Somehow, I Thought I Would Be Better


Here’s the thing. I actually feel somewhat embarrassed admitting this, but it’s where I’m at right now.

I thought it would be different.

I thought it would be better.

I thought I would be different.

I thought I would be better.

But truthfully, although things got better briefly, better eventually just became the new normal.

You see, for years, my main pains in life were the daily minutiae of which a life is made.

You know the sort.

Cooking meals. Cleaning the house. Paying bills. Sorting mail. Keeping the kitchen table clutter free. (hahahahah! Like THAT is ever going to last or happen for longer than a day or two.)

And FINALLY, these past three months, I have been making big strides. I now cook the majority of my meals and a lot of my psychic pain revolving around meal times is gone.

I’ve given up on cleaning the house, but I have vacuumed a few times, and decluttered a few times (and I could really do it a few more times), and I am finally now considering getting a housecleaner again because my house is probably filthy I’m just accustomed to its filthiness.

I sort the mail and take care of any outstanding medical bills immediately (because those are the only ones that are not on autopay – despite my best efforts to make them so). I mean, gone are the days of being 90-180 days late for no reason other than not opening mail.

But after a few months (and likely a few weeks) of my new reality, the shine has worn off and now it’s just regular old reality and I’M STILL DISSATISFIED WITH MY LIFE.

Damn you, hedonic treadmill!

And last Friday, I was talking with Dr. T about how I feel unfulfilled and like I do nothing of substance all day and how I’m still not done with my ebook despite being 95% done and how I start things but don’t finish them and how I want to try for things but I am so afraid of failure and —

And you know what? I’m terribly worried that even if I do finish that ebook that a few weeks later and it will be my new normal again and I will go about feeling BLAH about my life again. 

The irony is that during the first or second session ever with Dr. T, she mentioned that she thought some of my feelings of stress and whatever was due to my not having a clear idea of what my identity was. That it used to be tied up in work or the things I did or accomplished, and now that I am a SAHM, I felt adrift and identiy-less.

At the time, I thought she was full of crap.

Oh, the crow I eat whenever it comes to things Dr. T observes. (Seriously, the only really good decision I ever made about Dr. T and her advice was sticking with her despite me thinking her kinda woowoo at the beginning.)

And now, here I am. TOTALLY FEELING UNIDENTIFIED.

I felt somewhat comforted the other day when I saw an old post of mine pop up in Facebook Memories. I guess this is how I feel every spring.

But then, I got bummed out because it seems that no matter what I do, no matter how many successes or risks I take, it all goes back to me being terrified of failure and being immobilized by it.

I start so many things only for them to end up abandoned and collecting dust in the wayside.

I have so many ambitions and yet so little follow through.

I feel as if life is passing me by and I can’t even get my shit together enough to homeschool my children.

I feel like a huge failure. 

I don’t know if it’s my Virgo-ness, my ESFJ-ness, my Type 7 Enneagram-ness, or something else entirely (FWIW, I hold very low stock in astrological determiners of personality), but there it is.

And it’s no use telling me how I manage to keep four children alive, blah blah blah blah blah.

In my wretched mind, if I can do it, it’s not that hard, therefore it doesn’t really deserve praise.

Truthfully, I don’t know what will make me feel better. And whether if something makes me feel better, whether the feeling will be permanent or just become the new baseline.

All I know is that I feel kinda meh and blah right now.

Maybe this is how I feel every spring. Restless and desiring bigger and better things. And then life crushes it all out of me.

Anyhow, there is no neat resolution to this post. I’m still figuring it out.

Dr. T asked me what I wanted, and again, I have no idea. Except maybe to feel as if I am doing something worthwhile. (And yes, raising four small humans is eminently worthwhile – but the end result takes SO LONG.)

I want to feel as if I am productive; making something of concrete value and worth. Yet all day long, I do lots of things and am productive but it is the stuff of life. You can’t just eat once and then you’re done. (And that is DEFINITELY not possible with cleaning or laundering or the folding of the laundry.)

And so, each day, it feels as if all I did was erased and swept away by the tumult and happy clamor of my tiny and forceful humans.

It is very unsatisfactory.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m  not depressed. I’m not UNhappy. Just not SATISFIED.

I’m positive Hapa Papa is feeling the same thing (except perhaps slightly worse since he’s not very happy at his job and at least I have more free time than he does and get to stare at all my adorable babies all day).

And before people start writing in with the comments about me needing Jesus or essential oils or both, thanks. I have both. In abundance. (Seriously, I have an entire DRAWER full of oils. And I suppose I have Jesus in my heart or something. So admittedly, that might be in less abundance because I have a cold, dark heart.)

Anyhow, no neatly wrapped bow on this post because that’s not the way life works. We just keep trudging along until one day, we’re on the other side (and hopefully, feeling less blah when I actively pursue the things I think I want).

Have a good Wednesday! May you find what you’re looking for.

 

 

My Love is an Act of Will

LoveIn case you missed my performance back in May, here is a video of my reading for Listen to Your Mother SFI’ve included the transcript of my piece after. Also, please do check out the entire line up for Listen to Your Mother SF 2016. They are hilarious and moving and fantastic women with wonderful stories. You will not regret!

“Mama,” said Gamera. “I love Daddy more-er. He’s the funnest.”

Twice a day, my 4 year old daughter, will inform me without fail that she loves my husband more than she loves me.

She has her reasons.

He was her first word. He’s way more fun. He plays with her (especially that awful Cooties game that I would rather stab my eyes out than play). He takes her to McDonald’s and indoor play spaces and to the park.

He calls her “Sweetness” and “Baby Girl” and cuddles with her at night and throws her onto his shoulders and plays Tickle Monster until she collapses into giggles on our bed.

He is the funnest.

And most of all – he rarely yells at her.

For the first eighteen months of my oldest son’s life, I never yelled or raised my voice in anger. I used to be so proud of myself.

Gamera never got to meet that person. She was six months in my belly and had another three months to go. By the time she showed up, I was tired and overwhelmed and had made yelling a way of life.

It was slow at first. A slow ramping up of fury until it broke over my small children in a consistent wave of screaming and yelling.

And later, at two and a half, she would defend herself and her older brother, holding her ground. “You don’t know what you talking about it!” she would stomp, face red with scowling, arms crossed in indignation. “Mama, you’re NOT kind!”

So I totally get why she loves my husband more-er. Who wouldn’t?

Before I had children, I thought love would be effortless, flowing through me as water from snow melt.

Who would have ever predicted it would be like squeezing blood from a stone?

Who knew love could be so hard – especially when it sent the dark corners of my heart into stark relief?

Of course, I knew that love was not always easy. I had plenty of experience of that in my romantic relationships. And I knew from growing up with an abusive father that love for our children could look much different than what I wanted for my own kids.

But I had thought – I had hoped – that I would be better. I would be different. I wouldn’t let my father win.

But I was broken still and my inner beast, the echo of my father – his script, his cadence, his very words – spilled hot and rushed through my trembling lips and clenched fists.

Of course, she loves her Baba more-er.

I accept that she may never know or understand that my loving her is an act of will.

Not because she is not lovable. She is. All my children are.

But I hope and pray that they will never understand firsthand how I clawed my way up from my despair, buried under decades of lies, denial, and self-protection.

That I love her when I ensure that the cycle of abuse will end with me and not be passed onto them.

I love her when in November 2014, I decided enough was enough and asked for help.

I love her when I choose to do the hard mental and emotional work when I go see my therapist every Friday and plonk down $150.

I love her when after a year and a half of weekly counseling, I have finally turned a corner and now rarely yell.

I love her when I get enough sleep.

I love her when I pay attention to what my body is telling me – and when I listen to my body.

I love her when I drop my armor of anger and apathy and allow myself to feel and process pain, fear, and anger.

I love her when I look at the hard truths of my growing up, my coping mechanisms, and their consequences.

I love her when I choose to walk away from her instead of scream.

I love her when I humble myself to apologize and ask her for forgiveness.

I love her when I let her feel what she feels and say what she thinks – even if it’s messy and dramatic and overblown and infuriates me to no end.

I love her when I model how to pursue healing.

I love her when I tell her that even if she loves Baba more-er than me, or is angry at me, or even hates me, that I will love her. That she can never lose my love.

I love her even though she loves her Baba more-er than me.

It doesn’t matter.

Because every day, my love for her is a hard won act of will. And that is enough.

Top 20 Reasons Why I Actually Live in a Frat House

If we’re friends on Facebook and in Real Life, you’ll likely notice a common theme regarding posts about my children. They’re a pack of wild animals.

No exaggeration.

It’s my fault, really. I don’t particularly care if the kids beat the shit out of each other as long as they don’t do it in public (I don’t want to look like a bad parent) or beat up other people’s children (because again, I don’t want to look like a bad parent).

I mean, I used to make half-hearted attempts to stop them. After all, isn’t their taking kung fu supposed to teach them discipline and proper shit kicking etiquette, et al.? And again, aren’t I supposed to care that my three children are often mostly naked and all I hear are their little fists pounding against each other’s flesh?

But then I realized that I don’t actually care and trying to tear apart my barbarians only pisses me off. I yell and try to enforce rules about not hurting each other only to get kicked in the face or whatever and quite frankly, it’s not worth it to me. If they wan’t to punch and kick each other, they are welcome to it.

In fact, I’ve gotten to the point where I tell them that if they hurt each other in the course of their actions, to not come to me and cry about it because I will just tell them it’s their own fault and that’s what happens when you beat the shit out of each other. It hurts.

They are a pack of vicious dogs.

Also? The keyword for this post really should be, “Beat the shit out of each other.” Seems to be a recurrent phrase.

So, in light of my children being a horde of uncivilized assholes, I submit to you the Top 20 Reasons Why I Actually Live in a Fraternity House:

1) To steal from Irish Twins, my life is full of genitals and injuries. If that’s not frat life, I don’t know what is.

2) My house smells a lot like farts and dirty socks. And rotting food. Especially in the couch area. Not sure why. And I may never discover the true reason (other than my children have sieves for mouths).

3) The floor is crunchy. And sticky.

4) The house is in complete disrepair. I’m missing blind slats, the carpet is for shit, there is not a surface that has not been urinated on (or hasn’t touched a naked bottom), floor tiles are loose, a toilet seat has been cracked for years, certain bathtubs have a permanently loose hot water handle that keeps falling off, and there are random “imperfections” in our walls.

5) I’m not sure what we eat, but I think it’s a lot of nuggets, pizza, and fries.

6) Did I mention that we have a lot of injuries?

7) And exposed genitals??

8) There are countless hours of HaloMinecraft, and YouTube being played.

9) I am always finding random socks shoved in weird places. But always only one sock. Never a pair.

10) My children know what a trash can is for. And yet, this knowledge somehow doesn’t translate into using it.

11) There are armies and armies of empty plastic cups laying around on flat surfaces.

12) Conversations are basically one long fart, poop, or pee joke.

13) Someone is always being wrestled, sat upon, punched, kicked, yelled at, or light-sabered.

14) No one goes to sleep at a reasonable hour.

15) The backyard is full of debris from destroyed plastic toys and disintegrated chalk and sand and rocks and miscellaneous crap.

16) Someone is always climbing or jumping or falling off of a chair/bannister/couch/random hangy thingy.

17) We are always out of food.

18) There is rarely any homework or “learning” going on. Did I mention that I homeschool?

19) Not a day goes by without at least one mention of penis, “gagina,” or butthole.

20) And finally, there are a lot of “fucks” thrown around (though to be fair, that is mostly from me).

So there you have it. Please tell me I’m not the only one?

Also, I’m pretty sure none of my friends will ever consent to come over ever again. Not unless I steam clean and/or bleach every possible surface area of my house. (And even with that, they will have to come over immediately after this deep steam occurs because otherwise, my house will revert to its base state of grossness.)

Hope you have a wonderful Memorial Day. See you soon!

Being Invisible

“So, what do you ladies do?” The hairy, overly tanned middle-aged white man asked.

My friend, Laney, and I had been busy chatting in the hot tub on our last day together when Bob*, with the self-importance only a middle-aged white man can project, interjected and proceeded to monologue for the next 45 minutes wherein our sole purpose was to murmur sweet, appreciative assents while we seethed yet somehow were trapped in societal expectations and did not extricate ourselves. After all, we were there first! Why should we be forced to move? And yet, who was the big loser in this encounter? Us.

I am still pissed about this.

Anyhow, Bob had now moved on from what he thought about himself and was now, however briefly, willing to share the spotlight with one of us.

“What do you do?” he asked again as Laney and I hesitated. Do we engage more? Do we reply in a way to seem interesting? Or do we reply in such a way as to shut down conversation?

I knew what I would do.

“I’m a stay at home mom,” I said.

I watched as the interest in his eyes died before I even finished speaking the words. He turned immediately to Laney

I was uncertain whether I was relieved or furious that he did exactly as I had ensured. Hadn’t I answered in this way so that he would dismiss me and my life? So that I could deflect and not have to endure him any more than I had to?

And yet. And yet.

Every now and then when I think about my life, I think how it is the perfect NOC (non-official cover for those of you not in the know) for spies, cons, and surveillance personnel. After all, there is nothing more nondescript than a mother with her children. No one expects them to be anything but what they are – which is innocuous background noise (at least, until one of those kids has a very public meltdown).

We blend. We are scenery. We disappear.

Today, I walked into a cafe without my usual coterie of babies and for a brief second, I made eye contact with a man sitting at the counter. My mind wandered to where it normally wanders in a split second. I wondered, what would I be like now if I were single? Would I still be attractive? Desirable?

When I meet men now, do they even see me? Or do they only see my SAHM uniform of sweats, unwashed face and hair, long sleeve tee, thick ugly socks, and double-wrapped scarf?

And why does it matter?

Every time I ask Hapa Papa if he is ever worried I will have an affair, he always laughs. Not unkindly, mind you. But still. He laughs.

Nothing is as flattering as your husband laughing at the idea of you having an affair because who would want to have an illicit affair with someone encumbered with three small, young children?

Hapa Papa sure knows how to make a woman feel desirable. Sorry, ladies. He’s taken.

Incidentally, this is not a post to elicit reassurances from my lovely and dear friends.

Lately, I wonder if I ever felt as if I were visible or if it is solely a consequence of my current identity. Did I ever feel as if I owned a place? Secure with my place in the world? My role? My identity?

Or is this merely another manifestation of feeling as if amazing and I are mutually exclusive states of being?

Whatever the reason, I’m done. 2016, you’ve been warned. And you’ll see me coming.

 

*Not his real name. Or it could be. I have no idea. I’m still pissed off about it but I forgot his name in its entirety.

Barf, Barf, Barf Everwhere

Sorry for the small break in posting. Our household got hit with a stomach bug and I’ve been neck deep in barf, diarrhea, and laundry (because of the barf and diarrhea). Delightful.

I don’t think our house has EVER been hit with so much illness (thank goodness!!) and several of us got hit twice. And by several of us, I mean me. Ok, fine. Cookie Monster, too.

It got so bad that last Wednesday, I barely took Gamera to school before being unable to do anything else for the rest of the day. I begged my mom to pick her up and I just let Cookie Monster and Glow Worm fend for themselves all day. And by fend for themselves, I mean they iPadded and iPhoned and Haloed to their hearts’ content. Then, my mom showed up with Gamera and lunch and they got semi-fed. Unfortunately, she had to leave so again, all three children under six were running amok in the house as I lay in bed in semicoherence.

This is how mommies are wonderful: after a long day of meeting with clients, my mom came back to my house around 7:30pm, fed and bathed all three children, and then had them clean up the entire downstairs (which seriously, looked liked several natural disasters swept through). Then, she finally left for her home to take care of herself. (And my poor mother caught the stomach bug over the weekend.)

Where was Hapa Papa during this time, you might ask? On “vacation” in Texas. We didn’t leave him out, though. He joined our dubious club on the weekend, too. But before that, he was a big help while I malingered.

Anyhow, that is the current update of our peoples. Thank goodness I homeschool – we basically didn’t do any formal learning for about two weeks. But now, we are slowly getting back into the swing of things (including blogging).

Have a healthy and non-barfy Wednesday!

 

Just Another Reminder That I Don’t Belong

Honestly, I should have seen it coming.

I was at a homeschooling seminar last night and had mentioned I was homeschooling Cookie Monster in Chinese. People were impressed and then afterwards, the super nice, informative, lovely speaker (who I really liked) said, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but…”

And before she even finished her sentence, I already knew what she was going to ask.

“… how come you don’t have an accent?”

“It’s because I was born here,” I reply politely.

She then proceeded to expound on how awesome it was that my kids are learning another language, blah blah blah. I tried to take my leave as quickly as possible and since then, the comment has gnawed at the back of my mind.

Here’s the thing: I don’t think this woman was a bad person or had any malicious intentions. I don’t even think she is stupid. (Although her comment was.) So, let’s not pile abuse on this woman. I did like her and I’m sure if we were better acquainted, I would continue to like her.

That may be surprising to some of you since from my blog, I seem all ragey and like I’m spoiling for a fight. Don’t get me wrong. I can be. But most of the time, I really just want to go through life as pleasantly as possible. I want to like people and have them like me and we’re all happy and laughing and then get back to our lives.

But it bothers me. And I’m a little mad about it. And not for the reason you may think.

Well, a LOT for the reason you think – but that’s not the only reason.

Of course, it’s just one more comment in a long line of comments that pointedly remind me that people (especially white people) don’t think I belong in America even if I was born and raised here and am likely more “American” (whatever that means) than they are. After all, it isn’t the actual comment itself. It’s the piling up of 37 years of these types of comments. It’s the constant reminder that no matter how nice or kind or well-meaning, people really aren’t that safe. That really, I should stick to my own “kind.”

I mean, FFS, people. I live in the Bay Area, in an area that is flooded with Asians. It’s not like we’re somewhere that I’m a tiny minority and I’m some type of unicorn.

So, what does it say about this woman that she has so little exposure to Asians that she thinks everyone is foreign born? And doesn’t see anything wrong with that assumption?

Here’s a thought: maybe the reason I don’t have an accent when I speak English IS BECAUSE I WAS BORN HERE.

Then I thought, maybe it was the fact that I was homeschooling my kid in Chinese that threw her off.

But then I thought, being fluent in another language doesn’t preclude speaking English without an accent. I mean, come on people. That’s just sloppy reasoning.

So here’s the part that really makes me mad: why do people have to ruin being otherwise nice and lovely people by lazy thinking?

I mean, what was I supposed to do? Be mean? Come back with what I wish I could say in these situations with, “How come your  English is so good?” and then act super surprised that she was born in the US?

Instead, of course, I just swallow all of the snark because if I didn’t, I’d be immediately shunted into “angry minority” status and who wants to be that? Who wants to always be so angry? Or have people be worried that they have to “watch what they say” around me?

But seriously. WHY CAN’T PEOPLE WATCH WHAT THEY SAY AROUND ME?

I mean, I watch what I say around white people all the time (unless I know that they are a safe space or ally). In fact, many minorities do this type of code-switching all the time. But think about it, it’s not just minorities. It’s everyone. You change your language and adapt your behaviors depending on what group you are with.

So why is it so hard to think a little more carefully about what you have to say?

I realize this post is all over the place. Mostly, because I am all over the place about it. I’m annoyed at this person, and then annoyed at myself for being annoyed.

I’m annoyed at society for being conducive to this type of racist stupidity – and for general stupidity. (Talk about being mad at the ocean for being wet or salty or huge.)

And I’m annoyed because I know I am guilty of this same lazy thinking all the time. We can’t help it. It’s ingrained.

And yet, I would like to think that when confronted, I attempt to change.

So though you are not that lady, please consider this a polite reminder to really think about the stuff you say. Whether it is some glib comment about body types, or values, or poor people, or black people, or Republicans, or whatever.

Really think.

And not just because of some possible threat to your personal safety or personal concept of who you are as a person.

Think things through because faulty reasoning is bad for everybody. And what does it hurt us to change our way of speaking if it spares someone pain and harm?

Alright. As usual, I’m having difficulty ending this piece. So, I’ll just leave it at this: Have a lovely Monday.

How to Gauge Chinese Fluency

*A/N: This piece is part of an on-going series. You can find the rest under the So You Want Your Kid to Learn Chinese tag or under the Resources Menu.

Before I continue, I recommend you read my post about setting realistic expectations to get the most out of this week’s article. This is not because I want to whore out my previous posts (ok, that, too), but more to properly frame this week’s post about gauging Chinese fluency in your children. (You know, so you can have realistic expectations about what I’m about to write.)

Also, I just want to say upfront that many people will likely take umbrage at my remarks. I totally understand. I might be skewering one of your sacred cows. No one likes their cows skewered unless they are the ones skewering – and even then, only if they also get to eat the skewers. So, I get it. But that doesn’t mean the cows weren’t in need of a good skewering in the first place.

Anyhow, enough with the belabored metaphors and on with the post. Whooo!

So, tl;dr version of my Realistic Expectations post (because I know you didn’t go read it): Chinese fluency requires intention. Your goals may differ from mine, but your kid isn’t going to be magically fluent just because that would be a nice thing to have. It takes work. And depending on your expectations and goals, more work than the minimum of showing up to Mandarin Immersion school every week day or a weekly three hour Chinese School session. (Of course, there is a lot more nuance to the post, but why would we care about that?)

Oh, your kid is from a non-speaking family and is fluent from going to a few years of MI?

Oh, your kid is from a non-speaking family and is “fluent” from going to a few years of MI school?

For the sake of this post, I’m going to assume you want something similar to what I want, which is for my kids to have a native level of speaking and understanding Mandarin as well as functional literacy. (If your idea of fluency is for your kid to know a few phrases and perhaps order some food or ask for the restroom, we need to have a discussion about the correct usage of the word “fluent.” Words have meaning and it behooves us to use them precisely.)

At the risk of being a clichéd college application essay, a quick Google of the word, “fluent,” brings up the following definitions:

  • (of a person) able to express oneself easily and articulately.
  • (of a person) able to speak or write a particular foreign language easily and accurately.
  • (of a foreign language) spoken accurately and with facility.

Of course, I know that not everyone has the same expectations of their children as me – nor do I think that is necessary. In general, I think the above definitions will suffice for most people in terms of fluency; we want our children to be able to understand and express themselves in Chinese with ease, accuracy, and facility.

In our pursuit of this fluency, many of us enroll our children in Mandarin Immersion schools, weekly Chinese schools, after school programs, or tutors. We want to believe the claims of “complete fluency” or “native grade level fluency” from the principals and teachers. However, let’s be real: these folks have a slight conflict of interest and unless they have quantifiable results to back up their claims, what you’re really buying is hype.

And honestly, without additional supplementation, either from heritage parents speaking Chinese at home, or hiring additional tutors, native level fluency is most likely improbable from just being enrolled in an MI school or Chinese school.

Alright, I hear you saying. Where’s my proof? Where are my studies? Why am I such a snob?

I’m going to cheat and say, sorry. That’s not the type of post I’m writing today. (Or ever, actually.) I fully admit that I’m just a regular person with no fancy degrees in Mandarin Immersion or secondary language acquisition. However, I really would offer you as proof the millions of ABCs (American Born Chinese) and BOBAs (Brought Over By Airplane) who have come before you with varying levels of success in Chinese fluency. If it were really that easy, there would be far more fully fluent ABCs and BOBAs in existence and this topic wouldn’t be such a sore point for so many of us.

Anyway, even if you don’t believe me, given all the time, effort, and money you are investing in this pursuit, wouldn’t it be nice to know if your investment is giving you the appropriate returns? In short, how do you know your kid is as fluent in Chinese as you think they are?

As I am wont to do, I will split the families up into two categories: Speaking and Non-Speaking Families.

1) Speaking Families (Wherein at least one of the parents speaks, understands, reads, or writes Chinese. Depending on the degree of fluency, however, you may also need to refer to the Non-Speaking Families section.)

Clearly, the higher degree of fluency, the easier it will be for you to determine how fluent your own children are in Chinese. Just like a native English speaker doesn’t need much help with figuring out if their kid is fluent in English, you will have that same ability.

In cases of mixed-fluency/ability, I will refer you to the next section. In my own particular case, I am pretty fluent in speaking and understanding so I have no problem ascertaining how fluent my children are at speaking and understanding. However, my reading and writing are sorely lacking. I can read perhaps about 500 characters if we are being considerably generous – but if there is pinyin or zhuyin, I can read everything and comprehend most of it. In the case of reading and writing, I will obviously be less able to judge accurately.

2) Non-Speaking Families (Neither parent speaks, understands, reads, or writes Chinese.)

Now, as a non-speaking family, you don’t have the built-in advantage of being a native speaker to determine how fluent your children are in Chinese. You can only hope that the people to whom you’ve entrusted your children’s Chinese education will be honest and ethical in their assessments and not just tell you what you want to hear.

In other words: Trust, but verify.

This is where adhering to certain standards and testing becomes useful.

Now, I’m not a huge proponent of standardized testing, (I am, after all, homeschooling), but I’m not opposed to them, either. I understand the need to have a way to semi-objectively measure what children are learning in school and to make sure that they enter college with a base standard of knowledge.

What I don’t like about all the standardized testing is our children’s education being reduced to how well they do on these tests, and that if they don’t “pass” them with a sufficient margin, that they are somehow failures.

At any rate, I think it is totally legitimate for parents (both from speaking and non-speaking families) to demand accountability in the form of standardized testing from their Mandarin Immersion and Chinese School administrators. However, it is also important to understand what the tests measure and what they do NOT. Please do not equate passing a test with being fluent.

At any rate, the tests are still useful for what they do measure. Some of the possible Chinese assessment tests are:

a) SOPA/ELLOPA – Interactive, listening and speaking assessments designed for children who are learning a foreign language in a school setting. They include hands-on activities and are conducted entirely in the foreign language. Students are assessed in pairs by two trained test administrators and, during the activities or tasks, are encouraged to interact with each other as well as with the interviewers. The focus of the interview is to determine what the students can do with the language. (PreK-8)

b) Linguafolio – A three-fold portfolio assessment that takes into account the child’s language/cultural background; samples of the child’s work over time; and formal qualifications, certificates or diplomas, achievements, and self-assessments.

c) STAMP – Web-based, computer-adaptive assessments that measure proficiency in reading, writing, listening and speaking for middle school through university students.

d) HSK – China’s only standardized test of Standard Chinese language proficiency for non-native speakers such as foreign students and overseas Chinese.

e) AP Chinese Test – The exam assesses students’ interpersonal, interpretive, and presentational communication skills in Mandarin Chinese, as well as knowledge of Chinese culture. The exam is administered on a computer. The student reads on the screen, listens through headphones, types using the keyboard, and speaks into a microphone. Students may choose between traditional or simplified Chinese characters for reading and writing in Chinese.

Beyond these tests, there really is no better way to check fluency than to speak with native speakers. Of course, you are also depending on the kindness of friends and strangers and their willingness to be completely honest with you for fear of hurting your feelings or their being amazed at your child’s novelty.

Sometimes, that really is the best you can do.

Here then, is the official end to my post.

However, I do have a few things that are related to gauging Chinese fluency that I wanted to speak to. Of course, I don’t speak for all Chinese/Taiwanese Americans, but I can say that I am not alone in my opinions.

So before I continue, I want to give fair warning that some of you will find much of what I say next offensive and perhaps unnecessarily harsh. I would apologize but quite frankly, I don’t care.

I want to address a few common pitfalls when it comes to gauging Chinese fluency that occur most often in non-speaking families: False Sense of Fluency (FSOF) and White Mandarin Fluency Standards (WMFS) (terms courtesy of Fleur).

False Sense of Fluency is pretty self-explanatory. Often, non-speakers with children in Mandarin Immersion are under the misunderstanding (often due to purposeful misrepresentation or unrealistic hype from teachers and administrators) that their children are more fluent in Chinese than they actually are. There’s no way you, as a non-speaker, would know because obviously, you trust what the teachers tell you!

White Mandarin Fluency Standards, however, is another beast entirely. This refers to the extremely low standards Chinese people have for white people to be considered “fluent” in Mandarin/Chinese – in essence, because they are white. Because there is literally little to no expectation that white people (specifically in the US) would ever learn another language – let alone Chinese, when they (and their children) speak any Chinese at all, no matter how poorly intonated or basic, they get fluency points just for trying. (Thereby leading to FSOF. It is all interconnected.)

If an ABC spoke the same poorly intonated/basic Chinese, they would be excoriated mercilessly. Furthermore, if a Chinese person spoke the English equivalent of this poor Chinese, the response would often be vicious and cruel with comments of “You’re in America, speak American!” or “Go back to your country!” There would be no WMFS equivalent. The contempt would be palpable.

I know, I know. I sound like a really shitty person when I talk about this stuff. But you know what? That’s because I am done coddling white fragility. You might think that we’re only supposed to be talking about Chinese fluency but there is all this subtext that you’re missing.

Here’s the thing: Chinese is not a “white” language and is integrally tied to a specific ethnic people. An ethnic people who, I might add, have had a long and complicated history with the US and white people. (What ethnic minority hasn’t? Also, I am aware that the US is not to be conflated with white people.)

And due to this long and complicated (and by complicated, I mean racist) history, many Chinese folks (who were mocked for their accents or “Ching Chang Chonged” in school) are rightfully annoyed and suspicious when white folks all of a sudden decide that Chinese is now the latest cool thing to acquire for their children. (And yes, of course, there are many legitimate reasons to learn Chinese, and of course, not only white people are wanting their kids to learn Chinese, and yes, of course, not all white people ad nauseam, – people, please! Stay on task here.)

willy wonka chinese

Furthermore, there are few things as aggravating as non-native speakers popping in on forums (or in real life) and loudly exclaiming how their darling child, after X number of years in a Mandarin Immersion school is now totally fluent in reading and writing Chinese and aren’t they fantastic?

I find these types of comments well-meaning but laughable.

To quote Irish Twins, “That must be one amazing school if they never speak [Chinese] at home and [their child] is magically fluent.”

Look. Someone has to tell you the truth.

That’s like my friend, Not Another DB MBA, saying, “My kid took math for 8 years. Sure, they know calculus!” Or me telling you that just because I can run a mile, I can now run a marathon.

Chinese is one of the hardest languages to learn. Not only is it a tonal language (which is notoriously difficult for non-native speakers to even distinguish), it also has over 20,000 characters – of which, only 10,000 are currently in common use. The Chinese government considers a person to be functionally literate (can read a newspaper) if you recognize around 2,000 characters. If you recognize 4-6,000 characters, they consider you highly educated.

Did you catch that?

The Chinese government expects its own people, people who already know how to speak Chinese and are literally immersed in Chinese culture, to be functionally literate if they can recognize 10% of Chinese characters. How can a person possibly think that their child, when only “immersed” in school for on average 6.6 hours a day, without any additional supplementation or support from a Chinese speaking household, be “completely fluent”?

And yes, I am overly petty when I snipe to my friends (I have never claimed to be anything other than petty and prickish). After all, what’s it to me if non-heritage and/or non-speaking families want their kids to learn Chinese? And what’s it to me if they are completely deluded in thinking their children are fluent? Who are they to me? And who am I to correct them?

This is where things get tricky.

It’s TOTALLY TRUE that it’s none of my business and certainly doesn’t merit reading the riot act on my part. Additionally, I concede that truly, your child really could be fluent. (And if so, I do find that to be incredible and wonderful.) HOWEVER, I consider this type of behavior just one of a legion of microaggressions that I, and minorities in general, have to deal with. It is merely one more reminder of the near constant cultural appropriation that happens to us.

I don’t want to retread my older posts, so if you’re interested in what I’ve written previously, I do go into more detail herehere, here, and here. (I will say that if you do not read these posts and then comment and complain about something I addressed there, I will respond with only a link. You have been warned.)

Look. I know no one chooses to be born white or Chinese or whatever. That is just a cosmic crapshoot. I don’t blame white folks and I don’t think being white automatically makes a person have a FSOF or WMFS. I really am pleased that so many people want to learn Chinese because I love the Chinese language and if only for purely selfish reasons, this helps me get more resources for my own children.

So, why did I have to go and ruin a perfectly civil and hopefully useful post by dragging it into the morass that is race and its incumbent squick factor?

As I said in a previous post, “Because it’s true and it happens and it’s real.  If you can’t handle that and don’t really want to navigate the murky and occasionally choppy waters of race and identity and whiteness or ‘otherness,’ perhaps Chinese is not the best language to choose.”

All I ask is that white folks be cognizant of the subtext and all the underlying issues something as seemingly innocuous as learning Chinese can bring up. Nothing exists in a vacuum. And if one of the reasons you want your children to learn Chinese is to become global citizens, it behooves everyone to not only have a deeper understanding of Chinese/Taiwanese culture and history, but Chinese/Taiwanese American culture and history as well.

Thank you for taking the time to read this never-ending post. I know it likely made many folks uncomfortable so I thank you for wading through the discomfort. Have a wonderful weekend.