“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.

Our Sweet, Caring Đạo

On the way to Whitetail for a skiing trip on Saturday, I had a conversation with Đạo and I was touched with what he had shared with me. He told me that at school kids were being mean to his friend because he is Chinese. Kids read the news, but they had a misunderstanding about the Coronavirus. Đạo stood up for his friend and hang out with him. I told him that I was proud of him for doing the right thing.

Đạo also shared that another friend forgot his lunch and didn’t have any cafeteria money left in his account. Đạo used his own account to buy lunch for his friend. He asked me if that was OK for him to do. I told him it was not OK, it was great. I let him know that what he did was an act of compassion.

On Friday, Đạo’s Cub Scout had a meeting at a local fire station. I was glad that I came along to learn about fire emergency. The firefighters asked the kids a few questions including “What do you do if there’s a fire in your home?,” “Do your parents have a place where everyone should meet?,” and, “Do you know your home address and home phone numbers?” Đạo raised his hand and was called on for “How often do you test your smoke detector?” His response was, “Every time my mom cooks.” The whole crowd laughed. We have a smoke detector right by the kitchen and every time my wife opened the oven door when she baked something or if she burned something, the alarm would go off. One of us had to fan off the smoke to turn off the alarm; therefore, Đạo immediate thought of his mom whenever she cooked.

Đạo is going through the transition of discovering himself. He will soon wanting to be more on his own. Damn, ten years had passed by so quick. Our first born is growing up too fast.

Xuân Turns 4

Our third born turns four today, and yet in my mind he is much older. Xuân started talking the earliest out of our four boys. By two or two and a half, he already spoke in full sentences. Having two older brothers made him catch up fast. He can argue with them and make them go berserk.

Xuân is expressive and talkative. He communicates clearly and eloquently. For example, instead of telling me, “Daddy, I can’t finish my food,” he would say, “Daddy, it is impossible for me to finish my food.” When talking to him, I often threw in as many big words as I could. For instance, instead of asking him to “show daddy your lion dance moves,” I would ask him to “demonstrate your lion dance moves to daddy.” To my surprise, he picked up the words quickly. He also has good ears for sound and tone. He can sing along Vietnamese pop songs or rap along JAY-Z effortlessly. I loved getting into verbal arguments with him. When he could not reach for the words he wanted to say, he would use his favorite word: stupid.

Xuân is passionate about lion dance. For his fourth birthday, I bought him a paper lion head and a small drum. When I was a kid, my mom bought me a small drum and I learned to play by ear. I still can play today thanks to that little drum. I am trying to teach Xuân what I know so he can play as well.

As far as his behavior, Xuân has his ups and downs. At daycare, he gets along with his teachers and friends. At times, he likes to play with his friends. At other times, he just wanted to be alone to play by himself. I am glad that he is comfortable to be alone. He also whines quite a bit. I am still waiting for him to get past his terrible-three stage.

Now that he is four, I want to teach him to read. I should be wrapping up reading time with Đán soon. I hope that he will pick up reading as fast as Đạo. We’ll find out.

Xuân is a wonderful kid. He is kind and loving, especially toward his baby brother. It is a joy seeing grow each day. We love him so much.

Mini Me

Out of my four kids, Đán becomes more and more like me. My wife noticed the similarities years ago, but I am just starting to see them. We love seafood, particularly lobster. We love sashimi and raw sushi. He started eating spicy food because I love spicy food.

Like me, he has a short temper and can’t control his emotions. He is sweet and kind when he wants to. When he is hooked on something, like playing on the iPad, he goes all in. I have a hard time controlling my temptations such as coffee, food, and liquor. Luckily, I never smoked or did drugs. I hope he won’t either.

He might have Von Willebrand disease like me. He has nosebleed once in a while, but I have it all my life. His skin is forming a few raised scars. He might have keloid as well. I hope that will not be the case. My bad genes have already showing up on him.

He enjoys spending time with me. We went ice skating together for hours. He tried to keep up with me even though he just started. He fell and got right back up. After many hours of working out on the ice, we kicked back in the car blasting hip-hop. When we listened to JAY-Z’s “99 Problems,” he commented, “It is impossible for someone to have that many problems.” I laughed my ass off.

At dinnertime, he would open a bottle of beer for me and he would pour himself a cup of juice in a glass wine so we can toast. He said that when he becomes old enough he would drink with me so that I don’t have to drink alone. I am fine with having a glass of cocktail or a beer alone. I am not an alcoholic. I might have to just stop drinking around him so that he won’t get the wrong impression.

At night we read together even though he hated reading. He did it to make me happy. As his reading improved, I don’t feel bad taking advantage of him trying to please me. Although I love reading now, I hated it when I was a kid like him. I am hopeful that he will discover the joy of reading sooner than I did.

It is kind of surreal seeing mini me running around and making trouble. I love this kid and I hope he will become a much better version of me in the future.

Explaining JAY-Z to My Kids

I have been exposing my two older sons to JAY-Z. I am not sure if this is a good parenting thing to do. Of course, my wife wouldn’t approve the idea. I figure if they can get past the “B-word,” the “F-word,” and the “N-word,” they might appreciate JAY-Z’s lyrical genius. The first two words are easy since they already know them. The third one, well, is not that simple.

They seem to enjoy The Black Album, especially the bouncy “Dirt Off My Shoulder.” Đán asked me the meaning behind the line “Middle finger to the law.” My explanation was, “Well, he gives his middle finger to the law because he doesn’t think the law works for him.” Đạo loves “December 4th” and he thinks JAY-Z is like Vương because they are both forth child and they didn’t give their mom any pain when they were born. Vương didn’t give his mom any pain because she already had anesthesia before they cut her open to take him out.

Đán kept asking me to play “Threat,” but the violent is a bit too much for him. He doesn’t quite understand the metaphor JAY-Z created in that song yet. Đạo’s jaw dropped when he heard, “If you’re having girl problems I feel bad for you son / I got 99 problems but a bitch ain’t one.” I had to explain to him the “B-word” in this case isn’t bad. He meant to say is that he could not be harassed. He also asked what does “doing fifty-five in the fifty-four” mean? I explained to him that the police pulled him over for driving 55 miles in the 54-mile zone. JAY-Z uses sarcasm to illustrate the absurdity that cops can use anything reason to pull him over. Đán asked, “What are sarcasm and absurdity?” Good question, let’s ask Siri.