Hear Me Out Article Contest
The following are winning articles whose authors would like to share their articles:
To My Parents [Read]
To My Parents [Read]
Hear Me Out [Read]
Hear Me Out! [Read]
Dear Mom and Dad [Read]
Hear Me Out [Read]
A Letter to My Daughter [Read]
An Open Letter to Mama [Read]
Subject: Complaints in Your Household
Recipient: My Dad
Subject: Complaints in Your Household
Everyone has pain one time or another. No one is immune to pain weather you would like to admit it or not. It is inevitable. Pain is a broad word housing eclectic meanings that can never truly be expressed to its fullest extent. Pain is so general. Yet pain is universal and never, ever fun. Pain can sweep over you like a wave of mass destruction. Encasing you in a wind that slowly and gradually accumulates to create all wounds and scars. Ephemeral or eternal or implicit or esoteric, it will hit us all. And it’s funny. Pain is one of those things you can not explain.
What kind of pain is it? Is it a growing pain? Or more of a stabbing pain?
In the heart or your lungs? Back or front of your neck? Or is the pain in your lower jaw? Oh, it’s in your stomach! Probably indigestion. Just take some Pepto-Bismol and you’ll be fine.
On a scale from one to ten, how much does it hurt? Ten being atrocious and one being kinda bad. “It burns” or “it stings” are not the best description of pain. But really all you can say is “it hurts.” Unless you have time to spare words that elicit emotions so grand and amazing that others start to empathize.
I have time to spare. I will try my best to express you the pain, complaints, and concerns I am currently feeling under your household.
The pain will be expressed via the five senses we both can feel. And some other things I will include will be extraneous.
I hear you Dad. I hear that you think theatre and acting is a waste. I hear that you think most things I do are a waste. I heard your answer when I asked you if theatre is only good for my college resume. You fervently agreed. I will keep hearing you say how I should improve my math and be the best in school. I hear you when you say theatre is not a priority let alone viable career. I hear you and contrary to your popular belief I am not immune to your words.
I see you Dad. I know you can see me. I know you do not see me when I am on stage. I know you’d rather stay home and loaf around on the couch watching football instead of seeing me sing. I see you stay at home while Mom prepares to drop me off at a recital, a recital she will watch. I have seen you purposely skip out on my performances because as you say you, “well, just don’t get art.”
I can feel the shame in your voice when I do not do my extra math homework. I can feel the weight of your sigh sink in on my fragile shoulders. Shoulders that will soon combust if you do not stop. I can feel your blood running through mine. Blood is a poor excuse for family.
I can taste the irritability in the atmosphere when I ask for dance lessons. I can taste the dismissive air when I ask you to come see me perform.
I can sniff out whatever anger you hold when I do not do exactly, precisely what you say. I know it’s there and will most likely remain.
I hear you. I am not deaf and I can hear the words you say.
I also hear my friends and Mom clapping. Always with wide smiles and red hands from providing me too much applause. Family is not intertwined by blood, just by love and support. Support is a color you refuse to see and a sound you refuse to hear and something you are never willing to fully give me.
I also hear my friends raving, “That performance was, like, amazing!” Of course, with their own special, teenage expression.
I also feel the embraces and hugs they give me. I can feel the paper of the cards they give me for my birthday. I can feel their eyes on me when I talk. I know they are listening to all I say. I can feel.
And sometimes I do feel like fighting back. I will want to let my anger unleash like a thousand fires that engulf myself and the world and my words. The words that I would yell to you.
I’ve tried and fire will never burn you down. It only makes your fire worse. Like dam gates opening at the wrong time. Not just whisps but eruptions of cheap insults that come in hues of deep, dark red. Not just colors that dance but colors that clash and cry for the yelling to stop. You are a like a wildfire when you yell at me. And even if I cry, you will keep letting your fire grow like a cancer and let mine slowly dwindle down.
Then I always have to let my voice give out during the argument. This solely because I have to save my voice for the performance you’ll never see. I let my hope give out because I know it’s no use to persuade you with shouts and screams. I will always be the one to end the fight.
You don’t hit me or kick me or punch me or cut me. You don’t bruise me. But you don’t come to my shows or hear my ideas or show that you love me. You yell at me consistently. You can say all you want that you love me. But hearing doesn’t always make it true. And that really hurts.
I hope you will take these complaints in your household into consideration. Thank you for your time.
Hear Me Out
The year is 2012. I am a freshman in high school. Like most teenagers, I went out and came home past curfew. I engaged in reckless activities and I didn’t think about the consequences of my decisions. However, unlike most of them, I did these things because I had given up on life. I was struggling with depression and it was something I rarely heard about. Depression was just a word I would hear during those Prozac commercials that played every now and then. I tried to make sense of why I couldn’t get out of bed anymore, why I never had an appetite, or why I slept all the time but still felt exhausted.
The days I could get out of bed were spent hanging around the wrong people, doing the wrong things. I started going to school less and less, and my grades began to drop dramatically. As they dropped, the pressure from my parents increased. The words they said in the heat of the moment burned in the back of my mind. I feared disappointing my parents more than anything just because of how horrible they made me feel after. I started to hide secrets from them, and I went out of my way to communicate as little as possible. There would be periods where we didn’t talk for days, even weeks. I felt lower than I ever had before, and it’s almost impossible to fully describe that feeling. I felt pain, but I also felt numb. There was anger, sadness, hopelessness and loneliness all mixed together, and each separate emotion amplified the others. I remembered thinking that I would do anything to make it all stop.
Then one night, it all came crashing down on me. My parents were at a party, so I found some pills and I took them. I laid on the bathroom floor and wondered if I would know when I was taking my last breath. About twenty minutes later, my parents came home and found me in the bathroom hovering over the toilet and puking up the pills I took. My body was still fighting for my life even though mentally I had given up. At first, they had no idea what happened. I finally told them because I was scared that I was actually dying. I realized that I didn’t want to die but I was afraid it was too late. My parents were furious. I begged them to take me to the hospital, but they refused because they were ashamed of what I had done. “How could you do this to us?” they asked in disbelief. For the next eight hours, from 10 at night to 6 in the morning, I was either unconscious or throwing up. In the morning, my parents realized that I wasn’t getting any better so they drove me to the nearest emergency room. I spend the following day in the hospital, and I voluntarily checked myself in to the psychiatric unit.
Now it was my turn to be furious. I didn’t want to believe that my parents put their pride and self image over my life. But I had just spent the longest eight hours of my life in my room, trying to recover on my own from an overdose. I spent the next week in the impatient program, and there was a mandatory family meeting. The therapist had a translator on the phone because the lack of communication between my parents and I had created a language barrier. Cantonese was my first language but since I was born in the United States, I spoke English more frequently. Once I stopped talking to my parents every day, I began to forget our language. The family meeting was brutal. There was a clear misunderstanding on my parents’ side and a large part of it is due to the cultural difference. My parents were always very stoic. They never showed affection, not towards each other or towards me. They couldn’t understand what was the cause of my depression. I had a roof over my head, clothes on my back, and food in my stomach. They would tell me that I was being ungrateful because there were lots of people in the world who had it worse, and they weren’t depressed.
According to them, I had no reason to feel the way I did. The therapist brought up that I had several cuts on my arms and wrists, and my dad’s response was, “She’s doing it for attention.” I remember leaving the room because I was so frustrated and upset. Of all the people I was in the psychiatric unit with, I was one of the very few patients whose parents weren’t considered a part of their support system.
The year is 2015. I am a junior in high school. I am almost done with what many people regard as the hardest year of high school. It truly was the toughest year, but not because of college applications or standardized tests. Part of me didn’t bother with applying to college or planning out my life after high school. I convinced myself I was not going to graduate because I had other plans in mind. It was mid- April when I overdosed again. This time, my parents didn't hesitate on taking me to the hospital. Their initial reaction of anger had been replaced with worry and fear. I had taken so many pills that I almost permanently damaged my liver. The doctors stressed how my parents’ quick thinking saved my life because if it had been a couple minutes later, I wouldn’t have made it. I was transferred to a hospital in D.C, one that specialized in liver transplants. I stayed in the intensive care unit for a week, and miraculously, my liver began to heal on its own.
My parents visited me every day, and held my hand when I was in too much pain to even move. They hugged me and kissed me and told me how much they loved me. I could see they were changing and they carried a lot of guilt with them. Guilt from putting so much pressure on me, and talking down on me for years. It happened so often that eventually I began to have unrealistic expectations for myself, and when I couldn’t reach them I would take it out on myself. They realized how their method of “tough love” had taken its toll on me. I spent the following week in the psychiatric unit. The family meeting this time did not bring me to tears. It did not end in me leaving the room. My dad did not accuse me of looking for attention; he devoted all of his attention to me and my treatment.
The year is 2018. I started my first semester at Montgomery College after taking some time off from school. I began to advocate for mental health awareness in my community. Many aspects of my life have changed for the better; one of the most important being my relationship with my parents. It took years for my parents to reach the level of understanding they have, but they never gave up. They sought out support groups for parents who had kids that struggled with a mental illness. They read books and listened to interviews. They worked with my therapists and psychiatrists. My parents have come a long way since my first hospitalization. Years ago, I would have never imagined that my parents and I would be as close as we are now. It took a lot of effort on both sides for us to overcome our differences. Patience and communication helped mend our broken relationship. I had to accept that it would take some time for them to come around, and how it is especially hard to understand something that was considered taboo in their culture. In turn, their growing acceptance of my mental illness made my recovery a lot smoother. Although there were a lot of hardships that had to be overcome, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Without those challenges, my parents would still believe that a mental illness isn’t real. They put their pride aside and stopped worrying about what their relatives or friends would think. If they don’t understand what’s going on, they ask questions and we talk about it. But most importantly, whenever I have something to say, they hear me out.
Letters to My Parents
Do I have something I wish my parents would understand? Yes. Many things.
A letter to my Mom about what I wish you would understand:
This is my dedication to you. There are two things that I hope you will remember forever. In those two things are infinities.
One: I love you. 我爱你.
Two: I am forever in debt to you, and I wish I could give you everything.
There are so many ways to describe you. Single mother of two children, full-time job as scientific researcher. Hard working, caring, tough-loving, passionate. It is because of you that I was able to get into the GT magnet (Gifted and Talented), into a STEM program in middle school, and now one of the most rigorous high school STEM magnet programs in the county. When I am stressed and working myself tired with homework, you are stressed and working yourself even more cleaning and cooking dinner and lunch and breakfast. You are the one that drives me every day to all of my activities, you are the one that registers me for my summer camps every year, you are the one that schedules the doctor and dentist appointments and pays the bills and the taxes, and I have so little to give back to you.
To be honest, it wasn’t until recently that I began to be aware of how much work it has been, and still is, to raise me. I remember when I was younger being frustrated when I tried to have conversations with you while you were working. I would walk into the office, try to clamber onto your lap, and start to tell you a joke- “Mommy, knock knock? Knock knock? You’re supposed to say ‘who’s there!’” you would continue typing into your Excel spreadsheets and tell me to go finish my homework. Rejected, I would slink away. Sometimes, as a kid, I felt like you didn’t love me. You didn’t compliment me when I came back with an art project from school or call me sweetie pie and princess, like I thought a Mommy did. Did I understand that you showed your love in different ways? Did I understand that making me work hard was your love for me in hopes that I would be successful later in life? No. Your signals of love were lost in translation. I worry that my love for you has been lost in translation too.
You always said just me being your daughter, and happy, was enough. But I feel so insufficient, so disappointing, sometimes. I wish there was a way to give back to you, for all the work that you have done.
But what can I do? Give you Mother’s Day cards every year. Buy you thousands of sunflower seeds, which you eat like a bird before winter. Get a high-paying job and give you trillions of dollars a year, pay back all the money you spent on me. But it wasn’t just money, it was time, and how can I give you time?
I love you, 我爱你. We have phone calls every day now, me giving her a little summary of my day at school as I am at home working on homework and when she is working in her lab. I miss you, 我快到家. 十分钟.
I would learn to say I love you in every language there is on Earth, Swahili or French or binary even, and I would pay you back dollar for dollar every amount that you poured into me, and I would travel from another universe back for you. But I can’t, and I wish I could. As a kid, I loved you as the person who gave me food and drove me and gave me hugs and kisses. But did I know much about you? Now, I know that you ice skated as a kid in China, that you couldn’t attend school for a period of time, that you love babies and little kids and you don’t like wolves or big dogs. I’m starting to know you as more than just the person that keeps me alive and happy, and I am excited to start a new kind of relationship of mother and daughter, as I grow older and learn more about the world.
Everlasting love and dedication from your daughter.
But what’s the topic of this again?
Do you have something you wish your parents would understand. Parents, as in plural.
So. Here I go:
A letter to my [I haven’t decided what to call you yet]:
Father? Dad? 爸爸? What should I address you as? What would you prefer to be called?
I guess I should tell you about me. I’m 14 now, turning 15 soon, and I’m starting high school and I eat sleeves of crackers and sometimes I wish I was a cat. Or a bird. I wish I had a pet, because maybe if I had a pet, I would feel less alone. Loneliness is an old childhood friend of mine. We hung out less when I was little.
When I was little, it was me, Mommy, and 哥哥. Just 哥哥, and never Brother. Brother, in English, it didn’t feel right. The 哥哥 that I had didn’t match with the image of the Brother I imagined. 哥哥 didn’t teach me to ride a bike or swing me on the swingset or fight with me endlessly; but he did give me presents every year, and taught me math. And as for grandparents, I would go to visit 奶奶 sometimes in China. Once, in the hospital, I danced for her.
But you are different, so different, because I have never seen you, or heard of you much at all. What do I know about you? You are my father/papa/dad/爸爸. You left when I was little. Maybe before I was born. You’re a professor at the Louisiana State University. I think. Maybe you’ve moved?
I don’t know how to approach you. We have missed so much. Do I miss you? Do you miss me? You sent me emails once. I never replied. It confused me; why would you leave Mom and 哥哥 and me, for over 14 years, and decide to send emails back one day?
I want you to understand that I’m not mad, or angry, or resentful. My life growing up with Mom was more than fulfilling, and I am sure you had your own reasons for leaving. Maybe you did it for the best. But I am also confused, very confused, and not quite ready yet to meet you or talk to you directly.
When I am ready, if I am ever ready, I imagine I am grown up, and I book a plane to fly over to Louisiana. We eat dinner at a restaurant and you say, How much you’ve grown, you are so successful, I am so proud of you, and maybe you even say I’m sorry. But at the same time, I feel this scenario is too heartfelt, too storybook, for a separated immigrant father and American daughter. It seems like there are too many differences.
A science fact: the stars we see in the night sky, their light takes years to reach us. Even at the speed that light travels, the stars are so far away- the closest star’s light alone takes 4.37 years to reach us. For all we know, its shine could have gone out years ago. The fuel in its core burned up from helium to iron, and we would never know on Earth until much later.
You are like a star faraway in the sky, and I am on Earth. But the question is,
Do I want to be the astronaut?
Runners Up to Winning Articles
To My Parents
“An A- is not bad Dad! You should be grateful for us – all my other friends get gifts when they get an A!” I was yelling back at my dad as he was ferociously screaming at my brother. My brother received his first A- in sixth grade, and I knew that the punishment was going to be severe. He was always hard on my brother about grades, and as his grades were worsening, the effect would also trickle down to me. I could see anger in my dad’s eyes; it was as if we had committed the worst crime in the world rather than a “bad grade” and “talking back.” My dad continued to yell at both of us, because now I was in trouble too. “Forget it! It’s YOUR future, you can ruin it if you want!” These were the words I heard growing up.
I’m 24 years old now, and yet I feel like this is the means through which I can tell you how I feel. I was scared but moreover, I didn’t understand. An A- didn’t mean that his future was doomed. Rather than strict, angry parenting, it would have been helpful to be more open to discussion, to two-way communication. We could have sat down and discussed the importance of grades, education, and schooling. You could have told me your background and why you emphasize all A’s, so we could understand. Instead, whatever you said was always the right way. You expected us to listen and obey by your rules. Now, being older, I can partially understand where you were coming from. Yes, you wanted what was best for brother and me. You wanted us to succeed, to excel, to reach our best potential. You wanted to push us, so that we could have more opportunities than you did. As I am developing more empathy and learning about your background, I feel like I can see your perspective. I know that you grew up in Korea during a time period in which food, resources, and opportunities were scarce. Your childhood was during a time where Korea was still a third world nation and education was the only way to make it to the top. And you did it. You went from eating bananas as a sweet treat since they were expensive to a college professor at the number one university. You immigrated to the U.S. through education by receiving admission to a top Ph.D. program. You worked hard, and your dad parented you very similarly – education, education, education as the pathway to success. That type of parenting worked for you, so it had to work for us right? In one sense, it did… we (my brother and I) both ended up matriculating at great colleges. But that’s the thing, there’s a difference between the way we grew up and the way you did. We were being raised at a very different time period, income level, and in another country, the United States.
It’s strange, because growing up in the U.S., I felt closer to you both in one sense but had difficulty connecting due to cultural differences. Whilst growing up here, I felt as though we were a family unit – being the only Asians in a predominantly White area, we had to stick together to support each other. In the suburbs, there isn’t much to do besides spending time with family. I remember always eating dinner together, going on walks, family vacations, and hosting dinner parties with other Korean families. We Koreans had to build our own little community, as there weren’t too many of us. At the same time, I was embarrassed. I didn’t understand why your English wasn’t perfect. My Korean wasn’t perfect either, so it would be frustrating trying to communicate. I didn’t want you to hold my hand while walking to school. Why did you say you’re my mommy and daddy rather than mom and dad? Why couldn’t you understand that I didn’t want Korean food for breakfast, because it made my breath stink? I made sure to use mouthwash twice before going to school. Why was our punishment not getting grounded to go to our room but holding our arms up in the air for what seemed like hours (in reality, it was probably only a minute or two)? Why did you pack me sushi for lunch rather than the cool PB&J sandwiches everyone else had? I now know that these are aspects of my Korean culture that I am very grateful you instilled in us. But above all, why didn’t you pack a note for me in my lunchbox like every other kid? I wanted a cheesy note too that says “Have a nice day, I love you” but of course I’m not going to tell you that, because our family isn’t that affectionate.
I understand now, after two decades, that you pushing us to do well in school was your expression of love. It was the way you received love from your parents, and that was your form of affection, care, concern. I get it…but only after I “succeeded” and after many years. I struggled during my childhood, because I never felt like I could express myself and my love for you both. As I was watching all my White friends receive a certain form of love (hugs, kisses, presents, notes, communication), there was a part of me that felt empty. Because everyone else around me got this type of affection, sometimes I didn’t feel loved. At the same time, I couldn’t share how I was feeling. We never discussed emotions in the family – it was always about school or studying rather than friendships, relationships, and hobbies. When I did try and discuss family issues, I was “talking back to my elders” or was “being disrespectful.” Although this is attributable to cultural differences, a part of me was still American and individualistic. I grew up bicultural, whether you want to accept that or not. I know that you wanted us to retain our Korean culture through language, food, values, etc. However, just because I identify as partially American, that does not diminish my Korean identity – I can hold both. I’m now thankful that you didn’t make us assimilate into the U.S. culture completely (e.g. food and language), but at the same time, there are certain American values I still hold. I want us to be able to talk to each other like equals or for you to respect what I have to say. Yes, I’m still flawed and may not know as much as you do, but all I’m asking is for you to listen. Of course, I still respect you both, and I respect my elders. Discussion and talking does not negate those values I hold close to my heart.
Since college, we’ve definitely gotten closer. I don’t know if it’s the distance or the age, but I’ve felt more love from you. That love helps me express my love towards you too. Maybe it’s the maturity as well. I know you always said I was too young to understand, but now I’m at that age where I can understand. We can hold deep conversations and connect on many levels. There’s less pressure, because I’m independent and I “made it.” You successfully completed your responsibility as a parent. But I am still working on the effects of my childhood, particularly being vulnerable with others, sharing emotions, and confidently expressing who I am.
Mom, Dad, this letter is a form of communication where I feel like I can finally express myself. This letter is still partially representative of our relationship, our difficulties in open communication. At the same time, this letter also signifies moving forward in our relationship. This letter gives me healing. All in all, what I really want to say is…no matter what, no matter our differences, thank you and I love you so much.
To My Parents
It was clear to me at a very young age that you had unspoken expectations for me. I knew you both grew up without a free and available education, or a loving home with food prepared on the tables. I knew you both struggled financially to make ends meet. Mom, coming from the country, grandma and grandpa did not have the money to buy you new clothes, let alone feminine products. Dad, raised without a father by your side, you had to learn how to fend for yourself while grandma tried to find jobs. When you both came to America in your early twenties with two toddlers, you faced a great deal of change and hurdles that would test your character and lives forever. Despite not knowing how to speak English, you both not only managed, but thrived in midst of culture shock and societal norms.
Even as a child, I knew the struggles you faced and the daily sacrifices you both had to make in order to provide for your four children. Dad, you kept telling me to find a job that will bring comfort and security. You didn’t want me to be like you, constantly stressed out about money and working 60 hours a week. Mom, you consistently reminded me that if I wanted to have a bright and easy-going future, I had to work hard now and find a man who will provide for me. You didn’t want me to struggle like you did growing up. Those were your hopes for me, hopes that are understandable and expected because of what you had to go through.
But I, as a young woman and the youngest of your four children, have my own dreams and hopes that sometimes do not coincide with yours. Comfort, security, and money are all desires people have in life, but unfortunately, due to circumstances you and I do not have control over, I seek more than those things. I am a dreamer who has big dreams, dreams you will never be able to comprehend.
Did you know that I want to become a writer? Despite wanting to devote and invest my time and future into writing, the unspoken expectation you had for me was clear; I am supposed to find a career that brings stability and an income. That is why I chose to become a teacher instead. Did you know that I love to travel to new destinations, while seeking adventure? It was clear to me that as Vietnamese girl, I was not allowed to go to places on my own nor travel with friends because our culture says girls should remain at home where they learn how to clean, cook, and do household chores. Understanding the unspoken expectation that you had for girls of our culture, I remained still and quiet at home while my two older brothers roamed free with whoever, whenever. Did you know that I want to have a personal relationship with you both? Yes, that is also a dream I have. You are always stressed out about work, money, the house, and the next mortgage. The unspoken expectation is that I am a child and you are the adult. I am not to give you advice on how to live or how to be. At the dinner table, seeing you both stressed, I want to relieve you of your worries by reassuring you that I am also working hard to provide for you in the future days. Yet, I am hushed because what I have to say is not important or I do not know anything because I am a child. So, I sit at the table wondering how to draw close to you both without feeling the hurt inside. The child in me desires the love and affection of her busy parents. The biggest dream I have remains unspoken. I will never be able to tell you because of our generational gap and differences in cultural norms and expectations. As someone born and raised in America, I naturally assimilated into the American culture. Never did I abandon my Vietnamese roots. I knew the heritage you have for the family will be the biggest factor of my life. Yet, I have never lived in Vietnam. I don’t know what life is back there, but you do. You told me at a very young age that if I were to ever date or marry, it would have to be with a Vietnamese man, who had a secure job and spoke the language. But I, living in America where there is freedom of choice, remained open-minded. I did not believe in setting my mind on Vietnamese man or being dependent on a man to bring me a comfortable future. No, my dream, mom and dad, is to marry someone who I can love with all that I have and am. I want to have a family that is not afraid of sharing their dreams to one another. I want to have a family where we can sit at the table together, knowing that we can laugh and talk freely. I want a man who loves me for me and can accept that I have big dreams.
You will never be able to understand because you did not have the same circumstances or opportunities that I did. My eyes have been open to many things, things you will never comprehend. Unfortunately, that is the way it is. I can try to enlighten you, but that would be considered rude. I can try to explain, but that would only bring misunderstandings and complications. As your daughter, I do not disregard what you have done in order for our family to live comfortably here in America. Back in Vietnam, I understand that you had nothing, while believing that your circumstances would never change. Yet, here you are in America with four children, a house with a backyard, cars to drive, and secured jobs. You both are role models and individuals who have displayed the act of persistence, diligence, hard-work, and determination. I will never think lightly of the sacrifices you made.
But I still cling onto the hope that one day, we will be able to settle our differences while addressing each other’s expectations. The desire still burns within me that one day you will be able to see from my perspective what life is like for a daughter whose parents are immigrants. Though I know we won’t agree on everything and our views will potentially clash, I hope and pray that one day you will be able to see your daughter accomplish all her dreams. Then maybe you will see that there is more to life that comfort, security, and money.
Your appreciative and youngest daughter
Hear Me Out
I paced back and forth in the right corner of the swimming pool, attempting to loosen up my shaky legs. As coach Sam called out my name for the next event, 500-yard freestyle, I gently placed goggles on my eyes and stepped up onto the block when the previous heat finished. I took a deep breath and assured myself, “I can do this.” My heart was thumping rapidly and I hoped I could swim as fast as my current heartbeat rate.
I adjusted into a diving position as the referee announced, “Take your marks,” and dived off with a burst of speed at, “Go!” I played around with my speed until I found the right pace. I was swimming at a smooth and strong pace. Whenever I breathed to my right side, I caught a glimpse of my coach urging me to swim faster. She was waving her arms vigorously, as if she could magically make me swim faster. I tried my best to follow her instructions. Little by little, yard by yard, I swiftly swam until I only had 50 yards left. I shifted into race mode and began to swim my fastest, and my legs started to burn. Finally, I slammed into the pad on the wall. I whirled around to peer at my time on the scoreboard.
Yes! I let out a yelp of glee and pumped a fist in the air. I had gotten a good time. Feeling jumpy with a beam on my face, I climbed out of the pool and scurried over to my coach. She also wore a grin on her face and gave me two thumbs up.
I scanned the audience and almost immediately spotted you, my dad, whose eyes were locked on me and traced me as I rushed in and out of the crowd of swimmers. I skipped to you, thrilled to share my joy with you. I could detect a subtle smile on the corner of your lips, which was fading and vanishing as I approached you. My smile froze as my leaping heart was sinking little by little. All you gave me was a gentle and reassuring pat on the shoulder.
“Good job. You improved a few seconds. You could probably get into the top 20 this time but did you see the improvement that Hailey and Emily* made? Wow, I believe they can get into the top 10!” you voice raised, followed by a sigh that only I could hear. “You have a long way to go. Work harder! Maybe we should consider private lessons,” you mumbled. I nodded softly, with a pouted mouth and silently trudged off to the locker room to shower.
Comparison, a common word in the daily vocabulary, is a buzzword in my life. In math competitions, debate, geography bowl, and everything else, I am being compared to other people. My improvements have been based on others. I happen to live in an Asian community that never lacks top performers in anything. Compared to those top winners, I was just an average, barely noticeable girl. In your eyes, I was not good enough, in spite of the endless effort I’ve put forth.
While I understand your desire and good will for my growth in sports, music, and academics, each time you compare me with others, I feel the stress on my shoulder piling up. The way you compare me with others sweeps away my joy and cripples my curiosity in those activities. I work hard to live up to your wishes and to make you happy and proud of me. Even if I give out 100% of my effort, I may still not be the fastest swimmer, the finest pianist, or the grand winner of the Math Olympiad.
It turns out I’m not the only “victim” of peer comparisons from parents. It is common among Asian communities. More than once, I have heard other parents make similar statements to their children in order to push them to reach the highest level. The funny thing is, while I am being compared, once in a while, I become the one that other parents compare their children to. In a summer swim team, I won two 1st place trophies, which earned admiring stares from several parents who murmured to their children and used me as their inspiration.
According to recent news reports, Asian American students are suffering more stress and even suicidal thoughts because of parental and societal pressure than those from other racial groups. Peer comparison is a major strategy that parents use to tap into students’ full potential. To some people this may work well, but to many others, peer comparison can only make them feel emotionally drained, mentally exhausted, and physically burned out.
The truth is  I am just an ordinary girl. Comparing me with others won’t change that. I hope you can see the effort I’ve made and the progress that I am achieving. The progress may not be as striking as those top achievers, but it serves as building blocks that lead to some kind of bigger success, a success that doesn’t need to be justified through comparing with others. In a swim meet, I’d rather you acknowledge me dropping three seconds from my past record than congratulate me for beating someone by three seconds.
When I do not make any improvement in an activity, you don’t have to remind me that someone outperforms me and is becoming a rising star. Lack of progress already sucks; your words can only add more pain. Comparing me with others at such moments makes me feel anxious, disoriented, and extremely awkward.
I am hoping you can teach me the meaning of failure and how to pick up myself when I fall. I am hoping you greet me with a warm-hearted smile and a big high five when I give my best performances. I am hoping you cheer for me as I am going through my teenage years and help me become a calm, confident, and resilient person.
Hear Me Out!
My parents are first-generation immigrants, and in a way I am too, except I was a teenager when I came, and they were in their very early 40s. They were descendants of an ancient society where the emperor was the law in the land, and the surest path to success was to become a government official by beating out millions of others in the very-difficult placement exam. How did I know this? Because I learned about it in history, geography, and literature classes, through watching historical drama series on TV, and reading many books as a child growing up in Chinese culture. My parents were white-collar workers at a major national company in a major city at the time. It was not something to boast about, but it was certainly a better and more stable job than most, and we as kids enjoyed various perks as benefits for the families of company employees. In my eyes, that seemed to be a much better life compared to the life we were living in the US when we first arrived.
Every day, life was a struggle for each of us. My dad was busy trying to earn an advanced degree in a university so that he could get better jobs. My mom was trying to stretch my dad’s meager graduate student stipend to support a family of five, not knowing much English. I was trying to fit in in high school without understanding a word of English people said to me, and trying to make passable grades and friends at the same time. My younger siblings were in elementary school and middle school respectively, and I suspect they were adapting to the western culture much quicker than I was. If I thought adjusting to the western culture was hard, imagine how much more difficult it must have been for my parents. I didn’t know if this was what they had expected before deciding to immigrate. But then again, those were the times when oversea mail took more than a week to arrive. Besides, there was the deep-rooted Chinese notion to never reveal anything less than glamorous to the folks back home, lest you lose face, or give them cause for unconstructive worrying. I remember asking my parents, “why did we come to America?” because I secretly wished we could go back to where we came, so I could have friends again, and be at the top of my class again. I had imagined their replies could only be how the political situation was so unstable in the wake of US officially recognizing Beijing in 1979, or how they had heard that life is better in the land of infinite opportunities, or they wanted to spare me the stress of studying for and taking the high-school entrance exam. Then, I would be ready to prove them wrong, hoping to convince them that it was a mistake to move to America. But to my great dismay, they replied in Chinese with a stern face, as if all the hardship and sacrifice they endured were for a cause so noble, “why, it is to give you kids a better education, and a better future!”
Better education??!! True, the goal for learning is noticeably very different. In Chinese society, the teachers’ immediate goal is to help students score higher in the national annual comprehensive entrance exams (once for high school and once for college), because the exams are designed to be very difficult in order to sift out the worthy few among millions of applicants to fill limited spots at a handful of prestigious universities. That drives what and how the students are taught in the schools, and it also serves as the measurable indicator of how effective a teacher is. Teachers not only impart as much academic knowledge as possible, but also discipline students to retain them by rote memory, so they can recall quickly during the exam. Math problems are to be solved mechanically, by memorizing all formulas and order of steps to apply them, so students can finish as many problems as possible in the time allowed. The school year right before the exam is especially arduous, that classes for subjects not on the written exam (such as PE, music, or arts) are often replaced by additional review sessions, teaching sessions, or practice exams, not to mention spending all night at cram schools afterwards daily. “Don’t question, just follow” would probably be the common school motto or society motto if there is one.
On the contrary, “Must question, don’t just follow” is the motto in the US. Teachers in the US schools want students to understand how the math formulas came about, what led to the civil war, why the government was set up the way it is, how Mendel discovered genes, why Einstein’s theory of relativity was important. They encourage students to be creative, to express individuality, to learn to think critically and independently, to ask questions if they don’t agree with or understand the teacher, which are unheard of in Chinese society. Ironically, it is precisely this “better” education that taught me to think critically, to ask why, to not blindly accept what adults say if they don’t make sense to me, to freely express my thoughts and ideas, to be myself. The unspoken rule about respect in western culture is that respect is earned, it’s never bestowed unconditionally.
As I grew older, I began to realize this western value in me is the exact root cause of endless conflicts with my parents. Even though they have lived in America for over 30 years, mentally they are still Chinese to the core. They cook Chinese food, watch Chinese TV shows, read Chinese news, have Chinese friends, converse in Chinese, and deadliest of all, retain Chinese ideology. Not only that, they expect me to treat them as a good Chinese child should, with unconditional filial piety and total submission to their preferences, especially my mom. To her, there is only her way of doing things, any other way is seen as great insult or disrespect to her. Initially I would try to reason with my mom, to present my views, but that would often make her angry and lead to total hysterical outburst of yelling and scolding, trying to hammer me into seeing things her way, otherwise I was unworthy of her love and sacrifice. Eventually, I realized she had no capacity to accept me or understand me or willing to give up her ego, so I learned to hold my tongue to keep peace, even when I think she is wrong. Only when I appear to do as she says, she would be happy and reward me with gifts or money. How sad!!! Lecturing adult children and grand kids about respecting her, or giving them money and gifts when they do as she says, is her way of showing love. But instead of money and criticism, what we really starve for from our parents is a listening and understanding heart, accepting us and appreciating the way we are, products of this society they chose to raise us in.
After all these years of making mistakes and learning the hard way with my OBC parents and my ABC children, my truly sincere, honest, and maybe ugly advice to Chinese immigrant parents would be, please let your American-born children be American, because foremost that’s what they are, a guaranteed consequence of growing up in this country. They are too young and too American to understand your deep-rooted Chinese values that cannot be seen nor felt outside of your house in this society they call home. However, you still can have a good relationship with your children if you are willing to cast aside your own ego as parents. They might not comprehend the purpose behind your words, but they will always remember how you made them feel (your kindness or anger, soft tone or shouting at them). Let go of the Chinese ideal that a child must obey the elders. Accept your American children. Set them free to pursue their own dreams, not yours. After all, you do want them to have all the opportunities here that you never had, right? If you insist they must obey you first, and you refuse to listen and observe and understand them first, you are actually building a great wall between you, not a bridge. The wall will shut down any communication between you, then all will be lost. You had forced them to seek acceptance elsewhere. But if you are willing to come down to their level (because they are not as wise or mature as you to rise to your level), to patiently keep listening, to patiently give your children time (may be decades) to learn and mature into adults, they will eventually realize your great love for them, and come to respect you and love you in return. Who knows? They may even come to embrace their/your Chinese heritage sooner than later!
我很想对孩子说我为ABC （ American Born Chinese)骄傲，读懂中国文化和美国文化的精华，走遍天下也不用怕。ABC 在崇尚自由和个性的大环境下与周围不同文化背景和肤色的孩子一起成长：坦率，大方，包容；又在严于律己的东方文化家庭环境里受熏陶，勤奋，努力，有责任感。 [Read More] [Close]
记得儿子七岁的时候，我中学同学来美国旅游，临睡前两个儿子特意来我房间拥抱道晩安。回房间后又大声地朝我们喊“daddy, mommy , I love you! “ 我的同学说她儿子从来没有这样对她说过话，这么贴心，亲切，催人泪下。这是美国文化给我们亲子关系的一大祝福。我虽然对自己的父母充满尊敬和热爱，也对他们无微不至地关怀；但是我却从来没有大大方方地拥抱他们。现在看到孩子们拥抱外婆时她脸上绽开的笑容，真的感恩美国文化的感染力和亲合力。
这种文化让我们在孩子小的时候能够跟他们有亲密无间的关系。但是等孩子慢慢长大后，这种文化里的独立自主慢慢地又以另一种方式影响我们与孩子的关系。记得有一天我叫孩子做功课，他们很恼火，说的话让我大吃一惊“This is America, if I don’t want to do it, I don’t have to do it. ”（这是美国，如果我不想做，我可以不做）。
等他们八年级的时候，我发现自己成了旁观者，看他们在另一个世界里如同陌生人。学校里很多孩子玩电子游戏着了迷，沉默寡言，一问三不知。交流勾通的最后通常以“never mind” （“就当我什么都没说“）终止。那时候我们的分歧争吵都是因为我批评他们玩游戏太多，而他们却认为Asian parents 限制他们的自由，不让他们享受生活。这种评论对亚裔父母来说是天大的冤枉，因为大部分亚裔父母爱子甚于他们自己，钱财时间精力全都花在孩子身上，他们才真的是没有机会享受生活。八年级的暑假，儿子突然对美国足球（football ）感兴趣，准备参加校队，天天参加负重训练。看着他们还没有长开的身体，想着他们如何能够经得起其他高大强壮的对手冲撞，我们苦口婆心甚至搬家庭医生来做说服工作。但是他们铁定了心要打football ，严热酷暑阻挡不了他们的斗志，每天训练，毫无怨言。
怀着忐忑不安的心，我去参加孩子将要升入高中前的第一次家长会。大名鼎鼎的校长给家长们送的一句名言，让我震惊：“不要做他们的朋友，做他们的家长！监督他们！”（“Don’t be their friends, be their parents, check on them！”）我如获至宝回到家后，马上响应校长号召。儿子经常在厕所里呆个一小时不出来，我们以前只是高声叫唤就算了。这次却突然让我们疑心重重， 我先生敲了门没回应就推门而入。只见儿子怀里捂着一个东西死死不放。想到他一定是用毒品，我心里一沉，心口发疼。最后发现他是从朋友那借来了游戏机偷偷地玩，这才一块石头落地。
孩子的这些行为变化不仅让我对他们感到困惑，而且让我对美国学校文化风气把孩子从“天使“变成“魔鬼”深恶痛绝，怨气冲天，又束手无策。 高中三年级，当别的孩子都忙着修AP 课，为升大学加大马力最后冲刺的时候，儿子又做了一件让我震惊的事情。他们告诉我要选修举重健美课，差点把我吓晕。我根本不理解他们的想法，直到别人夸奖他们的健美身材，我才明白原来家长认为重要的成绩并不是所有孩子想要的；而家长认为不那么重要的，却被这种年龄的孩子视为珍宝！
在儿子小的时候，我每天上下班，很少有机会同他们在一起，不知道他们每天在学校里经历了什么，想什么，需要什么样的帮助；所以他们完全是自己在两种文化中挣扎。每次我批评他们贪玩游戏不学习，他们就像着火似的跳起来说“你根本不知道什么是最糟糕的！（“You don’t know the worst!” ）我一直不明白这句话的意思，直到他们上了大学才告诉我：高中同学酗酒吸毒的比比皆是，而他们老老实实仅仅是喜欢玩游戏而已，不受表扬反被批评，冤枉呵！可见家长与孩子的深度勾通有多么重要。
对东方文化的反叛再也没有比在我女儿身上的反应更强烈的了。虽然我们有非常亲密的母女关系，无话不说，但是她总是想成为纯美国人。她不喜欢别人说她是华裔。在这一点上，我不理解她，她也不理解我，但是我们同意对话（agree to talk ）。她让我走进她的朋友圈，她的世界，让我看到并体验她每天所经历的喜怒悲哀和做为亚裔所要接受的挑战和挣扎， 做一个ABC不容易！我也让她走进我的世界，让她看到并体会我走过的每一步：从遥远的中国来到语言文化完全不同的美国，从零开始，打工，学习，工作，养家糊口，为孩子的教育和未来打拚，牺牲个人的爱好和享受；做一个亚裔父母也不容易。
女儿热爱英文及语法，对中文不屑一顾。我没有批评她，而是花时间和她一起读那些充满哲理，文化底蕴深厚的中文故事，让她不得不感叹中华文化的博大精深和魅力。 一天晚上我们俩大声朗读“唧唧复唧唧，木兰当户织。不闻机杼声，但闻女叹息。问女何所思？问女何所忆？女亦无所思，女亦无所忆”我们互相对视，同时笑出声来。在那一刻，我知道她是一个自豪的ABC （American Born Chinese),也是一个顶呱呱的木兰！
Dear Mom and Dad,
I know you are not ready to hear this. I understand it is difficult, I could not accept it myself, since I knew it would invite disappointment. But today I have to tell you the truth, the truth about me. I have had to suppress my feelings for a long period of time. I think it is time I come clean, regardless of what you have to say or think. Believe it or not, I am suffering from depression.
Though it is easy for me to say in a letter, I cannot say this to your face, because I know the disappointment I would bring. The culture you grew up in taught you not to believe in the concept of therapy and counseling, while also teaching you that mental illnesses such as depression do not exist. Your culture acknowledges that depression is a mental illness, but it puts the emphasis on the individual suffering from the illness. Your culture claims it is the individual’s fault that they are depressed, that it is in their head. But I am here to tell you that your culture and what it taught you were wrong. Depression is not in my head, or in anyone else’s. No one wants to live with depression.
I am writing this letter to tell you that your parents, your teachers and the community you grew up in were wrong. They all played a part in deceiving you, because the truth is, a community of Muslims in Pakistan do not decide how other people feel about themselves. How can others decide what my experiences are, and how those experiences affect me along with my mental health? After accessing therapy and psychiatry services for free at my University, I have been given a better understanding of myself and what contributed to my depression. Yet again, I cannot share these thoughts with you because when I try you tell me the same thing, “You aren’t depressed, it’s all in your head, focus on yourself and lose weight.”
I have always felt bad about myself, which has been an ongoing issue that affects me every day. I do not always feel satisfied with my life, as if I am a disappointment in many ways, as if I am not the child you wanted because I am not the skinniest, the most obedient or the smartest. I feel that everything about me is wrong to you. My weight bothers you because you want a proposal to come to your house from a boy at the Mosque. You believe that if I do not lose weight, then that day will never come, and I cannot only blame you for having these thoughts because it is true, maybe that day will never come because along with you, other people at our Mosque think I’m too heavy. But, if I never get a proposal because of my weight then I am happy that way. My weight does not define my worth as a human and it does not by any means tell you how I am as person. That is something that needs to get known by others. Part of me is astonished you want a son-in-law who loves me for my looks rather than myself which plays into my depression overall. Because you, along with the Muslim community, make me feel like I cannot be loved by anyone unless I drop the weight. Love should never be conditional, especially from parents.
I should be able to tell you these feelings, but again I cannot because you will not understand its connection to depression. You will just look at me funnily and say, “Drop the weight and your problems are gone” just like you have every time I tried to explain it to you. Our differences of mindsets cause us to quarrel because you do not see that my mental health and low self-esteem both play a huge factor into my ability to form relationships. If only I could openly tell you how it really felt to be me on a daily basis and have you understand where I’m coming from, I think we could be in a better place than we are now. However, my thoughts and feelings are constantly dismissed, which is why I cannot express these to you in words.
My depression is not the only problem I face, I also have severe anxiety. My anxiety is mostly triggered by our home life. I know that we come from a lower class because of being immigrants, who do not have much education. Seeing both of you sacrifice a lot of your own needs for me and to give me the best opportunities makes me thankful. Along with being thankful it breaks my heart too. I know more than you think I do, I see the tiredness in your eyes from waking up at 4 in the morning, leaving at 5, and not returning until 6. I see the weakness in your hands and feet from working all day long. I see more than you think and realize more than you believe me to.
Why this gives me anxiety? It makes me realize that I have to do amazing in school to prove to you raising me wasn’t a waste. To prove you didn’t waste your time, or that I wasted yours, and to not be labeled as a disappointment. Because of this fear, I live in constant anxiety of screwing my life up, because all I want to prove is that you made something out of me, which is why I take getting into nursing school very seriously and have dedicated myself to endless days in the library, and being dependent on coffee. I want you to know someday that traveling to a new country with no family as a support system paid off. But then again, I still cannot share these thoughts with you because I know that if talking about this breaks my heart, it breaks yours too. So I’ll leave you to read this and try to understand where I am coming from regarding my mental health.
Hear Me Out
There are some things that I would like to get off my chest, however, I do not have the will to say it to your face since you have sacrificed so much for me and my siblings. I wanted to ask, why were you guys never there? Why did you never attend my orchestra performances or badminton matches when everybody’s parents had flowers and banners for their children? Why did I have to walk home alone in the dark after every performance and badminton games? I envy those kids that have parents that carry flowers or banners. I want you guys to see how much work I put into each piece of music or each practice.
Why do you always have to come home at midnight every day? Do you know how much that scares me? Thinking you guys had an accident along the icy roads or getting shot while working. Or you might throw your backs out while lifting the French fry bags that weigh like 20 pounds. Or get burned from the oil. There are so many things that can happen that I might not know about.
Another thing I feel is this immense guilt. This guilt that I can never get rid of and it weighs me down every single day. Some days I can’t breathe and other days I cry myself to sleep because of the sacrifices you did to bring us to America for a better education. I’m sorry you had to leave your family behind. You left your siblings and mother you cared so much about. And I am not even that good of a daughter. I yell at you guys and get annoyed, but I am trying to be better. But that is not working out, so the best I can do is get the best grades as much as possible. I study a lot, more than you can imagine. I am not like other kids who can memorize everything, I must study for hours. I know you do not care if I get one B or two B’s, however, every single time I get a B, I feel like I have let you down. I am so sorry. But I promise to get a really good job and take care of you for the rest of my life.
Mom, I know you left a really good job. I know you loved being a nurse in the emergency room. I know because every single time you talk about your college days and the days you worked as a nurse, you had that longing look. I know you missed a chance to become the director of your department. I know that when you had to decide to come to America or become the director, you chose us. I am sorry that your friends all became professors or directors while we are just barely making things work at the fast food restaurant. I know that the customers do not respect you at work. I also know that they say hateful, racial attacks on you everyday and how they egged our car, popped our tires, and wrote all over our car. All you wanted to do was make a living and to send your children off to college. I know, and I am sorry for all the things they put you through. I also know how bad your knees are getting. I know that you stand for 12 hours a day taking orders and making hamburgers. Since you are nearing your mid-fifties, you can’t even walk up the stairs, and Dad cannot bend his back anymore. Please wait until I graduate college. I will take you out of that hell and give you guys a life you never had.
Dad, I am so sorry for sounding annoyed and snapping at you every single time you talk. But  something that you should do is go to the doctor more often. Self-medication is dangerous and visiting the doctor does cost money, but it is better than taking the wrong medicine or building a tolerance to certain medications. You guys have never taken a day off since you came to America or taken a week or month off for vacation. You leave the house at 10 am and come back at 11 pm or midnight. You work for 6 days a week. Even though I go to school for only 5 of those days, I applaud anyone who has never taken a sick day till the day they graduate. But you guys have done it for 15 years. Dad, you are waiting till everyone graduates to go back to Thailand and take care of your mom. We tell you that you can go now, we will be okay. Your son already graduated and has a job right now, and he will eventually go to medical school. I will graduate in 3 years and our little one will graduate in 4 years. It is okay, we can take care of ourselves now. You can go, I know you miss your mom. You have not seen her in 15 years. Go. It is okay.
There are things that I am grateful for and I do not know why it is so hard for me to say, “Thank you” or “I love you”. You guys say it all the time to us. Thank you for giving life to me and thank you for giving me a protective older brother and a reliable younger sister. Dad, thank you for waking up at 5 in the morning to make me my breakfast and before you leave, cooking us our dinners. Mom, thank you for driving me to school everyday and taking care of me when I am sick. I love it when you pat me on the head and coming back home to kiss us goodnight. There are so many things that I am thankful for but thank you for raising me and thank you for being such great parents. I hope to be as great of a parent as you guys have been to me.
Thank you so much for everything and with much love,
Your eldest daughter
A Letter to My Daughter
You were sitting among a band of teenagers, in a light purple velvet dress, elegantly holding a silver flute. You glanced at the audience and gave me a confident smile. As the conductor raised the baton, soft nostalgic music echoed around the hall. The music was like a gentle breeze seeping into my heart and flipping open a book of memories.
It was memories about you, my dear daughter.
It started with a scene about 10 years ago. You were a fearless little girl, short black hair framing your round face perfectly. Your character and appearance won you the nickname “Little Dora.”
You were indeed an explorer. A glittering rock, an intermittent buzzing of crickets, or a fresh dewy flower could all capture your curiosity. When your tiny hands, you stroked the soft ears of the huge husky in our neighbor’s backyard, and my heart almost pounded out of my chest. When you knelt down, digging dirt and examining earthworms, I was counting how many more loads of laundry I had to do in a week.
Your little head was filled with questions. There were no questions that were too silly for you to ask, only questions too hard for me to answer. “Mom, why are cucumbers called 黄瓜（yellow melon) in Chinese although they are not yellow?” “Why are pomegranates called 十六（16; sound of “石榴” ), not 十八 (18)?”
My favorite moment of a day was when I picked you up from your daycare, when I was greeted with your beaming smile and biggest hugs. You couldn’t wait to tell me about your new friends, stories told by your teachers, and rewards you won from challenging games. On the way home we often sang out loud, followed by a long cheerful laughing.
As you entered school age, we slowly moved into a new chapter characterized with homework, group projects, extracurricular activities, and various contests. Your favorite clothing was no longer a princess dress, but graphic tees and jeans. Your hair grew longer, hanging down over your shoulders or tied back in a ponytail. My baby girl was blooming into a tall, slim adolescent girl, brimmed with life and hope.
Our life got busier. I drove you around the town after school and during weekends, rushing from music classes to swim practice, from the Chinese school to ballet school. Our together time in the car was featured with either basic questions and answers like “How’s your school?” “Good,” or pure quietness. Both of us seemed to be too tired to initiate any interesting conversations.
During family dinner time, our conversation was often centered on school work, swim meet schedules, and your test scores. After dinner, you would retreat to your bedroom, telling us you still had homework to work on.
I gazed at your back, wondering what was widening the distance between us. I fantasized that I could travel back in time to get your muddy high fives, to sing “She'll be coming round the mountain” with you, and to be baffled by your funny “silly” questions. Those are sweet memories always cherished, but I have to face the fact that you are a teen now.
Growing up in China, I had no clue about a teen’s life in the United States. At your age, I strived for high scores in all subjects, taking pride in winning the first place in tests. But I wanted your teen years to be different from mine. You should take time to learn about different aspects of life, to develop responsible values and independent thinking, and to explore your real passion and interests. I wondered how I could best play my role as a mom in this process.
There must be a door to enter your heart, and to get hold of the key needs a lot of love, understanding, and patience.
For me, the great moment came on a Friday evening. You were writing in your pink leather journal in your bedroom, door half-open and soothing music on. My strong curiosity prompted me to pace into the room.
“Allie, what are you writing about?” I asked, trying to sound casual.
“A story,” you said and looked up.
“Can I read it? I love reading stories,” I requested, not sure whether I could get a positive response.
You hesitated, but still handed the journal to me.
It was a story about a girl who lost her dog, her dearest friend. It was a beautiful piece of creative writing with rich emotion and vivid language, still missing an ending. As I leafed through your journal, stories recording meaningful moments in your daily life flied out of pages: your excitement in anticipating an overnight field trip, your amazement at seeing birds flocking to our garden, and your sadness when learning a friend was leaving for Japan. You poured out your strongest feelings and deepest thoughts on paper.
How come I had not noticed your passion in writing? How come I had never told you that writing is also my love?
“Allie,” I turned to you, draping my arms over your shoulders. “I liked your articles. I see your talent and passion in writing. There are a few sentences I would probably write differently.”
“How? I’d like to know,” you asked, eagerly, which reminded me of the days when I was pestered with all kinds of questions popped out of your little mouth.
I put forth my opinions on several wordings and sentences, while you listened attentively and jotted down notes on the margin of pages. Then you asked me to stay longer to help you frame the ending, which I accepted with a smile.
Writing became a bridge between us, ideas passing from your brain to mine, and vice versa. Sometimes, we snuggled beside each other and chatted until night wrapped the day in its dark blanket. We plotted out stories, gave names to our characters, and debated on the best verbs to describe actions. Some discussion led to a burst of laughter, leaving your dad, who was eavesdropping, totally puzzled.
As those scenes unfolded in front of me, tears moistened my eyes.
Suddenly, the beat of a lively music shook me out of my thoughts. It was the last song of today’s concert - an exciting song - rhythm filled with energy and vitality. My eyes were locked on you while you were pressing the flute to your lips and blowing into it. A rosy glow covered your youthful face.
I was living in and enjoying the present, basking in the brisk melodies. Life presents itself in ebbs and flows, and I will embrace whatever it brings us with you, just as we will write our own stories together.
An Open Letter to Mama
‘Did you eat yet’, meant ‘I love you’. ‘Are you warm’, meant ‘I am proud of you’, and ‘You must work hard in school’ meant ‘We do not want you to go through the same hardships we have’.
A decade ago, I was incapable of deciphering the cryptic meanings behind these phrases. Now, ten years later, I am barely beginning to understand the significant impact differences in generation, upbringing, and circumstances had on the way we communicated as a family.
Navigating through our conversations was more difficult than completing the challenging Sudoku puzzles you had me complete as a child. At the time, I did not understand that actions meant much more than words, that the sacrifices you and Papa made were for me, and that your constant absence at home was to provide us all the opportunities you and Papa lacked.
Despite attempts to understand, I never succeeded at comprehending the true symbolism behind your words and actions. It was only recently that I am able to feel how you both illustrated love through conduct. Today is my first attempt at communicating transparently with you both, after 24 years of life. I write with apprehension, hope, and aspirations that this letter might serve as a conversation starter between immigrant parents and their Asian American children. My goal is that I can illuminate the complexity of our relationship, the impact of generational differences, and the importance of working to meet in the middle ground in order to establish open dialogue in modern Asian American homes.
At age 15, I felt our relationship paralleled a professional working relationship; I was expected, as a female Asian American, to remain reticent and obedient. You have always said: “You are a girl, and girls must never speak up, especially to their parents.” I responded: “Why”. I immediately regretted the question because the answer was always: “Because we said so”. In retrospect, “professional”, might be a rather generous term to describe our exchanges.
As a junior in high school, I was balancing extracurricular activities, college application, jobs, and classes, including the worst supplementary weekend writing courses you both enrolled me in. Lacking any sense of independence, I felt trapped, and distressed, which led to the several months of my absence and zero communication after leaving for college a year later. My conflicting emotions of stress, frustration, and loneliness were a forbidden topic for our weekly family dinners. Papa always said: “No tears… emotions make you weak, think with your brain, not your heart”. Thus, I kept all of my feelings bottled up, and putting your desires above my own. You both wanted evidence of scholastic achievements, and I made sure to deliver that. Nothing more, nothing less, despite my dream of communicating that your high academic expectations, specific behavioral etiquette, and tight reins on my independence were unhealthy for my emotional and physical well-being. For a while, I failed to believe your intentions were pure.
You and papa always told me that at age 15, you both were escaping the war, violence, and turmoil in China. You both witnessed deaths, experienced the worst human conditions one could imagine such as starvation and disease. Escaping to America was imperative, but it was also to grant me a life of opportunity. After moving to America, your inability to speak English was an obstacle for professional jobs, so you and Papa resorted to working labor intensive jobs seven days a week to provide for the family.
As a child, I was oblivious to the fact that your absences were symbolic of your love for me, at the time, I misunderstood absence for avoidance. I was envious of my peers who had their family around, parents who could speak perfect English, verbal phrases and formal expressions of love. In hindsight, I see that I was a foolish child, and for that I am a thousand times sorry.
You both were raised differently, in a world where ‘actions spoke louder than words’. As a first generation Asian American, words expressing love were more common amongst my peers, and emotions were encouraged in Western culture. Our disparities in upbringing, location, and generational values drastically strained our relationship.
Many of my peers have also experienced strained communication with their parents who immigrated to America. Our values are different. While you and Papa believed the key to a good life were: job security, maintaining Chinese female etiquette, finding a stable husband, and building a family. I believed it was important to pursue my passions, assert myself, and focus on happiness. I was unaware that, happiness was all you and Papa wanted for me, rather the way it was communicated was indirect, which led to misunderstanding.
Immigration to America itself already presents a myriad of challenges for individuals. Furthermore, generational clashes between immigrant parents and American born children address a vital need for both parties to develop empathy for each other, open-mindedness, and willingness to learn about current trends in parenting, communication, and values. It is imperative that emotion is encouraged, in hopes that unforced, genuine, sincere exchanges can happen often. It is also vital Asian parents become aware that mental health is of equal importance to physical health, and dialogue should incorporate emotional wellbeing instead of solely physical symptoms.
To conclude, I write this letter today, knowing fully that the sacrifices you and Papa made were a commitment to my happiness and livelihood. I write this letter as a promise to continue working on our communication differences. But most of all, I write this letter with love, and hope that immigrant parents, like you and Papa, and their second-generation children can learn to adapt, be flexible, understand the breadth of diversity between parents and children, and hear your children out.
I end with a question to you Mom: Have you eaten yet?
A Letter to My Parents
Dear Mom and Dad,
I hope you never read this. Even though we are an affectionate family, sharing feelings is not easy for us. I have so many things I want to tell you guys, so many things I want to say, but I am too cowardly to say it to your face. This letter contains some of the thoughts I am too scared to share with you, but maybe the act of writing it will give me the courage to express how I feel.
Dad, it must have been difficult, growing up in a rural village in 1970s India. From what you have told me, you were a sensitive and shy boy growing up in a culture saturated with toxic masculinity. You were bullied, so, inculcated with the societal ideals of what a man should be, you searched for ways to earn the respect of others. You attempted to harden yourself against insults, becoming closed off and supercilious in the process. You did not want to show anyone your soft underbelly. You did not feel comfortable truly confiding in anyone, and I can only imagine how lonely you must have felt.
Dad, I wish you could be vulnerable with someone, anyone. You keep everything to yourself. There is so much going on below the surface that you never talk about. You may not want to feel certain emotions, but I know you do. You do not know what to do with your feelings of isolation and depression, which can lead to frustration. Maybe, if you were able to express your emotions, you would be happier. And, honestly, that is all I want to see—you truly happy.
Mom, I wish you were not in so much pain. You, like Dad, feel all alone in the world, and I wish you could talk to each other about those feelings. I worry about you sometimes. I have seen the suicide notes, the ones where you ask God to just let you die already. I initially reacted with anger, wondering how you even consider the possibility leaving me alone. I know now that it was never about me, that you never meant to hurt me. You were just in so much pain, and you needed a way out. I know you still feel that pain, and I wish I could do something about it. I wish you did not feel as if your life was directionless and pointless, because I need you. I will always need you, even as I try to establish my own identity. I hope you know that. That being said, Mom, I cannot be your reason for existence. I cannot handle that kind of pressure. I wish you had a support system outside of our immediate family, someone you trusted and could talk to. I cannot be your best friend; I cannot take on all of your sadness. I know it is selfish of me, but I cannot always be there for you. I’m sorry.
Mom and Dad, I sometimes wish you were different people. I sometimes wish you were different people, because I sometimes wish I was a different person. I have blamed you for my social awkwardness and diffidence. I have blamed you for my anger and my arrogance born out of insecurity. I have blamed you for my difficulties with relationships and with my weight. That is not fair to either of you though. I am past the age where I can continue to blame you for my issues, and it is up to me to work on them. Besides, if I am going to blame you for my failings, I also have to acknowledge everything you have given me. Dad, you taught me how to think critically about myself and the world, and I have inherited your dark sense of humor. Mom, you have shown me how to be loving and considerate, and I admire how selfless you can be. You have influenced the person I am today, and, in spite of how flawed I am, you both still love me. Thank you for that.
Mom and Dad, I love you. I know I say it when you guys call me everyday, but I need to let you both know that I love you as you are. Yes, I get frustrated with you all (as I am sure you do with me), and, yes, I want you to recognize that you have issues that you need to address. But I say that because I care, because it hurts me to know that you two feel so isolated and burnt out. I just want you both to be happy. Maybe someday, I can get this message across to you, but, for now, just know that I love you and am grateful for everything you have given me. For what it is worth, you guys can be pretty cool.
Random Rumblings of a Great Sandwich
Ours is the greatest generation, ours is the craziest generation. We are the Baby Boomer Generation that is also the sandwich generation between our parents’ Greatest/Silent Generation and our children’s Generation Y/Z (see Table 1). We are the Chinese-born Americans (CBA) sandwiched between our Chinese-born Chinese (CBC) parents and our American-born Chinese (ABC) children. We are the sandwiched CBA baby boomers. We are the sandwiched “me” generation. We are the meat of our sandwich. We are dead meat.
Table 1 - Names of Generations
(*if still alive today - as of 2018) (Source: https://www.careerplanner.com/Career-Articles/Generations.cfm)
We CBA baby boomers share many common characteristics of our fellow baby boomers who must deal with those characteristics typical of our parents’ and children’s generations (see http://www.marketingteacher.com/the-six-living-generations-in-america/). We share the pains and challenges of our fellow boomers at large. What sets us apart are our cultural heritages. To preserve some of our heritage and to maintain most of our sanity, we become the open-minded guardians of our parents’ traditions and values, and we become the bold co-creators of our children’s. We become the diligent intergenerational communicators and multilingual translators among our three generations. We become the dutiful interpreters of English and Chinese languages (including Chinglish, Mandarin, and other regional dialects) used in our families and communities. We are the indispensable arbiters between our young and our elders. We are the great cultural mediators between the East and the West.
In Confucian philosophy, which our parents and ancestors have selectively adopted for their needs, filial piety is the virtue and duty of respect, obedience, and care for one's parents and elderly family members. It is considered the highest moral obligation, akin to a birthright, of our parents’ generation and generations past. We are morally obligated to honor our parents’ wishes without questions, or else we are condemned. Starting with our generation, however, practicality of filial piety becomes questionable. Our parents were expected to feed, clothe, and shelter us when we were young, and expect the same in return when they become old. We are similarly expected to feed, clothe, and shelter our children when they were young, but we can no longer expect the same from them reciprocally when we grow old. Our parents may claim their right to live with us and be cared for by us when they get old. A retirement community or nursing home is most likely our only option when we get old. For better or for worse, filial piety is dying with our generation. It did not start with us, but it will end with us. May it rest in peace when we rest!
Children’s education remains the highest priority for us, as for our parents before. Learning from books has many rewards - fame, power, golden mansions, and gorgeous beauties – or so we were told. Now we tell our children to study hard, play hard, read e-books, and follow Instagram and tweets. Things may change over time, but kids’ preference of learning from their own mistakes over listening to their elders remains mostly unchanged. Academic achievement is no longer the only criterion of success for our children in schools. Participation in a wide variety of individual and team enrichment programs involving bands, music, sports, and other extracurricular activities becomes an essential part of modern educational experience. Admission into gifted and talented programs and selective colleges or universities is a serious business requiring serious early planning that includes entrance exam and essay preparation classes, and individualized and professional coaching. Selecting or switching to a more profitable major or degree program requires careful planning. An advanced degree from a prestigious medical, law, or business school is ideal for our bragging rights, whereas a science or engineering degree is barely acceptable. Liberal arts? What liberal arts? Don’t even think about it! Lifelong learning is merely a profitable means to our children’s lifelong success and happiness.
With a M.D., J.D., MBA or PhD on hand, life can be grand. Indeed, life can be very grand at $200 grand a year, and the more the merrier. True, money may no longer buy complete happiness. But money can still enhance our happiness in small doses, one grand at a time. Necessities like education, health care, housing, transportation, food, and clothing all require money before other higher joys of life. Life without adequate money for our physiological and security necessities and other social and egocentric joys cannot be too happy. We must provide financial resources to our children and parents when needed. We become the family bankers and ATMs. We are our family’s money trees. We worry about money and happiness all the time. We worry about tradeoffs and balance between money and happiness often. While our parents tend to value money over happiness, our children may value happiness over money. We value money and happiness over ourselves. We work hard to earn money and gain happiness, we then slave over both. We become slaves of money and happiness.
We value family over ourselves. Family has values, and we have family values.
Regardless of our cultural heritage, families usually start with marriages. Arranged marriages of our parents’ generation is now old-school. The trend of delayed marriages of our children’s generation worries us. We worry about our children marrying too soon or too late. We worry about our children marrying too high or too low. We worry about them marrying someone with potentially incompatible or incomprehensible culture, language, race, religion, political stance, mental and physical states, financial and social standing, and/or sexual orientation. We worry about being politically or morally incorrect on marriage and too many other things. We worry about being accused of having incorrect or fake family values. We worry about incorrectly communicating our values to our parents, children, and others. We worry way too much about too many things.
Those worries seemingly unique to our sandwich generation are but the tip of the iceberg of our worries. Far too many of our worries are cross-generational and even universal. Many of our worries transcend generations and are compounded by the increasing complexity and multitude of our physical, mental, and social environments. Indeed, we live in the most interesting yet worrisome era aggravated by our unprecedented technological advances. We exploit these advances without fully knowing their risks and consequences. We become technology-enabled abusers and bullies. We abuse people around us and are abused ourselves. We abuse and pollute elements of our living environment. We abuse and addict ourselves with alcohol, drugs, gambling and online games. We abuse others by assaulting them physically and with guns and other weapons. We abuse others mentally or intellectually with mass propaganda and brainwashing, and misguided religious beliefs or political ideologies. We bully others physically or virtually with higher positions of authority and power, and with fake news and tweets. Our worries grow constantly over time. Our anxieties increase exponentially with age. We want to be good - as good persons, spouses, friends, employees, coworkers, neighbors, and citizens of our nations and our planet. We want to be good children to our parents and good parents to our children. We want our generation to do good and be good. We want to be a good sandwich.
There is much to worry about being a good sandwich. There is so much to do in so little time. We may not be able to choose our sandwich bread, but we could choose other ingredients to improve the overall quality of our sandwich. A sandwich meat by itself does not make a good sandwich, but a high-grade meat could enhance a sandwich’s taste. Adding fresh toppings like lettuce and tomato, upgraded condiments like herbs and spices, and flavorful spread could make a sandwich more wholesome and enjoyable. We should not just be the dead meat in our sandwich. We can and must enrich our sandwich through proper planning, preparation, and seasoning with quality ingredients. Knowledge through continual education and training, maturity through increased experience and communication, and wisdom through unceasing introspection and self-realization are key ingredients we must apply to our sandwich to make it more meaningful and joyful. We must refine our knowledge, maturity, and wisdom together with our parents and children to actualize our great sandwich. We can be the greatest sandwich. Let us be.
您好! 我是一名美国高中学生，心中有一大堆话要对您们说， 可常常找不到说话 的机会。谢谢您们为我提供了这个机会。虽然我要说的话听起来像是有一种反抗的情绪在 里边，但请您不要担心，我没有这个想法。
怎么开始说呢? 先说家长对我的要求吧，家长们只要求我好好学习。他们常说因为 孔子是这么说的，因为祖父是这么说的，因为大家都是这么说的，要“好好学习，天天向 上”，将来才能过上好生活。好像这个方法是他们知道的唯一能过上好生活的方法，所以 他们会孜孜不倦的教我认真学习，每天除了学习还是学习，永无终止。真对不起，虽然我 也崇拜孔子的思想，但我不想一味地追随这个想法。每当我说出我的想法，父母们就会说 你才刚满十六岁，还没成人， 不知柴米的价钱，更不知道天高地厚。在他们的心目中我 是个什么都不懂小毛孩，我只需要专心地读书，乖乖地听家长说的话、老师说的话。我们 什么东西都不需要管。可问题就在这儿，我们现在只管学习， 等我们长大了，走出了家 门了，走进真正的世界，到那时我们只会学习， 其他什么都不会做，怎么面对真正的生 活呢?
家长让我们努力学习的最终目的就是要考上一个好大学， 为此我们要学一种乐器 。不管是小提琴还是钢琴，不学一种乐器，对他们来说是件很尴尬的事， 因为这是考上 好大学的必须条件。而且家长们还要我们去学一个体育项目，这也是为了报考大学的需要 。难道我们的生活目的整个是围绕着考个好大学吗？难道一点点娱乐的活动都不能有吗？ 我不是说让我们天天在家里打游戏、上网。我是说，让我们找一些我们喜欢的活动，跟考 大学无关的有趣的事去做。我还是个孩子，当孩子的时间在我们的一生中并不长，而且一 去不复返。作父母的为什么不能让我们在阳光下好好享受太阳的温暖，在鲜绿的草地上享 受玩耍的快乐，在蓝蓝的大海里享受戏耍波浪的畅快，在像绿色森林里享受当一天探险者 的惊奇? 在这个短暂的时间框架里，能不能让我们快乐地生活？
说了这么多，其实我也真心地感谢我的父母的。他们为了能在美国定居下来，让我 有一个好生活，牺牲了很多的时间、精力。他们为了教我学习中国文化，让我懂得他们的 生活，妈妈每周日把我送到中文学校学习，还给我们做她的家乡菜，我从小就喜欢吃妈妈 烧的菜，比麦当劳、肯德基的快餐好吃多了! 爸爸妈妈还带我回中国，我登上了长城，成 了一条好汉；触摸到了那又清又静号称甲天下的桂林山水。现在我能用中文表达我想对父 母们说的话，虽然这个语言不是我的母语，但我能自豪地说，我会说两种语言。是父母教 我怎样当一个龙的传人。这里我要从心里告诉他们“谢谢您”!
当然我也要谢谢能给我提供这个机会的叔叔阿姨们， 是您们给了我“说出心 里话” 的机会！谢谢了！
Hear Me Out
此刻的你在纽约参加MMUN的活动，而我一人在体会空巢老人的感觉。这 是来美国后第一次独居的夜晚，没有一个你在我眼前晃悠让我督促，我竟觉得 有种不知所措的感觉，在房间里转悠了两圈，还是选择坐在电脑前看些什么。 电脑屏保是你的照片，照片里的你躺在花丛中，边上放着小吉他，你的笑 容如天使一般让我看着看着嘴角也不禁上扬。
总喜欢在你不在的时候，反复看你的照片温柔得想你。而面对你的时候 ，千般绕指柔却忍不住化为一道道犀利的眼神，化为一句句直戳靶心的利箭： 你看看你！ 怎么回事？怎么还没有全A？ 你到底有没有脑子？你给我动作快起 来！。。。。。。这种时候你大多会对着我做个鬼脸隐晦地表达一下自己的抗 议，但有时你也会梗起脖子对怂回来：我不是在进步啊，你为什么永远只看到 我的缺点，不表扬我的优点。
我承认，我承认你在进步。自从去年夏天我们来到这里，你的心变静了， 你学习的主动性变强了，动手能力更是有了质的飞跃，只是每当我刚感到欣慰 准备喘口气，转眼一看朋友圈国内你的同学某某某奥数竞赛获奖，某某某作文 写得惊天地泣鬼神，一起学画画的某某某现在的水平已经是你无法企及，六年 级的都已经开始上初中的内容还兼背唐诗宋词。。。。。。于是我又紧绷“革 命”的弦，开始大声吆喝：你在蠕动前行，别人都在飞奔，你有什么好表扬的 ！心头的各种焦虑各种忐忑只有用高亢的声线才能释放。一般这样的吆喝时， 我会下意识离镜子远一点，我自己也不想一抬头看到一个眉头紧蹙，面貌狰狞 的黄脸婆。
此刻夜深人静，我才敢直面自己的丑态，面对内在的自我。你在国内 上的小学是全国都排得上号的，但是有一些理念有一些做法是你很不喜欢，也 是我作为一个家长觉得不太认同。于是带你出来体验美国的夏令营，没想到连 续两年的体验，你觉得非常适应，你对我说你喜欢这里的氛围，你想要快乐地 学习。于是我便开始曲折的美国计划，于是人近半百，背井离乡，辞去工作， 告别亲朋好友，告别10年有保姆照顾的生活，来到一个陌生的环境开始全新的 生活。每每有长辈对你说：你一定要听话，你妈妈为你付出那么多。我都是马 上要制止，我不想对你有道德的绑架，怕让你有亲情的压力，但是事实的情况 却的确如此，我自己的内心其实也是这样想的。国内的教育下的孩子不管他们 在囫囵吞枣还是细嚼慢咽，总之现在短短半年你已经没有能力回去参加考试， 最近看了一篇文章分析美国高中如何选AP课程，作为一个不喜欢数学，喜欢文 科的孩子，我不知道你如何和这里土生土长的孩子竞争美国历史，竞争艺术理 论，这让我经常忐忑，焦虑当时为了你的一句：“我想要快乐的学习”而做出 的这个决定到底是害了你还是帮了你，我这个破釜沉舟搭建的平台真的是最适 合你的吗？而这些忐忑，焦虑还有更为沉重的歉意。古时为国家，“忠孝不能 两全”往往放弃的都是孝，现代为孩子，我也选择放弃了孝，不敢去想年迈身 体不佳的父母是如何的不舍，如何的担忧，不敢回想自己毅然决然告别时那副 白眼狼的嘴脸。每每有长辈对你说：你一定要听话，你妈妈为你付出那么多。 我都是马上要制止，我不想对你有道德的绑架，怕让你有亲情的压力，但是事 实的情况却的确如此，我自己的内心其实也是这样想的。
现在夜深人静，我终于可以静下心来梳理出狰狞面孔背后复杂的情绪， 这让我反而变得轻松一些。原谅我时刻如一只易燃的鞭炮，一丝火星都能让我 对着你---我最想呵护的女儿开始轰炸。照片上的你笑的如此淡定，如此温暖， 就如生活中的你。在我硝烟刚起的时候，你会说：“好的好的，我会去做的， 息怒息怒！”在我为了一些杂事焦虑不安的时候，也是你拍拍我对我说：”没 事的，我们都会很好的！放心！“ 女儿，我很庆幸你现在不在我身边，看不到我羞愧的样子。仔细想来其实 你已经很棒了，”性格决定命运“ 你这样的心态，这样的性格，我的确不用那 么焦虑，或者我的焦虑指数不用那么高，我想我可能是更年期了。。。。。。 可是，如此善解人意的你应该马上要进入青春期， 会不会你到时也如传说中的 恐怖的青春期少女一样和我天天斗智斗勇斗嘴斗气？原来一直觉得年纪大了生 孩子比较好，思想成熟度高了，经济也稳定，但没想到会有一场”更年期对抗 青春期“的较量！
呵呵，我是不是又开始焦虑了，我现在可以确诊自己就是正式进入更年 期。 哎，”既来之则安之“吧！我们既然选择了这条路就一起慢慢走下去的， 我会努力调整心态，给你时间，看着你慢慢得自我修复，自我雕琢。当然为了 母女和睦，我会远离朋友圈。
Your Children Are Not Your Children
I was talking to a retired engineer who was one of my father’s friends; he immigrated to the US about 30 years ago with his family. He is more than 80 years old and living with his wife who is experiencing declining health.They have three adult children who have become professionally successful in the medical and science fields. Their daughter lives close by, and their two sons live in other states.
He broke down into tears when he told me that his out-of-state children seldom visit or call them, and their daughter will occasionally drop in or call only when it benefits her. As an example; when there is something wrong with one of the daughter’s homes she would call her father to fix the problem, which is free labor for the daughter. When she needs her mom to cook her favorable traditional food, she would call and set a specific time to pick up the dish and leave soon after.
“I don’t mind helping my daughter as I always did, but I thought my daughter should understand how increasingly difficult it is for her mom to cook now.” He told me, “she should be the one to cook and take care of us instead of vice versa.”
Except for giving him my cell phone number and letting him know that I am available whenever he or his wife may need my help, I really don’t know what I can say or do to better his and his wife’s situation.
His story has triggered a flashback of similar traumatic ones I heard from other parents who immigrated to the US as a trailblazer, lived tireless lives of sacrifice to open up every opportunity to their children whom are expected not only to become high-achieving professionals, but also take good care of their parents when they are old and sick. This is the typical set of traditional values which has been retained generation after generation, but is giving in to the inevitable family decline that is impacting our immigrant families.
“Your children are not your children”, these were the words he concluded with as he ended his sad story. It strikes my heart every now and then until I encountered the poem, “On Children” written by Kahlil Gibran, a Lebanese artist, philosopher and writer who immigrated with his parents to Boston in 1895:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you
Recently I find myself revisiting this poem from the perspective of a mother with two children who are becoming adults and growing significantly in their education and potentially promising careers. That first line evokes a visceral response in me. Like most of the traditional Chinese parents, I have raised, taught, and cared about my children with the strict method I carried from my parents following my biological, emotional, and spiritual instincts. Besides love, I tried to give them my thoughts which a lot of time are not appreciated as much as I expected, and I started to feel upset. It took me years to realize and understand that my children have developed their own identities growing up in this country; they have their own parts to play in this world, and destinies to fulfill in their lives.
I open my heart and allow myself to be soothed with the rest of the poem:
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow.
I don’t agree with the way the children of my neighbor treat their parents, but I feel more and more comfortable following the poem which is full of lyrical outpourings and expressions of deep religious and mystical nature which leads to my new way of thinking: we are the means by which our children came into the world; we didn’t design nor own them, a force greater than ourselves brings them to this world. Since we don’t own them, we should not place on them any unrealistic expectations which may leave us feeling disappointed.
Confessions of a Rhinoceros
The first time I talked to Adam, he was crying hysterically. He’d just gotten back at his house, filled with paramedics and sheriff deputies, to find out that his mother had died a few hours earlier. The lanky body of this 18-year-old spread out on the cold tile of the foyer and a wailing sound came out of his chest. I sat next to him, wrapping my arms around his body and mumbling “it’s going to be OK.” I couldn’t help but thinking of my dear friend Emily, Adam’s mother.
I had known Emily for a decade, since her husband Charles was my old friend. I could still see her warm smile and hear her laughter. The intense pain on the young face in front of me reminded me of her face the last time I visited her.
This was a month ago, after I learned that she had a nervous breakdown. She had to be rushed to the hospital due to a suicide attempt, and after staying there for a few weeks, she was released back home. The doctors still required her to visit the local day clinic for group therapies.
When I visited her at home, she was telling me how difficult it was to muster her energy to do anything. I tried to persuade her to follow her doctors’ order to take antidepressants, but she expressed feelings of alienation at the clinic and sense of hopelessness profusely. I left her feeling concerned and vowed to come back as soon as I could. Unfortunately, I was too late. I held Adam tight, tears streaming down my face. I didn’t know him that well before, only occasionally seeing him at gatherings where he was often playing with one kind of electronic devices or another. My conversation with Emily usually revolved around our younger daughters since they took singing lessons together and performed in drama camps together.
I did know that just like my son, Adam left for college six months ago. I still remembered how excited, yet a bit worried, Emily was when she thought about sending him to a place so far away. She was concerned whether he would be able to manage the flight alone. The whole family ended up taking the flight – extending the send-off to the other side of the country.
Adam had high academic achievements, but he often had to rely on parental supervision and reminders to finish his work, like many high schoolers. Unknown to me, he also has had diagnoses of ADHD and depression for a few years and was taking medication to stabilize the situation.
At the new environment without constant reminders, he often had a hard time getting out of bed to go to classes. Instead he sought escape in the virtual world of videogames, and his mental condition deteriorated without consistent medication. His quitting two months later was a huge blow to Emily – who had always taken pride in his success. Now a mere two months later, she was gone.
The police were rushing in and out and Adam was in their way, so I had to pull him up with all my strength and walked him to the sofa to put him down. I knew the task was daunting, but I decided then and there that I had to do everything in my power to help the family, especially Adam, knowing how much guilt he must have felt in his mother’s untimely death.
The next morning, I went back to Charles’s house because we needed to discuss funeral arrangements. Adam was so upset that he spent a lot of time on the piano, playing sad soulful tunes. Charles was hoping that Adam could go to his class at the local community college, but I could see that Adam was in no state of doing so. I insisted that the family members all make counseling appointments, since losing an immediate family member was so traumatic that they would need something equivalent to CPR for their emotional state. Desperately hoping that having responsibilities would help Adam in his grieving process, I also encouraged him to go with us to check out the funeral homes.
In the car, Charles asked me whether we could create a slideshow of Emily’s photos and I echoed the idea immediately. I even suggested that I would use many of her favorite songs as a soundtrack, for I knew she was a good singer and passed the passion for music to her children. Adam interjected before I could answer, “I don’t know what music she likes, but I know what music she doesn’t like.” I was rather taken aback, “What music doesn’t she like? “‘She doesn’t like the music I like!’” was the answer. I half joked, “Well, when you die, we could use your favorite music. But this funeral is for your mother, so we will use her favorite music.” In my own interaction with children, I often find it easier to break the ice by being as silly or shocking as them. At the same time, I understood that death was like the elephant in the room – it had already presented itself to this family and we couldn’t avoid it anymore. From that day on, Adam and I had many discussions of death, life and love, which brought us closer.
As we arrived at the funeral home, we were led into a room and sat down to face the funeral worker. Adam curled his body into a ball and buried his face in his arms. As we discussed various logistic questions, I tried to wrap my arms around Adam, which was rather awkward given his size. I felt like an egret trying to put her wings around a giant clam. While hugging him, I whispered to Adam that if he had any thoughts or feelings, writing them out would be a great way to express them. Sure enough, that night Adam posted a poem on his Facebook wall, full of anger, frustration and sadness.
A few days after the funeral, Adam went back to his classes in the local college. He had a class in the morning and one in the afternoon, leaving four hours of free time in between. I made a point to stop by and eat lunch with him as often as I could. We would sit on the bench in the main courtyard. On our left was the grand performing center, on the right the library. The breeze was so pleasant that oddly it brought me a profound sense of sadness because Emily couldn’t be there to enjoy it with us. We talked about her, my friendship with her, his memory of her, his other family members and their love of her. Once he brought out his mobile phone and told me, “if I had played piano on my mother’s funeral (For various reasons, he didn’t get a chance to play.), this piece would be my choice.“ From his Youtube app, a simple but soothing melody flowed out – it was called “We miss you – Them of Love” from a game called “Mother”. My eyes were tearing up again.
Once I took him to talk to a friend who lost a few family members due to mental illness. He went along despite some reluctance. I was hoping to understand mental illness in more depth from other people’s experiences. Afterwards, I asked Adam if it was OK for me to drag him along to meet various people who were usually strangers.
‘You were like an elephant pulling this old horse cart of mine, with all you might.” Adam replied. I laughed at the vividness of the description but took mock offence, “Why couldn’t I be a giraffe? Giraffe is much more gracious and beautiful!”
Many weeks passed, I asked Adam again, "Do you still think I am an elephant?"
“Good,” I thought to myself, “That was the answer I’d like to hear.”
“So, what am I now? “I probed.
“Well, you are like a rhinoceros now.”
The imagery again was surprising, and I had to protest again, “Why?"
"Because you are more purposeful now, with a better sense of direction, not like the elephant who was just pulling me all over the place!”
Many months have since passed, today I picked up the phone to call Adam at his university and he picked up right away. After making sure he was doing well lately at his studies and his life in general, I asked him if I could share his essay and submit it to an essay contest called “Hear Me Out”. Adam, in his usual grace and kindness, agreed.
For if an elephant could learn to be gentle and if a rhinoceros could find its direction, it may be that a young man could eventually find love and his own wings despite pain and misery.
Calvin Jia-Xin Li Memorial Foundation : The mission of the Calvin Jia-Xin Li Memorial Foundation is to support the aspirations and dreams of Asian American children in the U.S. The Foundation works to promote the welfare of Asian American children as well as help in creating a supportive social and family environment to empower youth.
Chinese American Parent Association of Montgomery County (CAPA-MC) : CAPA-MC aims to promote the involvement of Chinese American parents in school communities, providing the tools with which parents can address the cultural, linguistic, and communication barriers preventing Chinese American students and parents from fully engaging in and voicing opinions within educational institutions.
Chinese Culture and Community Service Center (CCACC) : CCACC is a non-profit and non-partisan organization serving the greater Washington D.C. area. CCACC’s mission is to enhance the quality of life and well-being of Chinese Americans and the community-at-large, to promote the awareness of Chinese culture and appreciation of cultural diversity, to facilitate assimilation of Chinese immigrants into American society, and advance coalitions in community development and building.
University of Maryland Department of Asian American Studies Program (AAST) : AAST strives to be a leader in research and education focused on Asian Americans in the United States. AAST is dedicated to studying the lives, histories, and culture of persons of Asian descent hailing from any region of Asia and the Pacific.