Routine Plus Plus

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So we have fallen into a routine – waking the kids up before seven so that we could be out of the door by 7:20 so we get to school before eight.   I head home to do chores, write, correspond, rest, work on projects and then it’s time to pick Jimmy up at 5:00 in the afternoon.  Joshua leaves his school at 4:10 and goes to this place across the street where he plays board games with kids from different grade levels after doing his homework.  Jimmy stops for a few minutes at their kindergarten playground before we pick up Joshua at 5:15 and then we have dinner and go skateboarding and scootering in the park across our home.  They are home to have a bath by 8 and off to bed at 9 but it’s baffling how time is never enough and they end up sleeping later than our target.

There are variations around these basic dance steps that break the routine such as a visit to a friend’s house or like yesterday’s powwow meeting with Donna, Rita and Susan to discuss the library and garden-playground ideas — four moms who want to organize alternatives for their children to counterbalance the rigid structure of the Chinese education system and give them more opportunities to play with other children of various ages.

Joshua insists that the time to play with other kids in school is too short but he has a three-hour break in between the morning and afternoon classes and one hour after school to play with other students from different grade levels in the house where they have lunch.  I got them board games as my “sneaky Sudbury strategy,” so that Joshua could maximize the free, fun time with other kids.  Still it’s not enough.  Even P.E., he says, is too short and sometimes he doesn’t get to run as many times as he wants because they have to take turns.

When I asked Joshua which he would like to do after school or in the weekends – taekwando, taichi, calligraphy, guitar, drums — Joshua paused and said definitively, football.  It was not even in my mind as a choice because I hardly see other children playing football around so I took it as a serious mission to find a regular football activity for him.   I asked the guard at Joshua’s school who said that grade 1 and 2 kids are too small to play football.  Only older kids play football.  I couldn’t argue with him if that’s how they are in China but in the Philippines, football classes are offered to kids as small as 4 years old.  Anyway, I pursued the trail and kept asking various people until Joshua’s playmate’s mother introduced me to a football coach.  The good news about the football club is that they have a group for small kids and big kids so both Joshua and Jimmy can join.  Jason has to get the proper football shoes and they’re good to go.

Jimmy’s kindergarten teacher requested me to get him an abacus because they are learning to use it but I bought the wrong one so the teacher gave Jimmy her son’s old abacus.  I love the initiative and sincere concern.  When we got home to do the abacus homework, I was shocked because they were adding and subtracting two digit-numbers.  I don’t know how to use an abacus so it fell again on my sister-in-law to teach them.

Actually, Jiang Ping, my sister-in-law has been the perfect tutor for Joshua and Jimmy.  I can’t help them because it’s all in Chinese but my sister-in-law has a very effective style with the two of them.  She walks Jimmy through the abacus which he gets right away.  She guides Jimmy to practice writing his letters in preparation for learning pinyin.  She trains Joshua to open the app on the cellphone that lets parents and children view what the homework is for the day and to practice what he needs to memorize for school.  I admire Jiang Ping’s patience mixed with firm discipline.

My husband still prefers homeschooling to traditional school.  I personally prefer a progressive school and would only consider homeschooling when Joshua and Jimmy know how to read and write in both English and Chinese.  I would also only agree to homeschooling if I can get tutors for them and if learning can be done within a community of other homeschoolers.

Yesterday, I visited my friend at the International School in TEDA and I marveled at their corridors bursting with creative artworks done by the students.  For a moment, I envied the Chinese parents who walked in with their small child, touring the school, exploring the possibility of sending their child there.  “Wow, they must be so rich,” I thought,  “I wonder what business it is that they do.”  Then I thought, at the end of the day, it’s not how much money you spend on the education of your child.  At the end of the day, it’s the values they imbibe and their character that matters.  Academics don’t count as much as character.

Plus, there are always ways to compensate for deficiencies of an education system.  For instance, International Schools and private schools in the Philippines have libraries.  Public Chinese schools don’t.  But there is a membership children’s library where we live and I registered Joshua and Jimmy so they can choose what to read.  If there is not enough time for physical activities in school there is always the football club in the weekends and on the weekdays, there’s the park across our home where Joshua and Jimmy happily skateboard and scooter and where it’s easy to find instant playmates.

Every night, there’s a group of adults who walk briskly around the park accompanied by marching music.  Jimmy walks two or three speedy steps for each of the adult’s one big step and he manages to keep up with them, his legs whirring like a machine in a blur.  I could barely keep up.

 

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为什么我选择让我的孩子去中文学校当我是另类教育的倡导者时

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我可能是你所期望看到的把孩子送到中国大陆的正规学校的最后一个人。 以其刚性和高度加压的环境而闻名,这与我想要的孩子们的理想教育完全相反。 我很乐意把他们送到一个进步的民主甚至一个华尔道夫学校,但我们住的地方都不存在这些选择。 我喜欢家庭教学,但条件是,当有一个家庭教育学校,非学历或世界各地的学生的社区,他们可以与他们定期互动和活动。 我喜欢家庭教学,只要我可以聘请导师教导学术部分,并有一些非学术科目选择。 在马尼拉,家庭教育学生可以与其他家庭教育同学一起学习戏剧,嘻哈舞,烹饪,演讲,足球等课程。

我坚信,教育应该在社区内发生。 不仅仅是父母应该是主要的老师,也不应该只是学校老师。 儿童应尽可能多地接触到积极的人 – 导师,教练,鼓舞人心的领导者。

我们住在一个只有中国公立学校这种唯一选择的城镇。 我在这里的一所大学里教英语,我的学生告诉我有关学校的恐怖故事,以及越来越糟糕的高中情况然后一直到高考。 我绝对不希望我的孩子在中国上高中,我不希望他们参加高考,但我仍然认为,公立学校的前两三年级是有用和可以接受的,以获得学习汉字的基础。 不过,二年级或三年级以后,我想让我的孩子转到马尼拉的一所进修学校。

这是我的意见。可悲的是,这个方法遭到了另一方父母的反对意见。 所以这就是为什么有一个尴尬的僵局,也许只能通过时间来修补,也许不能。 无论如何,学校今天开始了。 我们会看看它是怎么回事。

有一些家庭教育学生自己学习阅读的情况,但这是英文。 我不知道中文可不可能,因为它是一个更复杂的语言。 你必须知道数以千计的汉字才能阅读,所以必须有一个方法,而不是随随便便的,这可能发生在学习英语。 有报道过有些儿童在没有任何指导的情况下学会如何阅读英文。 彼得·格雷博士在这篇文章中发表的: 孩子自学阅读 。 如果在中文学习有类似的情况倒是挺有趣的,很难以想象因为没有中文字母表。

我去拜访过一些中国家庭教学的家庭,他们的书架上堆满了材料,似乎他们必须回应学校的教学,但在更短的时间内,因为学生与教师的比例要少得多。 但是,中国的家庭教育仍然需要在父母方面承担过多的努力。 只能通过很多的承诺和纪律来做到这一点。

我的朋友苏珊和我想在这个城镇开一个图书馆。 我们一年前离开大港油田之前就谈过了。 我以为她能够在家里开始一些事情,但事实证明,她的丈夫想要利用额外的空间,而不能分配给图书馆的梦想。 苏珊最近组织了一个户外活动,让孩子们在水库里收集昆虫,这就是我们再次开始谈论梦想。

中国的学校或小镇没有图书馆。 只有大城市有公共图书馆。 这就是为什么我不想在中国上学的另一个原因。 像图书馆这样的资源是至关重要的。 此外,事实上,有这么少的家庭教师,孩子们不会有任何人在白天与所有其他孩子在学校互动。 在菲律宾,美国和其他国家,现有广泛的家庭教育网络可以深入人心。 中国也没有在我们即将在的小城镇。 (这里的 中国家庭学校网站 。)

哦,我忘了,我选择把我的孩子送到中国学校的最重要的原因:约书亚和吉米真的很喜欢和别的孩子在一起。 他们茁壮成长,他们喜欢,我认为他们会在与其他孩子在一起的环境中学习更多。 我不知道老师是否会在稍后再来一次,可能是阻止他们的因素,但正如我所说,我们需要等待着看。

过去一年,我丈夫两个儿子从天津到大理到马尼拉到西双版纳去巴厘到西双版纳到马尼拉到旧金山,到加拿大去中转,然后回到马尼拉和天津。 在美国的头几个星期之后,我已经想到,除非有工作或学习有关,否则我不认为我可以长途旅行。 在我们的背包和袋子上生活之后,我也感觉到我的孩子们已经准备好安顿下来,我一直在向他们保证,我们会得到一个房子,把他们放在学校里,并得到一只狗。 我们准备好一些更加稳定的旅程,而旅行时总是可以在假期期间完成。

我的一个亲密的朋友说,我不应该太担心把我的孩子放在中国的正规学校,因为两个非常非常规的,开箱即用的父母,他们将能够平衡所有出来的严格的中国制度相对毫发无损。 他们仍然会以世界的广阔视野结束。

另一位朋友告诉我,我不应该担心中国教育带来的压力,因为如果父母不给孩子增加压力,那么对孩子来说就更轻松了。 我的朋友经历了同样的中国学校制度,父母没有压力,所以她长大了,从小学到大学都很开心,放松。

一切都在进行中。 我们不应该害怕尝试不同的方法来实现为我们的孩子提供最好的目标。

 

Why I Choose to Let My Children Go to Chinese School When I am an Advocate of Alternative Education

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I would probably be the last person you’d expect to send her children to regular school in mainland China.  Known for its rigidity and highly-pressurized environment, it is the exact opposite of the ideal education I want for my kids. I would love to send them to a progressive or democratic or even a Waldorf school, but none of those options exist where we live.  I would love to homeschool but I am ONLY for homeschooling when there is a community of homeschoolers, unschoolers or worldschoolers with whom they could have regular interaction and activities.  I would love to homeschool but ONLY if I can hire tutors for the academic portions and there are a number of non-academic options to pick.  In Manila, homeschoolers can study theater, hip hop dance, cooking, speech, football and other courses with fellow homeschoolers.

I believe strongly that education should happen within a community.  It is not ONLY the parents who should be the main teachers and it should not even be just the school teachers.  Children should be exposed to as many positive people — mentors, coaches, inspiring leaders — as possible.

We live in a town where the only option is the Chinese public school.   I taught English in a university here and my students told me horror stories about school and how it got worse and worse leading up to the gaokao in high school.  I definitely do not want my children to attend high school in China and I do not want them to take the gaokao, but I still believe that the first two or three grades in public school is useful and tolerable to get the basics of learning Chinese characters.  However, after the second or third grade, I would like my kids to switch to a progressive school in Manila.

That is my opinion.  Sadly, it goes against the opinion of the other parent in this equation.  So that is why there is an awkward stalemate that can only be mended perhaps through time or not.  In any case, school starts today.  We shall see how it goes.

There are cases of homeschoolers learning to read on their own, but that’s in English.  I wonder if that’s possible in Chinese because it is a more complicated language.  You have to know hundreds and thousands of characters to be able to read so there has to be a methodical way, not random or casual which can happen in studying English.  There are reported cases of children who learn how to read in English without any instruction.  Dr. Peter Gray wrote about it in this article: Children Teach Themselves to Read.  It would be interesting to see if there are any cases of this in the Chinese language which is quite hard to imagine since there is no Chinese alphabet.

I went to visit some Chinese homeschoolers’ houses and they had bookshelves bursting with materials that it seemed that they must be echoing what the schools teach but in less time because the student-teacher ratio is much less.  Still, homeschooling in China must take an inordinate amount of effort on the part of the parents.  It can only be done through a lot of commitment and discipline.

My friend, Susan and I want to start a library in this town.  We talked about it before we left Dagang Youtian one year ago.  I thought she would be able to start something in her house but it turned out her husband wanted to make use of the extra room and it couldn’t be allocated to the library dream.  Susan recently organized an outdoor activity for kids collecting insects in the reservoir and that’s how we started talking again about the dream.

There is no library in schools or small towns here in China.  Only the big cities have public libraries. That’s another reason why I wouldn’t want to homeschool in China. Resources like libraries are paramount.  Plus, the fact that there are so few homeschoolers, the kids won’t have anyone to interact with during the daytime when all the other kids are in school.   In the Philippines, America and other countries, there are existing wide networks of homeschoolers that one can tap into.  China also has but not in the small towns where we happen to be.  (Here’s the China Homeschooling website.)

Oh, and I forgot, the most important reason why I choose to send my kids to Chinese school:  Joshua and Jimmy both really, really love to be with other kids.  They thrive, they enjoy and I think they would learn more in an environment where they are with other children.  I don’t know if the teacher would be a clincher later on and could be a factor to discourage them eventually but as I said, we need to wait and see.

This past year, my husband, two sons and I have traveled from Tianjin to Dali to Manila to Xishuangbanna to Bali to Xishuangbanna to Manila to San Francisco driving to New York with stopovers in Canada and then back to Manila and Tianjin.  After the first few weeks in America, I already thought, I don’t think I can do long-term traveling unless it’s something work or study related.  After living off our backpacks and bags, I also sensed my children were ready to settle down and I kept promising them that we would get a house, put them in school and get a dog.  We were ready for something more stable while traveling can always be done during the holidays.

One of my close friends said that I shouldn’t worry too much about putting my kids in regular school in China because with two very unconventional, out-of-the-box parents, they would be able to balance it all out and come out of the strict Chinese system relatively unscathed.  They would still end up with an expansive view of the world.

Another friend told me I shouldn’t worry about the pressure that comes with Chinese education because if the parents don’t put added pressure on the children, then it’s more relaxed for the child.  My friend went through the same Chinese school system and her parents didn’t pressure her so she grew up very happy and relaxed from elementary all the way up to university.

Everything is a work in progress.   We should not be afraid to try different ways to achieve the goal of providing the best that we can for our children.

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This is the activity my friend, Susan organized for kids to explore and enjoy the outdoors:

 

 

 

Clearing a Misconception

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It seems there is a misconception about the research work I am doing about education. My research is not just about homeschooling; it is about alternative education which includes homeschooling, unschooling, worldschooling, progressive schooling, democratic education, Waldorf, Charlotte Mason and many other streams of non-traditional education.  My personal preference for my own children is a progressive or a democratic school but there is no option of that kind in China.  There are progressive schools in the Philippines and in other countries like America.  There are Waldorf schools in China and the Philippines which I have also considered.

For me, the important thing is that education takes place within a community, not in a vacuum, not in isolation.  Having a community of like-minded families whether in a formal, informal, institutionalized or non-institutionalized setting is okay and ideal for me.

What is not okay is homeschooling that is narrow, that is closed-minded, that does not allow the children to enjoy learning and instead have to suffer through being called “stupid,” being hit on the head, making them afraid of making mistakes, criticizing them all the time during study and meal times.  It’s the same as putting them through the horrors of the worst case of traditional schools, having nightmare teachers who instill a phobia of learning.  Now, if the parents are responsible, patient, by no means perfect — because no parent is perfect — but with a kind and patient heart, then I am all for homeschooling.  If the parents are fighting all the time in front of the kids, that is also not good for homeschooling.  If the relationship of the mother and father is not good, that is not also a healthy environment for homeschooling.

What is also not okay in homeschooling is if one parent believes a tutor would be more helpful but the other parent does not agree.  What if the tutor has a better method that is more effective and not abusive?  Homeschooling is a decision that both parents should be united in making.  If they are not united, the conflict affects the whole family.   It is better to send the kids to a progressive or alternative school.  What if the country does not have those kinds of school?  What then?

Gridlock.

The children suffer.  The parents suffer.  Nobody wants to compromise.

What is also not okay in homeschooling is that if BOTH parents do not work.  I think this is fine if both parents choose to retire early after having worked and earned what they both agree is enough.  But what if one parent wants to work and another doesn’t and again there is stalemate.

Stalemate.

The children suffer.  The parents suffer.  Nobody wants to compromise.

There are progressive schools in my country as well as a huge homeschooling community with many activities to choose from and the children have a lot of opportunities to learn with other kids.  I myself am involved with the Gopala Learning Haven, a center for homeschoolers in a farm setting which is like one of the centers we visited in America called Macomber.

We all want what’s best for our children but it is difficult when there is a conflict in the manner by which this goal is achieved.  There is no ONE right way.  There are MANY ways.   There is the mind that is open and the mind that is closed to accept other ways different from the one seemingly set in stone.

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This is a picture from the Gopala Learning Haven taken when Laksmi and her family recently visited a beach in Calatagan.  Read about Laksmi’s beautiful description of the beach which she says is a piece of paradise.

Read my articles about researching education, homeschooling, worldschooling and self-directed education.  I will continue to promote the ideals of alternative education even if I agree for my children to experience a traditional way of schooling, only because I am in China and the options are limited.  Homeschooling is not an ideal option here because as I mentioned, if it is not done within a community, it will be more disadvantageous.  Read this article written by Dr. Peter Gray on why children need community.

From an evolutionary perspective, it makes perfect sense that children would want to form close relationships with many different people, not just their parents . . . . . the goal of childhood, in our culture as well as in hunter-gatherer cultures, is to become an independent being who can form relationships with lots of different people—relationships that are essential for survival and reproduction.  You don’t learn to do that by paying attention just to your mother and father. You learn it by paying attention to lots of different people, who have different personalities and needs and different things to offer.  Another goal of childhood is to educate yourself, that is, to acquire the ideas, lore, knowledge, skills, and values of the culture in which you are growing.  If you were to try to do this by attending just to your parents, you would learn only a narrow slice of all that is out there and you would not prepare yourself well for the world.

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Calling My Monster

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Life never goes the way you want it to go.  I really don’t want to homeschool.  I personally prefer to send my kids to a progressive or a democratic school, but we’re in an area in China where there are no options except regular school.  Even if it was a traditional school, it’s perfectly fine with me sending my kids there as long as they pick up reading and writing and then after a few years, if they choose homeschooling, I’d be happy to do it because they consciously chose it.  But my husband does not agree — he wants to continue homeschooling.

My parents and his parents are frustrated that we’re not sending our kids to school.  My sister and his sister are both worried about our children not getting an education, as if they won’t be able to acquire education OUTSIDE of school.  So I am trapped in a situation not of my choosing but I still have to make the most out of it or else go crazy which is not an option (just an occasional one).

People say it’s my fault for convincing my husband to homeschool because I undertook this elaborate research across the whole of the United States visiting alternative schools, but my husband was set on homeschooling way before that.  I undertook the research precisely to show him that there are alternatives to traditional schools.  Apart from homeschooling, there are progressive and democratic schools.  He needn’t be afraid of the rigid type of education because there are options out there that exist, albeit quite limited in China.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t convinced and he still wants to homeschool.  After more than a year of this experiment which for some people including me is quite enough already, it’s only now that we are hitting our stride.  I’m willing to still give it a chance only if we keep improving our methods.  My husband is trying his best to teach the kids Chinese while I struggle teaching them English.

I started with workbooks which were a nightmare so I switched to online programs which seemed better and then I noticed the deficiencies after a while.  This last trip to Manila, I had Joshua try a number of tutors while I observed their methodologies, trying to see what can be picked up and applied.  When we got back to China and my husband renewed his commitment to homeschool with vigor, I also observed his techniques that got Joshua engaged.

Today, I finally hit on something Joshua and I both enjoy doing together – biographies.  I already got an inkling of this a few months ago when he liked a book I got him which was a compilation of stories about young achievers.  Today, we used Amelia Earheart’s bio as a mini unit study which I was thinking of trying before but never got around to. So for the first time in what seems like forever, I was quite happy about homeschooling and not at all gritting my teeth in exasperation.

Maybe my standards and expectations are too high and I want engagement one hundred percent of the time and I should be happy with less than that.   However, it seems to make sense aiming for one hundred knowing about progressive and democratic education, that it is possible to totally engage the child.

Admittedly, I tend to focus on the shortfalls when it comes to homeschooling because I’m setting up myself to fail.  But actually, there is a role that I have been relishing and that Joshua has been very responsive to and that is the role of a curator.  He preferred the longer audiobooks of novels rather than short stories so I offered him the Chronicles of Narnia, Charlotte’s Web, Matilda and Harry Potter which he happily lapped up although he didn’t take to A Wrinkle in Time which I loved as a youth.  To my surprise, he enjoyed books for even older children: the Artemis Fowl series and A Monster Calls.  The last one by Patrick Ness was a new revelation to me and I ended up loving, adoring and coveting the quality of writing.

So there are good things to come out of homeschooling.  The other reason going against it is I simply want to get back to the work force.  But if we HAVE to homeschool, then I’d have to shelve that desire for a while longer.  Anyway, I could still do our Hero’s Journey start-up project on the side.

Actually, in America, I was able to convince my husband to send the kids to school after writing him a long letter, but then he changed his mind when we got back to China, so I’m back to zero, stuck again.  However, I have to get unstuck because it’s not useful feeling stuck.  I was looking forward to having our next dream come true.  Our first dream was to travel with our kids which we did a lot of already this past year.  Our next dream was to settle down in Xishuangbanna, buy a house, enroll the kids in school and get a dog – in that order.  I had been repeating it over and over to the boys like a mantra but now my husband has decided against Xishuangbanna and against the school.

When I wrote a blog entry about that, one of my students sent me the sweetest message, “Maybe your husband has reasons for changing your plans.  Maybe you could try cooperating with him temporarily and meanwhile, don’t give up thinking of ways to reach your ideal.”  Reading those words gave me such a boost.  I don’t have to give up hope on Xishuangbanna.   There is still hope for Xishuangbanna!

What if there’s none?  What if we don’t end up in Xishuangbanna?  If we end up in a place I don’t like, what then?   Well, I’ve done that before!   I just figured out a way to turn the situation around to my advantage and even if I didn’t like the place, I found meaning and purpose being there.  Bloom where you are planted, the quote goes.

Erase all expectations.  Maybe I’ll reach Xishuangbanna — that peaceful piece of heaven I long for now — when I die and get to real heaven, and Xishuangbanna would pale so much in comparison, it would immeasurably be unbelievable!  It doesn’t matter if I don’t reach my conceived and anticipated Shangri-la in this lifetime because paradise awaits at the end of the line.  Paradise is also here, now.  We make our own heaven and we make our own hell. My grandmother always told me that.

At the back of my mind, there’s that nagging problem with dreams in a marriage.  What if the dreams of the couple are different or in conflict with each other?  How does one resolve that?   Compromise.  Communication.  What if there’s a breakdown in communication?  Uhmm.  If all else fails, blog?

More like, call forth a monster!

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Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls: It’s What Makes Us Human

There’s No Such Thing as Non-Negotiable

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There is no such thing is a non-negotiable.  I thought I’d be able to negotiate and make a stand, not back down and win, convince my husband to put the children to school, but he insisted and debated for the continuation of homeschooling.  Now, I’ve researched homeschooling, unschooling, worldschooling and we’ve done it ourselves. I’m not too happy with the results and find it too stressful fending off everyone who feels we are wrong that I’ve started to believe we may be wrong, too.  My husband has no problem making a stand for something he believes in.  Me, I am the wavering type.   At the sign of difficulty, I fold and give up.

Homeschooling has been difficult and stressful for me.  There are many homeschooling families whom I admire – my friends, my sister, worldschoolers we met on our road trip.  But unfortunately we just don’t fit into that type of family which practices this non-traditional method of education in an admirable way.  We get angry at the kids.  The kids have too much screen time.  We are not that creative.  Gosh, and the kids still can’t read.  Even if I know for a fact it doesn’t matter in the end what age they start reading, it still weighs heavy on my mind.  Our methods leave much to be desired but my husband said we can improve ourselves.

What about the naysayers?   Those who echo my own opinion that we should stop because one year of experimentation is more than enough time.  I also feel the same way – that this has gone on too long but my husband thinks we should press on this path despite the setbacks.  He wants to prove that he can teach Chinese to Joshua and Jimmy in a calm and effective manner.  He showed me and it was quite good but can he do it consistently through time, every day?  That remains to be seen.

Me?  I wish I can hire tutors.  That’s my homeschooling method which is used by many moms I know.  One mom I had just met when we were in Manila hires a tutor two hours a day to go over the academic materials with her children.  When I met her, I told her that’s exactly what I want to do.  I was able to do that easily in Manila because I know my way around but in China, my husband insists on teaching Chinese himself and for English, I’m the one who has to do it unless I get the Skype tutor again.

My husband doesn’t understand why I don’t want to continue homeschooling because I was the one who researched a lot about it.  That’s true but my research spans a wider field – alternative education which includes progressive and democratic schools.  Precisely why I am researching those because I also want an alternative, a back-up, in fact it’s my preferred choice to homeschooling.  I am researching those alternative schools because I want to quit homeschooling and put my children in a progressive school.  It would be great if there were options for a democratic school but there’s none in China or the Philippines.  And because there is none, that’s what I seek to establish in the future with my friend Donna.

The other stressful thing about homeschooling is the people around me who do not believe in it, who do not believe we are doing it well, who are getting stressed themselves that our children are missing school.  That for me is stressful, but not for my husband who does not get stressed by what other people think.  So maybe this is a call for me to practice that devil-may-care attitude.  It’s harder for me because I also think we are not the ideal candidates for homeschooling.  We are striving for that ideal and we fall short but that’s like everything else in life, right?

After a year of traveling and many years of switching homes, I was looking forward to settling down in Xishuangbanna.  We promised the kids that we’d find a house, get them into school and get a dog – in that order.  Now, my husband decided against that for valid family reasons.

I was so eager to live in a pretty place.  Dagang is not pretty.  It’s pretty ugly.  Sorry to say, but it is.  Living here for two years, I had to seek out beauty and found it.  As in any place, beauty is all around, in the streets and most importantly, in the hearts of many people who become friends.  But my mind had been conditioned to expect this physical paradise, this Shangri-La that we found and agreed upon that was Xishuangbanna.  Now, it escapes my grasp.

I have to switch my mind and re-program it to re-discover beauty, reconnect with friends and feel joy and happiness wherever in the world I am at.  Yesterday, we drove by the bleak, unpretty, blah landscape of the oilfields and I felt this lump on my throat and inside my head screaming, “No!!!  I can’t live in this place again!  What?  You’re asking me to live here again?  This hell hole?  I’m so over this place!  I’ve moved on!  We were supposed to live in X!”   I waited for the shrill, panicky voice to die down and get tired and waited.  I didn’t have to wait long.  Just like a child’s tantrum, I just let it scream its lungs out and then I was at peace.  I can rock this world again!

About the school issue?  Maybe I’m too flexible, too kind, too giving, too stupid.  Maybe I’m wrong to give in to my husband in the major decisions that I have not been able to win.  Maybe, it doesn’t hurt to be too flexible.  This is just another arena for me to flex my muscles.  I set about re-envisioning how this could work.

I mean look at this, I’ve got three hunks (one half-naked) making noodles for me!  Only in Tianjin.  Plus I’ve got a promise of a motorcycle ride through TEDA!

Missing You Much So I’m Rambling

97

Okay, who’s bright idea was this, anyway?  Mine.  It seemed like a bright idea then but now I am somewhat regretful.  It’s been almost a month since Jimmy and I have parted ways in New York.  Jason and Jimmy flew back to China while Joshua and I returned to Manila.  Although I know we’ll be reunited at the end of July, it seems like eternity and I feel the pain of all mothers without their child by their side.  I know I am much, much luckier, muchly much luckier, ducky, that the time of separation is relatively short at two months.  Others have years in between of not being together, of not being able to embrace each other with only Skype to ease the longing and pain of distance.

At times like these, I need to reflect on the purpose.  Since Jason has family duties to fulfill in China and I had similar duties to perform in the Philippines, we decided to divide and conquer.  Before, it had always been my two kids and me going to Manila but now, we thought it would be good for each grandson to spend time with their grandparents in both countries since they have sorely been missed after embarking our major coast to coast drive.

I also wanted to focus on Joshua’s education, since another decision Jason and I made as parents is to finally enroll them in regular school.   Alleluia!   This has been my sentiment and hope for the past year even if I had been researching these alternative mumbo jumbo.  It was my smokescreen.  It was a desperate ploy to make sense of what we were doing if it was done within the context of a scholarly research, an experiment with academic bent.  However, the search was also a legitimate project that has evolved into something greater than I imagined, leading us to places we would not explore otherwise. It was a blessing.  It was my way of turning adversity to advantage.

What was the adversity?  I was not fully convinced about homeschooling for our family. I was more on the lookout for progressive schools.  Although I admire and envy many of my friends who homeschool (e.g. Bunny, Jen, Laksmi, Nimai), I know I dislike teaching kindergarten or grade school age kids.  At that age, I’d prefer to send them to a traditional or progressive school and the option of homeschooling would only be considered in the later years before or around high school.  I prefer formal schooling until they are able to read and write well enough in English and Mandarin.  Though, I am open to switching back to homeschooling if the kids themselves request it themselves.

Having tried homeschooling for a year, the results fell far short of my expectations and I need to cram review time.  I’m arranging tutorials for Joshua to get him prepared for the upcoming school year.   So that’s the other purpose of the separation — for me to be able to focus on Joshua’s academics.  I just did not realize it would be this tough without Jimmy.  We were separated when he was three months old when he had to go to China to get his passport with his Dad but we had recently been in this tight-knit, family bonding, 24-7 togetherness trip.  Without him, it feels like jumping off a plane without a parachute.  Jimmy is so sweet, so malambing.  He is the yin to Joshua’s yang.  Near polar opposites in personalities, the two boys are too dear to me for words, gushing moms know.

Another purpose for this imposed separation is the Art Camp Donna and I planned for July — the Hero’s Journey where Chinese students are flying to the Philippines to practice their English in theater, art and music workshops in Casa San Miguel, Zambales.  Jimmy is too young to join, Donna and I decided but now I wish we could reverse the decision. Jimmy has matured a lot after the US trip.

I guess I want Jimmy to know that this separation is hard for Mommy.  It’s only two months, for heaven’s sake!  It reminds me of my friend who’s having separation anxiety because her eleven year old boy is off to a three-week summer camp.  Separation indeed feels different when the child is at age 1, 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45 . . . . You get the drift.  We parents have to eventually learn the art of letting our children go.  Imagine the parents who can’t let go of their kids who are already 35, 40, 45, 50!  Yes, there are parents like those, probably more in Asia.

Imagine the difficulty parents face when they can’t accept the fact that their 25 or 45 year old child has a life of his own, who can’t trust their child to make decisions for herself because they think it’s a mistake, they’re going to run aground, bash their heads into a wall, crash and burn, fall and scrape their knees like they were four year olds.

I don’t want to be a parent like that.  My friends and I talk about it.  If we come to a point in our lives when our children are grown and we still want to exercise control over their lives, we should slap and remind each other of that time when we promised not to be that kind of parent.

My husband, Jason remembers fondly and I do appreciate how he recalls the speech that Bo Sanchez gave during the Philippine Homeschool Conference that we attended last year.  A famous inspirational speaker, Bo said that parents ought to know when to switch hats.  The first hat is the Controlling Hat when the child is small and needs a lot of firm guidance.  The next hat is the Coaching Hat when the child has developed more independence and it’s better for the parent to act as a coach or mentor.  The last hat is the Consultant’s Hat when the parent is on call if the grown-up child asks for advice.

There are parents who don’t mean to be dictators but exercise a form of veiled dictatorship.  Pry underneath the layers of euphemisms and good intentions and it’s undeniable.  It persists and the child is not able to break out of his or her cocoon.  The wings are clipped.  Their every move is scrutinized and fall short of what their parents want for them.  What they want does not matter because they have been created for serving the purpose of their parents.  Yes, children ought to serve their parents, but they more importantly, serve the purpose that they were meant and put in this universe to serve.  Who knows what is the purpose for which each person is called?  “Anak, eto na lang gawin mo. Huwag na yan,”  the parent says.  The parent assumes to know the child better than anyone else.  “He shouldn’t go down that career path,” or “He can’t take a job far away because I need him here.

Where do you draw the line between pushy meddling and friendly urging, between unsolicited advice and necessary intervention, between healthy concern and unhealthy attachment?  What message do you send to an adult child — I don’t trust you to make that decision for yourself and then that child in turn won’t be able to trust her own child because she did not receive that trust from her parents.

Oooops.  I just wanted to say I miss Jimmy very much and I’m rattling on and on.  Jimmy is still far from adulthood.  It may be my way of consoling myself.  This too shall pass.  I need a diversion.

We all try to be the best parents we want to be.  We fall short as parents.  We fall short as children.  Our children fall short of our expectations.   How can the cycle be broken? Through this, one thing is certain and that is love.  Love forgives our shortfalls.  Love understands our fears.  Love makes us whole again.  Love saves us from ourselves.