Wednesday, September 30, 2009

"Mommy, I want to die."

Quoted from my six year old daughter. With a bit of depression in our family history, I anxiously asked her why? Her answer: "because when I die, I can go to heaven!"

I'm not quite sure what her ideas of heaven are, but probably some version of a Disney-like fairyland. Already at six years old, she is being exposed to Christian theology, from books, from her Christian school, and from us. Somehow, her experiences are shaping her ideas of what heaven is and that it is a place where she longs to go after she dies. This is revealing of the popular Christian thought that heaven is a place, a happy place, that one goes after death. When loved ones die, we tell our kids they've gone to heaven as a way of comforting them (and ourselves). What I'm concerned about is that then limits our Christian hope to that life after death. And in simple six year old logic, the natural response to this theology is to "want to die."

Here's what I said, in a feeble attempt to guide her into the type of thinking Jason and I have come to adopt, that Heaven is here right where we are. It is already here! Each time she shows that she loves her brother (we are heavily indoctrinating her on this issue, as the daily fights are really getting to me), respects her parents and teachers, forgives a friend, that is where we can see a little bit of heaven. And Heaven is wherever those sorts of things happen: when someone is lifted out of poverty or oppression, when peace and reconciliation occurs between relationships, whenever love is demonstrated in acts of kindness, words of encouragement. It's not just about us and where we go after we die, it's about God doing His work, bringing His world to us. I think this will take her a while to comprehend because I hear six year olds are developmentally egocentric.

If anyone knows of good Christian books for kids, I'd love to get some recommendations to help supplement our child rearing.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What our days are like

I just got an email from a supporter asking us exactly what we are doing in Taiwan. I realize perhaps we haven't been very clear in our correspondence (newsletter and blogging). Then I realized perhaps we haven't been very clear because we ourselves haven't been clear. After all, our whole reason for leaving China was to seek the Lord for clearer vision. However, over the past couple of weeks, we have settled into a family routine. Here it is:

7:30-8:30 I drive Lizzy to her school which is a half hour commute by car. :( I sure miss the bus service we had in Tianjin!
8:30-9:00 I drop off Hayden at his new preschool and I head off to work. I now work mornings at my Dad's company. I use the term "work" very loosely as I am not given much responsibility. But that's okay, I learn, I run errands, and I enjoy it.
12:30 - 1:00 I pick Hayden up from preschool and stay home with him in the afternoon. I do chores around the house, I clean, and I make dinner.
4:15 I pick Lizzy up from school (she does ride the school bus home so I don't have to go as far.)
6:00 Family Dinner Time!
8:00 bedtime for the kids.

Jason is now teaching adults English at a chain school in Taiwan called Global Village. He teaches part time and helps with Hayden in the mornings. It's been a challenge for him because for those who know Jason, he doesn't like to be center of attention and being a teacher requires him to be.

We also hope to be involved in ministry. There are some opportunities for us that we are praying about and will update everyone as they become concrete.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

It's always somebody's Lizzy or Hayden

I read this story on NPR today:

And it really resonated with me. Every mother can probably relate to this: after giving birth to children, all the news stories, victims of tragedies that involve children, hits harder on the heart. When we experience the immense love we have for our kids, we can also imagine the deep pain of losing them. The names of those victims become somebody's Lizzy or Hayden.

I have obviously not been a war reporter. However, I have seen children in families/communities steeped in poverty. I can remember the faces of little nepali children playing in the hills when they should've been able to go to school. I think about the ladies who give me facials in China who tell me stories of being sent away from home as teenagers to work to earn a living. I see the migrant workers selling things on the streets and their children playing near the bustling traffic. I've always been an empathetic person, but after giving birth, it's almost become unbearable to hear sad stories that involve children, because it's always somebody's Lizzy or Hayden.

But at the same time, it gives me strength and resolve. As a Christian and a mother, I pray we run and not grow weary of the mission of creating opportunities for the Lizzys and Haydens in the world for education, health, freedom.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Hayden's preschool (part 2)

Went to school with Hayden this morning and observed another cultural difference. I figure I better document all this for all my expat friends who might eventually consider sending their children to Chinese local schools.

I remember last year at Lizzy's International school, they had a Sports Day. There were several activities, potato sacks, relays, ball tosses, etc. the kids participated in. I found it amusing the teachers stressed there were no winners or losers. At the end of the day, everyone got a fun little keychain for the fun day they had.

Chinese society is extremely competitive. Think overpopulation: too many people trying to compete for limited roles and resources. From the very beginning of students' educational career, they are required to face immense competition in order to get ahead. The entire system is built around competition.

This morning, Hayden's school had a relay race. They divided the kids up into two teams. The six year olds did really well and practically finished at the exact same time. The teacher announced, "that was really close, but there is still a winning team and a losing team. Victory to the yellow team!" The kids on the yellow team all jumped up and down and waved their V signs. Amazing how they are already instilling the concept of competition into these little ones. I was amazed at how none of the green team members pouted or threw tantrums, they just accepted being on the losing team. that why my American husband is always telling me: "Cindy, it's not a competition."

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Hayden's Preschool

It's deja vu. Three years ago, we sent Lizzy to Chinese preschool in Tianjin. It was a completely local, Montessori preschool just like the one Hayden is going to now. At that time, our plan was to send Lizzy straight through the local system until perhaps 2 or 3rd grade so she can have a solid foundation in Chinese. However, after two years of observing her and sensing how she is not thriving, we pulled her out and sent her to the International school. Now, with Hayden going to a local preschool, I'm sensing similar struggles and challenges we faced with Lizzy.

The main issue is of course, culture. From the core worldview to the physical manifestation in the material world, Chinese culture is different from the West. This is not a subject I can even graze on in my simple blog post, but to present some of my observations from the experiences of my English speaking son (and daughter) going to a local Chinese preschool.

1) The authority of the teacher. In the West, teachers and educators work closely with parents as a "supplement" to the education and general well being of a child. Here, teachers are given much higher authority and role in a child's life. Many of the children are in school many more hours than they are at home. Many Chinese adults testify to the immense role (be it positive or negative) teachers have played in their lives as students. Students are expected to respect the authority of a teacher. Parents are also expected to respect the authority of the teacher as the "expert" in their child's life.

As always, when observing cultural differences, it's best to remember: it's not right, it's not wrong, it's just different.

But it creates conflict and tension when two cultures rub up against one another. I, with my western education (and let's face it, one who struggles a bit with respecting authority), don't respond well with having the teachers tell me what is best for my child.

2) Individual verses corporate nature. From a very young age, western little kids are encouraged to be little individuals, entitled to their own opinions and expressions of creativity. This manifests in the way kids are encouraged to make choices from everything including what color underwear they want to wear to the methods they want to go about creating a craft project. Chinese little kids are taught and encouraged to behave and act like others in the community. Children are expected to wear similar clothing, and perform activities exactly as they are taught.

When Hayden was introduced to an activity which involved clipping clothespins to a basket that had tapes specifying where to place the pins, he picked it up right away. At first, he placed the clothespins where it was marked. But then he started to explore and place it in different places, and then he started clipping them with each other. From my western educational perspective, I believed it was good for him to explore and try new things. But he was reprimanded by the teacher and told to start over and clip the pins at exactly the places marked for him.

Again, it's not right, it's not wrong, it's just different. It irked me that the teacher reprimanded him for that, but it's not wrong to expect kids to conform to a set of rules and become like their community. In many ways, we want our kids to become like us, especially in our Christian character (whew, that's a scary thing to say!).

3) Use of material resources. Chinese people, in general, are a lot more "frugal" in their stewardship of material resources. From a young age, we are taught to not be wasteful. Before each meal at preschool, the kids pray to thank God, thank the farmers (for growing the rice), and to thank Wang ma ma from the kitchen for making the food. Then, they are expected to completely clean their rice bowls. Wow, what a standard for our very picky Hayden to uphold! He had to eat mouthfuls of his most hated bean sprouts at school lunch today.

4) Language. This is pretty self explanatory. Hayden can understand simple Chinese but normally doesn't ever speak in Chinese. We are hoping he will pick it up quickly, but for now, he's just mute at school. (three years ago, Lizzy was mute for two years before we decided enough was enough) Although the teacher reports to me that when he's frustrated he screams. It's kind of like he has reverted back to toddlerhood before he learned to speak any language, he expresses himself by screaming.

Overall, though, he's done really well. He was happy when I dropped him off at school this morning, and comes home fairly happy. We'll see how it goes.