So after about 3 pretty good semi-complaint-free weeks in the Chinese program Fred’s pleas to put him back in his former after school program came back Monday, in stereo. What made it worse this time is that he stated a concrete and legitimate reason for “hating Chinese school” (the space issue) and his teacher confirmed Monday his lack of motivation: “Fred didn’t do any work today. He said, ‘I hate Chinese.'”
Despite the fact that his teacher considered this behavior “unusual”, Fred’s griping confirmed my nagging doubts that maybe he should be having more fun, that he should have a bigger and better space in which to run around. It’s been a month and he still remembers the other program. Okay, I told Max…maybe we need to consider taking Fred out at the end of the month. I don’t want Fred to be unhappy and neither Max nor I want him to begin associating language learning with torture.
So flash forward 23.5 hours and I decide to pick Fred up 30 minutes earlier than usual in order to minimize his misery.
I step into the large room that is Fred’s – and 60 other children’s – classroom. His jacket and the various contents of his backpack are strewn on the table that belongs to his class, but Fred is nowhere to be found. I walk around, scanning the small faces of other Asian boys with closely cropped hair. Fred almost literally bounces out of the boys’ room, smiling widely.
“Hey Fred. Let’s go.” I make my way to the table to grab his stuff.
“What do you mean, no? I thought you’d want to go home.”
“No! Not yet!”
And with that he took off, racing to his table where he sat down with three other classmates and began to shout out Chinese poem after Chinese poem from his textbook. As one of the few kids who doesn’t speak Chinese at home, and the one child who enrolled a full semester late, Fred had trouble keeping up, his lips working hard to synchronize with the fluent rhythms of the other three girls. But there is one poem about the months of the year that he loves, because he knows this one by heart: Yi yue da, er yue shiao…
“Mommy, let me read this to you!”
And so he did, for the next 50 minutes at the school, on the car ride home, on our short walk to and from the mailbox, and in the kitchen when we got home for his dad to hear. Today, in a rare moment of cooperation, he even got on the phone when his grandmother called and recited proudly (albeitly nervously) to her the poem.
Had I ever pulled Fred out, I would have missed that look of pride on his face when he realized he had accomplished something pretty significant. I don’t have any false hopes that he will become fluent in Chinese. If nothing else, I’d be ecstatic if he walked away from Chinese school feeling just a little more capable and confident than he did the first time he stepped foot in the class.
How do I know when my child’s truly miserable, and I’m pushing him too much? How do I know when it’s better to have him stick with something so that he’d learn the meaning of perseverance and commitment? I had shot off 2 emails to my friend K. in the last 36 hours. “I’m pulling Fred out.” “I’m keeping him in.” K. is the one who reminded me that 40 trumps 4. Today I reminded myself that no one ever loves anything 100% 100% of the time…and that is okay.