Monday, December 24, 2012

A Story of Bear Grandma

Every night since last Friday, I have been reading about the massacre.  Sadly, journalists start to cool off.  But I truly wish that we do not put this behind so fast.  We should hope for some good things come out of this horror, such as establishing more stringent gun control laws.  I am so disappointed to know some people in this country have such a strong resistance to better gun control laws.  I am so worried about the fact that in this country, 9 out 10 people own a gun!  Guns are so deadly, why they should be carried around by people whose jobs have nothing to do with guns?  I am from China and used to seeing that guns are carried around everywhere, but those are carried by security providers, such as the police, who are trained to use guns safely.  Chinese army soldiers are not allowed to access guns unless they are at their training fields.  It's scary to think about guns in this country really.  Last time I went a dinner party and met one of the guests carrying a hand gun.  The party had plenty alcohol, what if he drank too much and then lost his control...It bothered me quite a bit.  Not only did it bother me that someone carries a gun to a alcohol-served gathering, but also this mentality - why in the world some people feel so strongly that they need self-protection at friends' party where only friends are invited?!

Anyway, let's take a break from these serious issues, shall we?  It's holiday and I am in a relatively relaxed mood.  I wanted to tell you a story which haunted me for life.  Consider yourself warned. 

My brother and I grew up without seeing much of our parents.  Mom and Dad had always been very busy with their jobs when we needed them the most.  They both were members of The Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which means on the top of working full time, 6 days per week, from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm, they also needed to go back to work after dinner, say around 7:30 pm to 10 pm or later.  The nightly meetings were for those special CCP members to learn government's top secrets or to study The Works of Mao in order to build a strongest socialist country in the world - the biggest ambition of Mao.  Sorry, I mean Mom and Dad went to 
have their brains washed nightly, pretty much like every religious person here in the U.S. who goes to Church every Sunday.  Except my parents worshiped Mao, instead of God.  They were absolutely devoted to follow Mao's CCP party to march towards ultimate happiness!

China as a country was quite poor 40 years ago.  Majority of the countryside did not have sufficient electricity.  Imagine that you need to pass one whole night without electricity here?  Well, let me tell you, that was our life almost every night at that time.  When night comes, older kids would lid oil-lamps or candles to do their home works.  The younger ones including me would just play hide-and-seek until we saw absolutely nothing outside.  

It was then I came to know Aunt Tang, my nightly "Mom".  She was a very diligent and kind woman who worked every night to my knowledge.  She sew buttons on clothes.  Aunt Tang had 4 kids of her own, two girls older and one boy and one girl younger than me.  Since Aunt Tang's husband was also a CCP member, he was not home at night either.  Aunt Tang 
and her children thus were a perfect sitters and companies for my older brother Bing and me*.  After dark, Bing and I would come by her house sitting or lying in a big bed beside Aunt Tang's working station together with her younger children who often already fell in asleep at that time.  Bing and I loved to listen to her endless stories and I also loved to watch her sewing buttons.  Night after night, her stories never failed to keep us entertained.  She knew so many interesting stories that Mom and Dad never seemed to know, classic Chinese folk tales, European classic children stories, maybe even few American ones.  I believe I know of pre-Disney versions of Mulan, Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping beauty, and Mermaids from her.

One of the stories that I heard from Aunt Tang is "A Bear Grandma" that every little Chinese of my age would know.  It has many versions with small differences - you can google with these words: 
熊外婆的故事.  As I said, it has haunted me for life.  Test yourself and see whether you will be scared.

Here is goes.

"I am going to visit grandma and
 I'll be back until morning, so you two be good at home.  Don't open doors if anyone knocks.  There is a bear in the forest and she often comes to hunt children when their parents are not home.  So, remember what I said.  Do not open the door!"  The mother told her two children, Lan and Hu, while they were eating dinner.  After the dinner, she left home and shut the door tightly behind her.

The bear was hiding under the window at the dinner time outside, so she heard all what the mother said to Lan and Hu.  As soon as the mother left, she went back to her cave, put on some clothes and a hat to cover her fur and then came to knock on the door.

"Xiao Lan and Xiao Hu, open the door, please.  I am your Grandma and your Mom told me to come to look after you while she is away."  The bear said. 

Hu was excited so he ran up to the door and ready to let the bear in.  But Lan was a bit older and more cautious.  So she asked the bear before letting Hu to open the door, "Grandma's voice is a lot prettier.  You sounded rough."  

The bear said, "Oh, that was because I caught a cold."

Lan then asked the bear, "Could you put your hand in and let me check." and then she opened the door just wide enough for the bear to stick her hand in.  Lan touched the wrist of the bear and said, "You are not our Grandma, because she has a jade bracelet." 

The bear went to the crop field and got a long bean circling around her wrist to made herself a bracelet.  And then she came back said, "Oh, the bracelet was on the other hand.  Here it is."

Lan checked and confirmed that the bear had a bracelet so she let her in.  While Lan was offering the bear grandma a chair to sit down, the bear refused.  "Grandma hurt the back and cannot sit on a chair."  The bear said to Lan and requested for a cage with holes.  Lan gave the bear a chicken cage.  The hear sat on the top of the cage and let her long tail sticking into a hole of the cage.  This woke up the chickens inside.  

Lan and Hu asked why the chickens were making noises.  The bear said, "Oh, they are just like you happy to see me here."

Lan was still a bit skeptical so she went to light a lamp.  The bear said, "Oh, grandma is very old and the light would hurt my eyesI"  So, she stopped Lan. 

Then it was time for bed.  The bear and Hu slept on one side and Lan slept on another.  

In the middle of the night, Lan woke up and asked the bear why the bed was wet.  It was the blood of her brother Hu but the bear told her that was Hu's pee and Lan went back to sleep.

Soon Lan woke up again, because she felt a soft and long rope-like stuff tangled her feet.  It was the interesting of Hu, but the bear told her that was a rope that she used to tied Hu to her so that he won't fall out of the bed. 

Lan then went back to sleep and soon she woke up again.  This time, she heard some crunchy sound as if someone was chewing bones.  She could not go back to sleep anymore.  She was totally scared this time, and nervously asked the bear, " Grandma, what are you eating?"  The bear said, "Oh, I am eating some fried beans."

Well, I cannot remember how this story ended now.  If you are Chinese and interested in finding out the end, you can read it here.  For English readers, you are out of luck, because this story is so scary, nobody is willing to retell it.  To brief you here, Lan lost her little brother to the bear but herself did not die.  She had found many ways to escape and finally, she lured the bear to a well in the yard outside.  The bear fell in the deep well and died. 

Again, because this story is passed on by word of mouth, many versions exist.  So I only can tell you my version.  
I wanted to tell my kids this story so many times, but I never managed to do so because they are only 5 and 3 and still are afraid of going to the toilet in the house alone.

* Aunt Tang did not get paid to take care of us.  She did that out of her kindness - that was common in China.  We all helped each others out based on our kindness.  

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Function of education

A school massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, Newtown, CT occurred last week.  We are sad.  We are grieving.  We are scared.  We are angry.  We are seeking for answers...

And the answers are starting to unfold: Adam Lanza was eccentric and an extreme introvert; he did not like any other human beings; his mother, Nancy Lanza, was out of her mind to keep guns at the places where her mentally ill son could access; she was wrong for taking her son with her to fire guns; for shielding him from the public, for trying too hard to make him "fit in" the mainstream, for not trying hard enough to get him helped by professionals...

However, we must remind ourselves this soulless killer once was a loving child.  We must understand that any children, regardless what type of the genetic makeups they are bearing, they should have been raised and influenced by a village of people.  Adam Lanza was like everyone else with a unique genetic program, which told him to act differently from the majority of us.  Just imagine if the majority of us had sufficient knowledge to recognize and accept the way he was, would he still have been eccentric to that extreme level?  Imagine his parents, school teachers, and whoever else that were mattered to him, had been equipped with some knowledge of mental illness so that they would have sent him to special schools to satisfy the special needs of his growth and development, would he have acted differently?  Imagine he, like most of us at that age, had been kept busy by his friends, would we have had a different outcome?

We have failed spectacularly at many levels as a human race.  We have paid, with a price we cannot afford!

Yes, I am talking about that we have all contributed to the massacre, one way or the other.  We have failed Adam and Adam-like people, time and time again.  We, the society as a whole, failed him.

It's us.  We are all responsible for what the tragedy, whether you admit it or not.  If we continue to pretend that the mass killing had nothing to do with us, we will continue to fail.  If we live in a fantasy wishing mass killers would not show up in front of us, the frequency of such tragedy won't go down.  We have already experienced too many of this mass killing, we truly don't need any more to learn our lessons.  We cannot afford to wait for another 50 years for the society to change itself.  We need to act now.

What can we do to minimize this type of tragedy?

First, don't freak out when you meet people who act differently from the mainstream.  Showing them your willingness to connect with them.  Making eye contact with them, smile to them, make them feel welcomed.  Come on people, have you learnt already that we are all unique?  

Second, try to get close to whoever you meet in your life.  Believe me, making friends with "normal" people is fun and interesting, but making friends with "abnormal" people is extraordinary and exceedingly exciting!  As a middle school teacher, I had first hand experience to be friends with the most difficult students.  What I had done was very simple, I do NOT try to normalize/neutralize them.  I did not impose my own standards upon them.  I was genuinely curious to try to understand why they did not live in the same moral standards as the majority of the others and what they felt and saw in others?  With repeated efforts, I did succeed to make friends with bunch of kids who were labeled as hopeless students.  But I must admit that I had never met anyone with similar level of eccentricity to Adam Lanza.  But this is not the point here.  My point is to get close to mentally ill people BEFORE they become ill!  Yes, I do believe making friends with everyone you meet is one of the effective way to eliminate hatred towards others.  

Those two steps are easy to follow.  The bottom line is not to alienate young kids who are different from the mainstream.  This world needs more Alan Diaz to hang out with Adam-like kids.  I know it would be so much easier to turn our heads another way, to get far away from them, especially it was Adam who alienated himself from the rest of us.  But we can do better as a whole.  We could have reached out to him through the mother, for example.  It's not nosy, it's our responsibility to make the the world a warm, loving, and caring place.

However, sometimes making friends with people like Adam when they are already 16 or older, it could be too late.  In this case, we still can do something about it, such as, 

Third, follow up to with your gut feelings.  If you feel someone with dangerous thoughts towards others and themselves, don't let your busy schedule to delay to act accordingly.  If you think that's not your business, you are irresponsible.  You need to take proper procedures to have them watched.  

Sure, we must limit the general population to access machine guns to eradicate mass killing.  However, in my opinion, that was only the surface of the problem.  The ultimate and effective solution is to improve general educational and emotional quotient (EQ) of each and every one of us by education.

It's time to remind ourselves that the primary function of education is to gain knowledge to understand our surroundings and ourselves.  Education opens our minds to understand and embrace people with different and non mainstream characters.  With this knowledge, we are able to love, support, and care for others in need effectively.

Remember, education does not start at the day a kid goes to school, nor does it stop at the time a person is out of school.  It starts at the moment a child is born and continues for life. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A genius is born not made

The day our son was born, Fabrice whispered to my ears, "I think we have gotten ourselves a little smart fella."  The proud Daddy claimed that he saw a smart look in the eyes of our newborn!  Fabrice must have been delusional, I thought.  The infant was heavily sedated by the epidural and pictocin, he could not possibly show any signs of intelligence.  However, knowing that bragging is simply incomparable with Fabrice, I have kept his out-of-character remark in mind.  The next few years following his "genius" son's birth, my observations have proven Fabrice wrong, time and time again.  Since our Niuniu - 

- did not care to learn any letters even at age 2;
- had no interests in puzzles at any age (the Daddy just told me today that he stared to play with the 12- piece one and he is almost 4!!!);
- is still in diapers at night, occasionally, he even puts diapers on himself at nap time (he had been diaper-free in day time ever since he turned a little over 1, just for the record);
- cannot draw straight line, shape, pattern, or anything, really;
- ignores constantly our teaching attempts;
- still cannot tell the difference between people's size, color, or age;

All in all, he demonstrates no sign of super intelligence.  

Zhuzhu, on the other hand, has always been the smarter one between the two of them.  She -

- could tell the difference among people (height, look, smell, and color) at 4 months;
- walked without assistance at 10 months;
- knew A-Z and was able to sing songs with words at less than 20 months;
- was able to hold the urge of pee and poop at 3 months, diaper-free at day at around 16 months;
- was able to solve simple (8 pieces) puzzle at 16 months and complicated (12-36 pieces) ones at 2;
- had accurate memory of places and people at 18 months;
- understood and spoke 3 languages at less than 2;
- was able to draw many shapes and objects at age 3;
- had sense of color and beauty at younger than 2;

Sure, she is just a typical girl.  I heard this before.

But not according to child psychologists.  This summer and fall, Zhuzhu and Niuniu were both evaluated, sequentially, by two different child psychologists to determine whether they were gifted kids, as part of the process for the enrollment of a Encore Program - an enrichment program for gifted and talented students.

Why are we bothered to have them evaluated for the Encore?

Let me explain.

Neither Fabrice nor I believes our kids are gifted.  Don't get me wrong, we don't think the kids are retarded either.  We simply take a passive approach to parent them.  As long as we feed them, dress them, and drop them to school on time, everything else would fall right into places.  The Daddy is a big fan of keeping our kids to be kids.  We are also strong believers and supporters of public schools: we rather have them learn less than more at young ages so that they won't be under challenged later in Metro Public Schools.  Additional important idea behind our passive parenting approach is to let the kids to have a chance to look for their own inner drives.  Curiosity comes within - if they don't ask, we don't answer.  We fully expect that they learn how to cope with their imperfections along the way without the need of special interventions, such as this "gifted program".

In addition, both Zhuzhu and Niuniu grew up in the daycare owned by our University.  They started as full time infants at age of 5- and 3 months, respectively.  They have played with and learned from the other kids who are mostly high achievers - well, being the kids of high achievers, you see.  Apples do not fall too far from the tree?!  Naturally, they often come home surprising us with the vast of knowledge covering Disney Princesses, Star War Characters, and Super heroes...   

All these are to say that The Encore was naturally out of the realm of our knowledge.

However, it turns out that we don't live in a big bubble.  Kailyn and Elena, two classmates of Zhuzhu in "the Explorer" preschooler class, have introduced her Ballet lessons last fall.  These two girls started to becoming ballerinas like, oh, 1 and half year earlier than that.  Zhuzhu and Elena were in the Sunshine toddler's room together (from 1.5 to 2.5 years old) and good friends then.  Later Zhuzhu was singled out with Marie to joined Rainbow preschooler class (for 3-4 yr olds), whereas Elena was left behind and then was advanced to Annex toddler room (for 2.5-3.5 yr olds) with majority of the original Sunshine room friends.  Poor Zhuzhu might have been separated with most of her toddler friends too early.  She had hard time to adjust to the Rainbow room (our daughter requires high level of acquaintance to feel comfortable).  Last Fall, Elena and Zhuzhu both finally were advanced into the Explorer together, however, to Zhuzhu's advantage, she had plenty other friends from the Rainbow class.  Thus, Elena was closer to Kailyn who was also a new comer than to Zhuzhu.

Okay, I know this is too long to tell you why we came to know Encore.  I get to the point now.

Zhuzhu since then clearly was feeling rejected, because she often would answer my question of "How was your day?" with an answer of "Kailyn and Elena did not want to play with me.  They were not nice to me."  Our poor precious already experienced jealousy at that age.

All these is to say that it's not surprising Zhuzhu would want to join Kailyn and Elena at the ballet lessons and everything else they were doing.

In the early Spring, Kailyn's Mom kindly told me the Encore finally informed her that a specialized in child psychologist finally would evaluate her daughter soon.  She said they had waited for such opportunity for the last 5 months.  She was excited since they just got a definite "test" time.  She is a professor in psychology of our university and I certainly would not ignore her recommendations.  Thus, I relayed the news to Fabrice yet he could not care less about the news.  But I acted on it few months later and got our application forms filled all up at the end of the Spring.

Soon, Summer sneakily arrived, Zhuzhu started to become agitated, easily.  Her classroom was having frequent changes: friends went and new friends came.  Some of her old friends joined Summer camps in their future "big kids" schools, others took the chance to take long vacations.  Due to high demand of this daycare, each graduated kid was immediately replaced by a new comer.   It broke my heart when Zhuzhu at that time period would come home humming, "We love you, Lauren, oh, yes, we do..." her class dedicated this song to every graduate on their last days.

Other than the song she sang, she would also came home with various requests or complains, "Mommy, could you sign me up for Summer camps?"  "Marie has gone to New Orleans for a vacation.  I never get to have fun!"  "Elena went to Germany for a month, where are we going to go this summer?"  "I really don't want to be the last one to leave the class!"  "Kailyn and Elena get to go the Encore and swimming lessons together, I have got nothing.  It's not fair!"...  

We did not plan for summer vacation, so, told the kiddo to suck it up.  Life isn't always fair.

In the mean time of dealing with Zhuzhu's anxiousness, we also need to deal with her "giftness".  Sometime around mid of the June, we heard back from the Encore and had Zhuzhu scheduled for the test.  The psychologist informed me that Zhuzhu did not want to open up to her.  She said eventually Zhuzhu did answer her questions.  Then she showed me the following scores:

75% on reading;
91% on Math; and
80% on science/social studies

Good scores, right?  That was what I thought too.  

But these translated into an overall 0 for educational performances (required score is 10 or higher), 10 for creativity (required score is 16 or higher).  

Our daughter was not smart enough to make it in the Encore.

I was shocked and immediately asked the psychologist whether she could re-test our Zhuzhu since she was EXTREMELY shy!  But the psychologist said, "Mia did not do badly on the test, she is still better than average.  She just needs way better than average to make it.  You can always have her reevaluated later."  Then showed me the way out.

I must admit I did not doubt her competency at that moment.  But I certainly suspected the fact that we were an hour late on our appointed test time had imposed extra stresses to our sensitive daughter.  

The Daddy was calm, however, "I think the test score was acceptable."  He tried to make the sense of it to me.  "What, you mean Kailyn and Elena are smarter than Zhuzhu?" I cannot believe it, he was trying to tell me that our daughter was not the smartest in the world!  "Well, I don't know, they may well be.  Look, we've never prepared Mia for such task.  Kailyn and Elena's parents may have taught them more at home."  Alright, let's try to be objective then.  I should have known better and I shouldn't need a standardized test to tell me how smart my kids are.

But I was absolutely bothered by the lack of words to break the news to Zhuzhu.  Who knew parenting can be so challenging?!

The following weeks we tried very hard not to mention a word about the Encore, nor the test, to Zhuzhu.  Luckily, it was on summer break, Kailyn or Elena had not much chances to talk about it in front of Zhuzhu either.  Now she has been admitted into a private elementary school*, which disqualifies her from the Encore.  We are glad that until today Zhuzhu has not found out the fact that she did not pass the screen test for the Encore!

Having experienced the rejection by the Encore, we had decided not deprive Niuniu of this opportunity.  Thus, sometime in the mid of Sept, we had Niuniu evaluated.  Since he was only 3, his examine was done in another school by a younger, prettier, and friendlier psychologist with whom he immediately fell in love.  Yes, you guessed it, his test results were excellent:

89% on reading;
99% on math; and
88% on science/social studies.

These scores translate into the following: 10 on educational performance and 30 on creative thinking.  He was immediately referred to a comprehensive IQ exam, which eventually defined him a genius (IQ=139) and he started the Encore few weeks after that.

Now, where I stand?  Am I happy to know this?  Honestly?  Yes and No, but mostly it made me thinking.

If I believe that a genius is supported by his genetic makeups with which one is born, how do I explain the difference between our 2 kids who share 99.9% of the genetic makeup but do "not" share a similar level of intelligence?  They do, I believe, but Zhuzhu's test results could be skewed by her personality whereas Niuniu's could be inflated also by his superb expressiveness.

Zhuzhu is a mini Daddy, a stereotypical introvert*, appearing quiet and shy in public.  But she demonstrates strong 9 of the 9 types of intelligence.  Niuniu, on the other hand, is a mini me who lacks types 5, 6, 8, and 9 intelligence.  Maybe that is exactly why he is a certified genius - exceptionally deficient in some areas yet extraordinary great in other areas.  In other words, he can be dumb but appears smart because he is so eager to tell others what he knows!

Basically what I am trying to say is that one's fates can be sometimes determined by standardized tests.  And this is just the beginning for our kids.

The Daddy said, "She'll be fine.  She has years to grow out of her shyness."  To which I responded, "What if she will be rejected by another Academic Program that selects by standardized test scores?!"  I reminded him that many ivy league schools have minimal required test scores.  But the Daddy was not bothered at all, "None of us went ivy league schools, but we are happy, aren't we?!"

Told you that between the two of us, he is the smarter one!
* One of the primary reasons that we (alright, I) have decided to send Zhuzhu to a private school was because her introvercy.  The daycare manager (a great educator) and Ms. C (Zhuzhu's favorite preschool teacher) both strongly suggested us to do so.  They were worried about our girl would be treated as one of "the grey zone kids" in the public schools.  For the record, the daycare manager did not think that Niuniu is smarter than Zhuzhu either.