Taking a Break from the Kids

The trip the Vietnam marks the longest time I will be away from the kids. Last night before bedtime, Đạo asked me the reason for going. I told him that I will be visiting my dad and we haven’t seen each other for sixteen years. His response was that it was longer than the day he was born. He held my right arm and said that he would hold on to me all night long because he’s going to miss me for fourteen days. What a sweet little kid.

Although I kind of feel bad being away for two weeks, it allows me the break to think and reflect on being a father. It has been a tough job and I am not too good at it. I have to thank my wife for carrying the burden with our third boy. I haven’t had to deal with the late-night shift.

My bigger challenge is Đạo and Đán. They are constantly fighting and shouting at each other no matter when and where. Without hitting and spanking, disciplining them has become quite frustrating. My words simply don’t register until I have to raise my voice. I don’t like yelling, but I cannot get their attention otherwise.

Despite all of that, they still love me at the end of the day. They are such good kids when they decided to be. Unfortunately, it is not always the case. I wake every morning telling myself to just stay cool, but it is too damn hard. I am working on staying calm.


Nowadays I don’t have time to be bored. My two older kids, on the other hand, often complained that they are bored if they can’t spend time on the iPad. This summer, we are limiting their screen time to weekend only. We didn’t sign them up for any summer camp. In addition to avoiding the ridiculous cost, we wanted to give them the summer to relax. We don’t want to overwhelm them with activities after activities. Reading is my only encouragement. Other than that, they can just be bored.

In retrospect, boredom was good for me. It helped me discovered things around me that I would not have if I was always busy doing something. My summers were extremely boring. I had no friends and no activities. My mom and I lived in a tiny apartment in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She spent most of her time in the kitchen while I watched TV until I was bored out of my mind. Fortunately downtown was only a few blocks from our apartment. When I got bored in the apartment, I wondered around the farm market just to checkout fresh fruits, vegetables, and pies or just walked around Woolworth (remember that?) looking at things that I had no need or desired. I also stopped at the magazine stand in CVS looking for articles on Vanilla Ice. How bored you have to be to do that sort of things?

The public library was also a few blocks from our apartment. Even though I hated reading, I was so bored that went to the library to see if I can learn something from books. Unfortunately, I would fall asleep every few minutes and then just close the book. One time I worked up my courage to speak to an older white man who was intensely reading. I just wanted to practice my English. When I found out that he was a retired English teacher, I wanted to be friend with him so he could teach me English. I could not remember exactly how it happened, but I can still recall going over to his house. As we walked from the library to his house, he would pick up any trash on the sidewalk and street. I was touched by his action. When we got to his house, I can’t recall what we were doing, but I only stayed for about twenty minutes or so. Fortunately, he was not a pedophile. These days, imagine a little kid walking home with a stranger. How crazy is that?

Time has changed. Being bored nowadays is not an option. Kids have to do all kind of activities from swimming competition to chess club to music lesson to math. We robbed them the opportunity to be bored and to discover their own passion. Let’s them be bored so they can do something about it.


Today I walked by a mom who was having a difficulty getting her toddler to calm down. He was kicking and screaming while she appeared frustrated and a bit embarrassed. I didn’t intervene, but I understood the helplessness. I have been through it for many years.

Parenting is not easy and I have always contradicted myself. I want to give the kids freedom, but I need obedience in return. I get emotional when reward is paid with bad behavior. It drives me nuts and makes me feel betrayed again and again.

During our family reunion, one of our uncles predicted that I will have a big problem when the boys become teenagers. It was apparent that I had no control over their behavior. They hardly listened to what I said until some yelling and banning (screen time) occurred.

I am doing the best I could for them. They are smart kids and they should have a chance to learn and to grow themselves. I should not have to do everything or make all the decisions for them. As long as they won’t fuck up really bad. I am OK with that.

Hết Khóc

Hôm nay đưa Xuân đến trường em không còn khóc nữa. Em ngoan ngoãn vào sân chơi với các bạn. Chỉ ngày thứ tư mà hết khóc thì giỏi lắm.

Xuân đã bắt đầu nói. Chữ đầu tiên là “mine.” Cái gì cũng mine hết. Mỗi lần Xuân muốn ba mang giày cho Xuân thì Xuân đem giày rồi đập tay xuống ghế ra dấu hiệu cho ba ngồi xuống để Xuân leo vào lòng ba.

Gần tháng nay, mỗi lần ị, Xuân chỉ vào mong và nói “poop.” Ba không còn phải ngử nữa.

Well Adjusting

Our little Xuân is adjusting well at the new daycare. The scream at the drop-off this morning only lasted a minute. He was sitting with his teacher when I walked by the romper room. He seems to enjoy all the activities, like playing with water, at the new school. He is just not eating much these days.

Đạo and Đán get to stay home with mommy. Summer camps are way too expensive. They get to hang out with each other while mom is working. They also get to sleep in late and do nothing academic for a while. Let them breathe and take life easy. They do need to do all kind of activities all the time. I would love to have free time on my hand like I used to have when I was a little kid.

New School

Today Xuân started daycare at the Jewish Community Center. At the drop-off, he screamed as expected. Still, it was painful to walk away. He did fine for the rest of the day. I hope he’ll get over it sooner rather than later. I am sure he’ll do fine, but it is still hard hearing your own kid bawling.

Parental Failure

When I asked Đán to turn off his game for dinner, he smacked the iPad against his forehead. I tossed the iPad to the floor and told him not to touch it again. He cried, “daddy,” repeatedly, but I refused to talk to him. I was angry. I just could not stand seeing him self-destruct. What’s next? He would bang his head against the wall if he doesn’t get what he want?

I am so fed up with the constant fighting and bickering between Đạo and Đán. I had to repeat myself like a broken record trying to get them to stop, but they wouldn’t until they punched or scratched each other.

Thinking Ahead

As we were walking on the boardwalk in Wildwood, New Jersey, I told Đạo I wanted to ride the Spring Shot. Đạo replied, “No. The strings will break because you are too heavy. I don’t want you to die.” What a smart and careful boy who always think ahead.

Respect Nature

Đán: Do Vietnamese people respect nature?
Dad: Of course, we do.
Đán: Then why did you cut down the trees?
Dad: Oh! My bad.

Boy or Girl?

Dad: So, are you a boy or a girl?
Đạo: I am both.
Dad: How?
Đạo: I act like a boy, but I scream like a girl.