I was not sure if he meant what he said, but his words felt like a knife stabbed right to my heart. I canceled our plan and took everyone home. I made damn sure he didn’t touch his PC at all for the rest of the evening. If that behavior isn’t a sign of digital addiction then I don’t know what is.

Am I the only antediluvian dad who is too concerned about digital addiction with children? Maybe I should be the one to get counseling for having an issue with kids using digital devices from morning until dawn even when we went camping in the woods. They ate with their device on. Some of them were spoonfed while glued to the device. They took a shit with their device. They didn’t want to do anything else and I was too frustrated to suggest anything else.

Aren’t digital devices worse than smoking? With smoking, at least you get a break for a few minutes. I am fighting a losing battle because I am the only one who seems to be overeating. Maybe I should just chill out. We were in the woods. What the fuck can the kids do other than playing on digital devices? Why didn’t I come up with activities for them to do? Taking them to the skatepark is all about what I wanted, not what they wanted. It’s all about me.

I didn’t want to take them fishing because I find it too cruel. I just can’t imagine spotting something delicious to eat and biting into a sharp hook. One time, one of my sons caught a fish and I had to unhook it. It was just so damn gruesome. I am not god nor buddhist, but why would I treat living creatures that way when they don’t even harm me? Then again, I eat fish and meat; therefore, I am as hypocrite as fuck.

In retrospect, I should have pulled my kids away. Just let them sit around, relax, enjoy nature even if they were bored out of their minds. I tried not to intervene, but that didn’t do any good. I am failing my responsibilities if I turn away and allow them to sink deeper and deeper into the digital abyss.

Inescapable

For Memorial weekend, we went camping again. This time with our family instead of Cub Scouts. We cooked. We ate. We biked a bit. The kids spent most of the time on their screens. We wanted to escape, but the digital devices were inescapable.

Seeing the kids gluing their eyes to their screens from the moment they woke up to the time they went to bed broke my heart. They took no appreciation of the nature surrounding them. I can reinforce my boys, but not their cousins. I stayed quiet to avoid confrontations.

What was the point of venturing into the woods only to spend time on screens? I had no motivation to do any activities other than biking. I wanted to check out the skatepark nearby, but I just went around the campsite collecting woods and burning them. I enjoyed making campfires and watching the flames.

It was such a shame that digital devices had taken over the kids’ life. No matter where they went, they had to be connected. Bonding time turned into screen time. Am I being too biased with video games? Am I being too worrisome? Am I the only one concerned about digital addiction? I hope I am wrong. I hope they will turn out fine.

Last Scouting Camp of the Year

Last Friday evening, I took Đán, Xuân, and Vương to Camp Wilson to start our camping weekend for the Cub Scouts. The campsite prohibited vehicles from entering; therefore, we had to carry our gears from the parking lot to the site. Fortunately, the three boys were huge helpers. Even Vương carried pillows and sleeping bags. Đán had to set up the tent and take it down all by himself to prove to the leaders that he could. He passed the test.

Once other Cubs and their parents poured in, we started dinner. My wife came to take Vương home. He didn’t want to sleep in the woods without his mom. Around 9:30 pm, Đán and Xuân went to bed. I stayed up chatting with leaders and other parents until one in the morning.

On Saturday, the kids had advancement activities all day. After sending the boys off in the morning, I went back to the tent to catch some sleep. I got back out around 10 am. We had lunch and I joined the kids for the afternoon activities, which included playing games and hiking for two miles.

Right after we had delicious phở for dinner, the rain poured down hard. Đán, Xuân and I ran into our tent. We kicked back, relaxed, and listened to the rain crashing against the plastic tarp. The sounds reminded me of my childhood in Việt Nam. I felt like a kid again and I wanted to freeze time. It was such a special moment with my kids. I don’t know if they will remember it or not, but I definitely will never forget the moment. Then I realized that it would be the last scout camping trip with Đán as a Cub. He will be joining the Troop next year. I don’t have any doubt that he will survive on his own.

I am still going to be part of the Cubs for a while with Xuân and Vương. Through Liên Đoàn Hùng Vương, I was able to connect with other parents and make friends. We have many things in common including family, culture, and language. When not scouting together, we like to hang out, enjoy food and drinks, and make jokes.

An Honor

Yesterday Đán and I accompanied Đạo to attend the National Junior Honor Society Induction Ceremony. My wife couldn’t come because she had to take Xuân and Vương swimming. It was Xuân’s last session for swimming lesson; therefore, he had to a test.

Throughout this school year, Đạo has attended meetings, maintained a high GPA, and completed service projects and tasks. In honor of his dedication and effort, we were invited to celebrate his accomplishments. The ceremony was short and sweet. Students and counselor gave short speeches. Students and parents dressed up. Đạo and Đán wore buttoned shirts and khaki pants for the first time.

After we picked up Đạo’s certificate and took a few photos, we headed to 99°c Hot Pot to celebrate. The three of us had lunch here a few months ago after our scouting camping trip. It has become our favorite spot. We ate so much. It was a great night. My wife and I are proud of his accomplishments.

Props to the Hùng Vương Scout Leaders

Kudos to all the leaders and parents for making the camping trip fun, engaging, and valuable for all of us. I also appreciate the feedback to help improve our next trip and reduce wasted food.

As I said briefly in our meeting, all the adults should step up to take the leftovers home. I wouldn’t mind taking home the extra eggs, but I wouldn’t be able to turn them into delicious flan like Chị Trâm Anh did. In fact, I have been eating bún all week.

As for the leaders, please don’t take it too hard on yourselves. I definitely appreciate transparency, but oversharing can be overwhelming. With all the emails flooding my inbox, I have trouble keeping up with all the information. I am absolutely fine with not getting emails that don’t involve me.

We are grateful for your dedication and contribution to our Cub. It’s a labor of love and I can’t do what you do. So please keep up the great work, my leaders!

Đán’s Strengths and Challenges

At home Đán is a caring grandson, son, and brother. He loves his grandmother and he is closest to Đạo, his older brother. His interactions with his parents and younger siblings depend on his mood. Đán enjoys speedy, challenging sports including snowboarding and rollerblading. He’s a fast learner, especially with any activities he is interested in. For example, he likes building PCs; therefore, he excels at learning all the parts and putting them all together.

His challenges are lack of self-control and discipline. He doesn’t know when to turn off his brain. Asking him to get off his game or taking a break from his PC would spark an emotional breakdown. Some nights he couldn’t go to sleep because he could not stop thinking about what he was doing during the day. Once he is focused on something, he can’t turn his mind off. As a result, he can’t concentrate on schoolworks or other activities.

At school, he didn’t do too well in previous years. He struggled the most during the pandemic. He could not stay focused through online learning. He fell behind academically in math and language arts. He often zoomed out during class time. His father had to sit next to him to remind him to pay attention.

This academic year, however, he has made tremendous improvements. He listens to his teachers. He gets along well with his classmates. He enjoys school more this year. His teachers speak positively of his performance and behavior in classes. Although he seems to be doing better in a smaller environment, he is still struggling with staying focused on reading comprehension and staying on tasks.

One of his previous teachers recognized his weakness during the pandemic; therefore, whenever he was taking his tests, she would pull him out of the group and read the questions to him. Because she was reading the questions, he couldn’t rush through to just click on an answer without knowing the question. As a result, he was able to slow down and to think before selecting a random answer. Đán needs to be reminded to help him stay on track.