Thursday, July 31, 2008

Lessons in the Living Room

Jeanette White is a freelance writer and editor living in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. She and her husband are homeschooling two daughters who are adopted from China.

“I just cannot picture Jeanette as a mom.” That’s the first thing my brother said when he heard I was adopting a baby girl from China. I was surprised enough to jot down his comment in my journal.

But in a way, I understood. He saw me as his latte-addicted, career-obsessed journalist sister who considered indoor plants a huge commitment. I didn’t know the front of a diaper from the back and didn’t care.

Fast forward several years: My husband and I have two little girls, 5 and 6, and our lives have been totally and wonderfully changed by theirs. When I quit my job downtown awhile back, they helped empty my desk and blew kisses to the tall brick building as we walked away. I now work part-time from a home office (a.k.a. former nursery) with one daughter’s name still in animal-shaped wooden letters on the door.

When someone—anyone—shouts “Mom!” in the grocery store, I spin around. I’ve washed my best clothes with crayons and sent embarrassingly enthusiastic emails about potty training. I stifled a shriek and smiled when my youngest daughter handed me a bright blue newt tail, still wiggling.

These days, my barista’s name is Mr. Coffee.

If all that doesn’t sound like total-immersion motherhood, try this: My kids won’t be going to school this fall. When their friends board the bus for kindergarten and first grade, they’ll be meeting me in the living room for lessons.

We are joining the growing ranks of home-schooling families, and while that may raise eyebrows among some friends and relatives, I couldn’t be more thrilled. In fact, like a lot of eager, rookie home-school moms, I’m not waiting until fall to get started.

That’s partly because I’m excited, but to be honest, it’s also because I’m a little nervous. Will I be good at this? Will my daughters grow and benefit in all the ways I envision? Am I depriving my kids of an important rite of passage by keeping them home? Can I juggle the roles of mother, teacher and professional writer—an integral part of my identity? Without driving my entire family crazy?

To paraphrase my brother, can I picture myself as a home-school mom? (I don’t even own a denim jumper, but that’s a stereotype we’ll talk about another day.) I know I’m not alone in this adventure. I’ve even met quite a few home-schooling families with kids adopted from China.

I’d love to have you join me on my journey into the rapidly expanding, ever-changing world of home schooling. I’ll share the ups and downs, successes and stumbles, great curriculum, helpful websites and other education resources I come across.

I’m especially excited about the opportunity to make it part of our routine to dive into Chinese history and culture, from ancient times to the present. Over time, we’ll include everything from basic history and geography to learning the language. We’ll even dabble in Chinese cooking. In fact, we have a history chapter on ancient China coming up pretty soon. Time to start gathering materials.

I hope those of you who’ve been down the home-school path before me can offer advice, encouragement or words of wisdom. Chances are, you can save me a step—or a misstep. And so, here I go.


Friday, July 18, 2008

Summer Time Fun!

Summer is always fun time for kids in the US because they don’t have school, no homework, but only fun-filled camps, vacations, or just hanging around! Not Chinese kids, though! Nowadays, during summer break urban Chinese kids go to Olympic math, Oxford English, piano, swimming, painting and endless classes, in addition to doing their daily homework for the summer break.

When I first time heard about summer camps in the US, I thought these camps are only for learning different things because the direct translation of summer camps - Xia Ling Ying in Chinese means schools for kids to learn during summer break. I thought American kids, just like Chinese kids, have to study during summer break, too. Then I saw my friends send their kids to camps where they just played. Later, it was my turn to choose a camp for my son. I realized all those camps are only for play, sports, arts, dance or music. I didn't see any classes to study anything except computers, which is just for fun, too. Since my son doesn't want to do sports, arts, dance, or music camps, I just sent him to one of those fun playing camps. Every day they just went to different places to play. Parks, swimming pools, museums, out-of-city drives - he had lots of fun and loved it. When he was old enough to attend overnight camp, he started going to another fun-filled camp and stayed two to four weeks. He has so much fun there that he looks forward to going every year!

Last year, when a friend told me she sent her son to a writing camp, I thought she was crazy because now in my mind summer camps are only for fun, not for studying! How can kids go to camp to study? But a few months ago, I noticed my son really needed to improve his writing skills and I started looking for camps that teach writing, I found only one camp that teaches different subjects and when we received the demo DVD, we were disappointed and didn't know what to do. I asked my friend about that writing camp, and she advised us not to do it because her son didn't enjoy it all. You see, it confirmed how I felt when she first told me about it.

But I didn't give up. I signed up my son to do the overnight camp for only two weeks and hoped something would come up later. Luckily, his new school (he will start in middle school this fall) offers a summer program teaching creative writing, math, music, and studio art to prepare kids for the middle school. I was so happy that he can finally study during summer break. But when he came back from overnight camp, he was so sad because he wanted to stay longer! This made me feel terrible and I thought maybe he should only have fun in the summer, not study.

So now a week has passed with his summer school. He liked it very much, and even learned some grammar for writing that he didn't learn in the previous school. I am so relieved - finally someone teaches him grammar! Sometimes I still feel he should have stayed at the other camp longer to have more fun, but then I know it's worthy to go to summer school and learn something new! And compared with the schedules Chinese kids face in the summer, his classes are only a piece of sweet cake.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

What's life like in Beijing now

I don't think any Beijingers ever expected the exciting Beijing 2008 Olympic Games would make their daily lives so inconvenient. Like me, all of my friends in Beijing were so thrilled to be part of this once-in-a-lifetime experience. But the excitment ended last April. Now when I talked to my friends there, it seems they just can't wait until the Games are over.

I mentioned the frustrating traffic control issues during the Games in my last post. But some those restrictions actually started in late June. Only a limited number of trucks are allowed in Beijing. Starting July 20th, the cars with odd-numbered plates can be on the road only on dates with odd numbers, and vice-versa for even numbers. What does this mean? Residents have limited choices for their daily basic needs. I was told they either can't buy the vegetables they once bought or the produce became too expensive. Areas surrounding the national stadium are blocked and only authorized cars are allowed there, including the area of my father's apartment about a half-mile from the stadium. I'm curious to see what things look like when I return in two weeks.

What do all these restrictions mean for businesses? One supplier told me business is so bad she's never experienced such a slow summer before, as very few tourists are in China now due to strict visa application processes. Some publishers tell me they'll close their offices in about two weeks until the Games end, which means we might not be able to get many books we need for our customers. Our forwarder has increased prices more than four times for picking up goods and delivering them to the port in Tianjin. Shall I ship the goods we need anyway? Shall I increase prices, too? Now I must calculate really carefully to see what we need most urgently. I thought it would end August 25, when the closing ceremony is over. But no, all these restrictions will remain until September 30 when the Paralympics are over! I don't think we can afford to wait that long.

Now you know why Beijingers can't wait until the Games are over. I don't know if residents in London (2012 Olympic Games) and Chicago applying for 2016 Olympic Games) will have the same experiences as residents in Beijing. I hope not. But if so, I doubt they'll find this aspect of the Olympics very exciting.