On Reading

When I was a kid, I hated reading. Although I could read, I did see the point of looking at words. No one explained to me the benefits of reading. In retrospect, I wish my parents had forced me to read. Then again, I have never seen my mom pick up a book to read. For me, I had other priorities like billiards, video games, Chinese TV series, and hanging out with other kids in the neighborhood. Reading was not something we did.

When we moved in the States, my distaste for reading escalated as I struggled to learn English. Even though I was alone most of the time and bored out of my mind, I could not read because I did not understand the words. I fell asleep every time I picked up a book to read. I got frustrated and gave up. I went through high school and college ashamed of myself because I was performing poorly in any class that required reading. After my freshman year in college, I did not even bother to buy textbooks because I knew I was not even going to crack them open. My strategy was that if I never missed any class, I could not fail. If I could score at least a D on all my tests, I could walk away with a C. For most of my core courses such as English, religion, philosophy, biology, I was happy with a C. I had to withdraw a history and a literature course because I was failing so bad.

I hated college and almost dropped out, but then I discovered design. I was attracted to design because I did not have to deal with reading. I could work on my computer and push pixels all day long. I was interested in the visual more than text. I named my blog Visual Gui for that reason. Ironically, design brought me back to reading. In order to learn new technology such as Flash, HTML, CSS, and Photoshop, I had to read. Fortunately those instructional books were straightforward, easy to understand, and complemented with illustrations.

My reading began to pick up when I launched this blog. To find new content, I needed to read. The more I read, the more I was fascinated with what I had learned through reading. Now, despite my busy schedule, I read every free second I have. I started to carry a book with me everywhere I went. I would wake up early and stay up late to read. It took me more than twenty years to finally see the point of reading. I wish I had started early. It is one of my regrets in life. I blame no one, but myself for it and I do not want to make that mistake again with my kids. One of my goals as a father is to encourage my kids to read. Once they learn how to read, it is up them to continue or not.

When Đạo started kindergarten, we went through the Let’s Read book each night. Within a few months, he could read. When he was in first grade, he could read all by himself. I am so happy to have instilled in him the value of reading. Our bonding time are when we both laying in bed reading. We read our own book, but I have I use one hand to rub his back. I even started to teach him to read Vietnamese, but I had to put that aside to focus on Đán.

In contrast to my success with Đạo, I am failing miserably with Đán. We also started Let’s Read last year when Đán was in kindergarten, but he struggled to sound out the letters. Even now he has trouble with simple three-letter words. I am not sure if he is not paying attention or has some reading issues, but he kept getting a certain word wrong even though the same word is repeated again and again throughout a book. I got frustrated, but I do not want to push him to read. I brought up my concern with his kindergarten teacher and she told me to give him time. It’s a year now and he shows no improvement.

I understand that each kid develops differently. I am not comparing him to his brother, cousin, or classmates. He is a bright kid. He excels at everything, particularly gaming, except or reading. I wonder if he has some kind of reading issue. I brought it up to his first grade teachers again and they are in the process of evaluating him. I am hoping to hear back from them in the next few weeks. If he has reading disability, I rather find out sooner than later so we could get him some help. I don’t know when kids supposed to know how to read, but if my kid is struggling with it, I want to do something about it. Maybe reading is not for him, but I don’t want him to miss out like I did.

Following Directions

Just the first week back to school, Đán already received a warning. One of his teachers wrote:

Hello Truong Family,

I’m happy to have Dan in my class. I want Dan to be successful in first grade.

I have noticed that Dan needs many reminders to follow directions. Many times he is distracted and talking with others or simply not listening to my directions. Dan is also having difficulty following directions while walking in a red zone (quietly walking in the hallway).

I have given him reminders about following the rules.

Please speak to him about listening and following the rules in first grade. Please let me know if you have any questions.

We look forward to next week and hopefully see that Dan has turned his behavior around!

Thank you.

The boys, Đán in particular, have been ignoring our instructions and they irritates the heck out of me. For instance, when I asked him to stop bothering his brothers, he did it even more.

What drives me crazy is the constant playing, running, and screaming between Đạo and Đán. They have no concept of appropriate time and place. They played all the time and continued to do so even when we asked them to stop.

Last night my wife was not in good mood. Xuân was crying and she was trying to get him to sleep. She asked the boys to brush their teeth. They played around in the bathroom. She told them to stop and to be quiet so Xuân could sleep. I was downstairs doing the dishes. A couple of minutes later, I heard loud screaming and jumping. I knew they were going to get it. She came out and punished them.

It is so infuriating when they ignored our requests. When I asked them to put the toys away, wash their hands, and eat dinner. They just went on and played as though they did not hear me. A couple minutes later I repeated and still no response. Repeated for the third time and nothing happened.

I am not impatience, but I have limitations. They always push it to my limits.

Stop Yelling at Your Kids

Stephen Marche writes in the New York Times:

[Yelling] doesn’t make you look authoritative. It makes you look out of control to your kids. It makes you look weak. And you’re yelling, let’s be honest, because you are weak. Yelling, even more than spanking, is the response of a person who doesn’t know what else to do.

No spanking. No yelling. The only thing left to do is put them on the pedestals and pray to them. As much as I hate yelling, it has come to the point that normal conversations aren’t enough. I could repeat the same thing ten times and nothing gets through to them. One yell is all it takes. I know, you are supposed to have patience with your kids. I am done with being patience. Three strikes and they’ll get an earful. I know, I am a shitty parent.

Lesson on Insult

When a six-year-old kid called me stupid, I quizzed him, “Since you are so smart, what is 6×4?” He thought about it and responded, “I don’t know multiplication yet.” I informed him, “The answer is 24.” I went on, “If I am stupid and I know the answer than I guess you’re not so smart, huh?” He cried, “You are mean.”

I calmly explained to him, “When you call someone stupid, you better be smarter than that person or else you wouldn’t look so smart yourself.” I continued, “When I was your age, do you know what happen when I called an adult stupid?” He asked, “What?” I replied,“I get slapped right on the face.” He stopped calling me stupid, at least until he becomes smarter than me.

In retrospect, he was right. I was mean and I had no role in teaching other people’s kid about insulting other people, but we are living in the time when the president called everyone stupid and got away with it. I could have ignored the kid’s insult, but I wanted to teach him a lesson so that he doesn’t think he can get away with it.

Cháu Hân

Ban đầu khi cha mẹ cháu ngỏ ý muốn gởi cháu lên ở cùng gia đình tôi vài tuần, tôi hơi e ngại. Mình trông ba thằng con muốn hụt hơi nay lại thêm thằng cháu với tính tình hơi khác thường làm sao mà lo cho xuể. Nhưng rồi chúng tôi cũng nhận.

Cháu Hân hiện giờ năm tuổi. Với những hành động khác thường của cháu cha mẹ và gia đình nghĩ rằng cháu bị autism nhưng tôi không nghĩ thế. Tôi không phải là bác sĩ tâm lý gì cả nhưng tôi chỉ nghĩ đó chỉ là những cử chỉ riêng biệt của cháu. Tôi không thích đo lường sự phát triển của trẻ em và đưa vào tiêu chuẩn đã được đóng khuôn. Mỗi đứa trẻ có cái nét riêng của chúng.

Cháu rất kén ăn. Cháu chỉ ăn những gì nó thích như bánh Oreo với sữa hoặc mac and cheese. Cha mẹ sợ cháu đói nên nuông chiều cháu và chỉ cho ăn những gì nó muốn ăn. Mỗi lần cháu xem những phim hoạt hình nó thích, cháu múa mái tay chân rất hiếu động. Cháu nhút nhát không chơi với những đứa trẻ khác. Lúc nhỏ cháu không chịu nói. Bây giờ thì cháu hỏi liên tục không nghỉ khiến người khác khó chịu.

Nhưng khi cháu ở với chúng tôi nó rất ngoan. Cháu không lì cũng không mít ước. Tôi sợ nhất là hai thứ đó. Lúc đầu ăn cơm hay ăn phở cháu đều nói rằng những thứ này không tốt cho cháu. Nhưng chúng tôi bảo ai ăn gì thì cháu ăn cái đó. Không ăn con sẽ bị đói vì ở nhà không có đồ ăn gì khác. Nói vài lần cháu cũng tự một mình ăn hết cơm hoặc phở.

Khi trò chuyện, cháu hỏi như cái máy vậy. Hình này là ai? Nhà này là của ai? Xe này là của ai? Ba của Hân đâu? Ba của Đạo Đán là ai? Ngày nào cháu cũng lập đi lập lại những câu hỏi đó. Hai ngày đầu tôi cũng kiên nhẫn trả lời qua ngày thứ ba mỗi khi nó hỏi tôi thì tôi hỏi ngược lại nó. Hai chú cháu hỏi qua rồi hỏi lại như thế mà bây giờ vắng nó tôi lại nhớ.

Đáng lý ra cháu phải thích chơi với thằng Đạo và Đán nhưng nó lại chơi với thằng Xuân nhiều hơn. Vì thằng Xuân chịu nghe lời và làm theo những gì nó bảo. Khi chúng nó phá đồ đạc tôi rầy không cho phá. Thằng lớn không phá nữa chỉ xúi thằng nhỏ phá thôi. Lúc trước nó chơi thân với thằng cháu khác. Nhưng thằng kia thì bắt nạt nó nên giờ nó không chịu chơi nữa. Bây giờ mỗi lần gặp mặt thằng cháu kia thì Hân chỉ nói, “Tao không muốn ngủ với mầy.” Thằng kia nghe nổi quạu. La hét hoặc đẩy thằng Hân. Thằng kia bảo thằng Hân làm gì mà nó không làm theo là nó nổi giận la hét nên Hân cũng không thích chơi nữa.

Tôi là chú của hai thằng nên giải quyết rất dễ dàng vì tôi không thiên vị đứa nào cả. Thằng nào làm sai thì chỉnh thằng đó. Đi vacation tôi cũng phải làm quan toà để giải quyết chuyện các cháu. Sau hai tuần lể sống ở nhà tôi và một tuần đi chơi ở biển cùng cháu không chịu về lại nhà. Lúc chia tay, cháu khóc thật tội nghiệp.

Wildwoods: the Fun, the Screen, and the Drama

Just wrapped up our last vacation for the summer. We rented a house just a block from the beach at Wildwoods. We had six adults and six boys ranging from two to nine years olds. Most of the time we had fun. In the morning, we took the kids out biking on the boardwalk for about an hour. We ate late breakfast then took the boys to the beach for two hours. We ate late lunch than hang out at the rental house and took nap. After dinner, we headed to the boardwalk for arcades and games. It was not a bad routine to spend a week vacation.

My only issue was the screen time. I wouldn’t mind if they spent one, two or three hours the most a day on iPads. One of the cousins, however, jumped on it every chance he had. If he was not biking, swimming, eating, or sleeping, he was on the iPad. When Đạo and Đán were not allowed screen time, they gathered around the cousin like two dogs waiting for a bone. I felt bad and caved in, especially in the hot afternoons when all the adults were tired. I wanted to take them out for mini-golf or something, but I could not have handled five kids all by myself. So I ended up taking Xuân to the tram car. We just rode from one end of the boardwalk to the other until he fell asleep. He loved riding the tram car with me. He requested it everyday.

With six boys living together, drama was inevitable and it was my biggest concern. One minute they played together the next minute they argued and so on. Đạo and Đán have the tendency to evoke friction and I am working hard on correcting it. For instance, when they said something the cousin didn’t like they wouldn’t stop. Whenever I was around, I had to tell them to stop. Đạo learned his lesson when the cousin punched him in the stomach. He didn’t punch back, but he told me about it and my response was, “Well, he told you to stop saying it, but you didn’t so you just have to take it. Next time, when he tells you to stop, you stop.”

Then it was Đán’s turn. He got the cousin pissed off in an argument, but the cousin knew Đán is not Đạo. Đán wouldn’t take punches. He would fight back. The cousin told Đán, “My mom told me I can punch you in the face if you don’t stop.” I didn’t know what they were arguing about, but I was shocked when I heard that. I confronted his mom, “Did you teach him that?” Her response was, “Yes, if they don’t stop when he told them to stop.” I was pissed, but I understood why a mother would teach her kid that. My boys need to learn their lesson. They should have known better. I would not stand by their side if the fault is theirs. Still, I don’t condone punching in the face.

I walked away and gave it some thoughts. The kids were back to normal playing nice with each other. I sat all three of them down and said to the cousin, “If you tell Đạo or Đán to stop saying something you don’t like and they kept saying it, tell them that you will tell me or their mom.” I turned to my boys, “If he tells me that he has to repeat the second time, I will punish you.” I turned back to the cousin, “Just tell me and I will punish them. You can punch them in the face, but they can also punch you back. Do you really want to hurt each other? You guys are family.” I hope that solved the violence.

Other than one or two minor frictions, we got along just fine. We just have different ways of raising our kids. I do not have anything to say about other parenting styles. I am just trying to do my part to keep the vibe cool and enjoyable, especially when we stay together. I hope the boys will get along better as they grow older. Now they are just being kids. We’ll face more drama with the next group. I am hoping the next four will be less dramatic than the older four. We’ll see.

Warning: More Dramas Ahead

This Saturday, we will take our last vacation of the summer before the kids go back to school. Vacation is supposed to be relaxing and resting, but I am stressing out about it. It used to be fun, but now it is more like fighting and arguing. It started with the kids, but now it is affecting the adults as well.

My primary role is to avoid confrontation. How will I do that? Well, I’ll just have to keep an eye on the kids the morning they wake up until the night they go to bed. If they can’t get along for a few hours, I can’t even begin to imagine being stuck together for a whole week.

I don’t want to sound like a selfish asshole, but I am tired of all of it. It is already tough keeping an eye on my own kids. Now I have to be aware of everyone’s kids, especially the one who breaks down when he can’t have things his way. It is like hold a hot glass all day long without dropping it.

If I want to relax, I have to let Steve Jobs watching them. They will spend time with their iPads as long as we let them. I am desperate for a digital-free vacation, but it is much harder to enforce when other kids are using it. They always say if you don’t let your kids have it than they just not going to have it. It’s like telling addicts to kick it while watching others using. Good luck with that.

The two weeks experiment of not having iPads worked well. They read more and spent time outdoor more. As soon as you let them back in, they go nuts again. You can take the iPads away from the boys, but you can’t take the boys out of the iPads. With iPads they fought with each other less. So it is a no brainer.

The arguing and yelling issues have caused a headache for me. I get stressed out every time they get together. No matter how many times I warned them and how many times I repeated the issue, they still occur. It is getting to the point that I feel uneasy and not comfortable, but no one gives a fuck what I think. I am an adult; therefore, I have to control my behavior. For the kids’s sake, I just going to do what I have to do. My only hope is to walk away from this vacation without distress.

Bình thường

Hôm Chủ Nhật, lúc con học võ tôi nói chuyện với một phụ huynh khác. Anh và vợ chồng chỉ có một thằng con. Anh khen tôi hay khi biết tôi sắp có thằng con thứ tư. Anh tâm sự rằng. Anh vất vả với thằng con vì lúc sáu tuổi khám phá nó bị autism. Tuy nhẹ nhưng nó không chịu nói chuyện với ai cả. Anh phải cho nó đi học đủ thứ để nó hòa nhập với đám đông.

Tôi may mắn là ba thằng con nó hơi nhiều. Hai thằng lớn ra ngoài hoạt bát dễ hòa đồng nên tôi cũng mừng. Bây giờ tôi lo ngại nhất là thằng thứ tư. Chỉ mong khi nó chào đời được khỏe mạnh và bình thường. Ba thằng bình thường tôi cũng muốn hết xí quách rồi.

Trước khi ra về giáo sư dạy võ dặn tôi rằng, “em có con trai phải để ý bọn chúng.” Anh kể tôi nghe về thằng học trò 14 tuổi. Cha mẹ cháu tâm sự với thầy rằng thằng nhỏ đang hiếu kỳ về sex. Cha mẹ bận đi làm nên không ngó ngàng. Nó lén mua sex toy trên mạng về tự sử. Cha mẹ cháu nhờ thầy rèn luyện võ thậu cho nó để không bị tình dục quấy nhiễu.

Trời ơi, sao nhiều tình trạng thế. Tôi đến bốn thằng làm sao trông cho xuể? Hai tuần nay cắt iPad tụi nó rồi. Chắc cắt luôn cho nó khỏi tò mò xem bậy bạ trên mạng. Đúng là “More children more problems.” Nhưng giờ cũng đã muộn màng rồi. Cùi không sợ lỡ. Đứa nào ngoan thì đỡ. Không thì cũng phải rán.

Overreacting Parents?

A mother wrote on her Facebook:

So shocking to see a baby in the car by himself with all windows up in the 80s degree weather in a parking lot at my kids’ summer camp. I was about to call someone when an elderly man walked toward the car with another kid. I told him “please do not leave a baby in the car alone like that, it is hot and dangerous” and he looked at me like I was a nosy lady. He ignored me and got into the car. I was so mad!! What would you do if you see something like that?

I don’t know her so well and her friends already said she should have called the police; therefore, I did not want to engage on the conversation. I just post it here instead.

Maybe just like her, the elderly man was just picking up the other kid at the summer camp and the kid in the car just wanted to sit there for a few minutes. The elderly man was already back to the car when she was about to call the police. Is leaving your child a few minute committing a crime? Are parents overreacting?

Kim Brooks writes about “Motherhood in the Age of Fear” in the New York Times:

We now live in a country where it is seen as abnormal, or even criminal, to allow children to be away from direct adult supervision, even for a second.

We read, in the news or on social media, about children who have been kidnapped, raped and killed, about children forgotten for hours in broiling cars. We do not think about the statistical probabilities or compare the likelihood of such events with far more present dangers, like increasing rates of childhood diabetes or depression. Statistically speaking, according to the writer Warwick Cairns, you would have to leave a child alone in a public place for 750,000 years before he would be snatched by a stranger. Statistically speaking, a child is far more likely to be killed in a car on the way to a store than waiting in one that is parked. But we have decided such reasoning is beside the point. We have decided to do whatever we have to do to feel safe from such horrors, no matter how rare they might be.

And so now children do not walk to school or play in a park on their own. They do not wait in cars. They do not take long walks through the woods or ride bikes along paths or build secret forts while we are inside working or cooking or leading our lives.

I was beginning to understand that it didn’t matter if what I’d done was dangerous; it only mattered if other parents felt it was dangerous. When it comes to kids’ safety, feelings are facts.

As one mother put it to me, “I don’t know if I’m afraid for my kids, or if I’m afraid other people will be afraid and will judge me for my lack of fear.” In other words, risk assessment and moral judgment are intertwined.

The Explainer

As we were driving to Taekwondo class yesterday, Đán asked Đạo, “What are genes?” Đạo explained, “Genes are DNAs that come from your parents. For example, I am addicted to books like daddy and I like to shout like mommy.” I had to hold my laughter, but I could not help treating them to their favorite frozen yogurt place.