Two Roads Diverged

When my son first began studying Mandarin in kindergarten, it was really because I was behind the ball on kindergarten registration and didn’t get him into our public bilingual Spanish school. I wanted for him, as multiracial, multiethnic person, to have connections with his heritage cultures in some way, and I wanted to him to have a connection to his Asian American identity that I had struggled with for so long.

Over the last 9 years, he has continued to learn Mandarin, in dual immersion, Mandarin immersion, and heritage school settings.

In the last few weeks, my husband and I talked with our son about continuing one more year of Mandarin next year. This year, for the second year in a row, has been an increasing struggle for him to stay motivated and next year, we know high school will be more intense for him.

He said he’d prefer not to continue in Chinese school next year.

I believe in listening to my children when I can. He’s old enough to make that choice in his life, and while he would do what I asked him to, I also respect him enough to let him make this choice.

I didn’t realize how deeply it would affect me, nor why it did.  At first, I was both resistant and hurt. It was only one more year.  He could do this.

I didn’t ever go to heritage school and my Mandarin is the worst of anyone in my generation of my family.  Being the youngest by several years in my family, I wasn’t around Mandarin (or occasional Hokkien) as much as my older brother and cousin. I’ve carried it as a badge of shame around my family for a long time.

I grew up in a very white suburb of Southern California (at the time) and the nearest Mandarin heritage language programs were a freeway drive, a fee, and a philosophical gap away — distances that were hard to bridge.

My mother, a single mother who would have braved the freeway and paid the money if she thought that Mandarin heritage school was the right thing for me, never pushed me to go to Chinese school, likely because she was told as a new immigrant that the greatest way to assure her children’s success was to make sure that they spoke accent-free English.

I know she wanted me to learn Mandarin, but she thought that by being around Mandarin speakers (like my grandmother, aunt & her), that I would pick it up, which I did until my grandmother passed away when I was 7.

Then, the Mandarin was more occasional and less important in my life, and I had no desire to learn it, wanting to assimilate into a culture where being cool meant having a crimp in my super-straight hair, sounding a certain way, and having an attitude to accompany it. (Somehow that was never quite enough to fit in anyways.  No matter how good my English was.)

Once, when I was in middle school, my mother asked my estranged father to send Chinese primer books from Taiwan so she could teach me Mandarin, and the zhuyin phonetic system, but that was quickly abandoned after a couple of lessons, which honestly, I have never understood more than in this current COVID-19 “homeschooling period” where I do not have the patience to deal with my own (deeply-loved) children and their general apathy towards learning something I find to be incredibly valuable to their lives.

My mother died suddenly in a car accident when I was 16, my junior year of high school.  At the time, and for a long time afterwards, while I knew this loss marked a huge rupture in my life, that trauma was a deeply personal loss.  I ran away from that loss in many ways, both productive and destructive, for over 20 years.  Some days, I am still running from it.

About 5 years ago, leading up to the birth of my daughter who will be 5 in a week, and moreso in the past 2 years, as I’ve reached the age my mom was when she gave birth to me, I have begun running towards my mom again.

I have begun searching for my history, our history.

I have begun reclaiming my identities as a second generation Taiwanese American woman, as someone deeply rooted in Asian American communities, as someone who can do something about reclaiming my own heritage languages and histories.

I have begun healing traumas, mine for my children, and my mother’s for all of us.

Through my PhD, I was able to achieve the doctorate my mother had to give up.

Through my relationship, I’ve been able to find healing and know what it means to have a partner who is also an incredibly present and loving father to his children.

Through studying Mandarin, I’ve begun to feel more comfortable with a voice that I didn’t have. I have had to show a lot of grace to myself to learn things that are seemingly simple, but that are completely new to me.

Through watching Taiwanese American (and Asian American) films, reading books by Taiwanese American authors, connecting with other Taiwanese Americans who I can see myself in, I’ve been able to find belonging that at a level I didn’t realize was possible.

By connecting with people who knew my mom, by starting a journey to find out more about her, I am beginning to build a history that I worried was lost. I am not so worried about this now because I know that our histories are more waiting to be found than in danger of being lost.

All of this has been profound.

But, it has been my path.

My son may not need to study Mandarin, in this moment, on his path. Or he may not need to study it in this way.

He has a path.

My own language study is profound for me because it is my choice. It is an act of healing and an act of love.

Letting my son choose his path in his own multilingualism and the embrace of his own hybrid identities is also an act borne from the same healing and love.

Two paths diverge…and adventures await on them both.


Today was a breakthrough day, in what has been a breakthrough school year.  I have committed to learning Mandarin (my heritage language), reclaiming my time, and making healthier choices in my life.  These things are remarkably uncomfortable.  They force me to move from my comfortable, but futile, state of perpetual busyness to be present to new challenges that push me towards growth.  This is not easy. Some days all I feel are growing pains.  But other days, I can hear, see, and even smell the growth I am engaging in. And I am recording this here to remind myself and to share with those who might read this blog.  Growth is possible, but it isn’t easy.

A slide from a meeting at my son’s Chinese school today

This morning, after a somewhat frantic morning dog walk to our local bakery which almost made us late to my son’s second day of Chinese school, he and I arrived on campus.  He went to class and I went to a meeting (that I had just remembered was happening a few hours before) about AP Chinese & the SAT-II Chinese test.  As those of you who have followed my Mandarin journey know that I dread any meeting at my son’s Chinese school.  Two weeks ago, in his first week of class parent meeting, I understood about 50% and walked away proud.  Today, dear reader, between Google Translate, my background knowledge of the SAT-II and AP Language/Culture tests and the new vocabulary I’ve learned this semester (which happens to be about tests, school & levels), I understood almost 85% of what was going on.  There were a few words that I didn’t get, but I really, really comprehended what was going on, in Mandarin.  It was amazing. It is the first time in my adult life this has ever happened in a real world setting.

Weekend reading for #Ghostsintheschoolyard chat this week

After the meeting, I went to the grocery store and had some extra time before I needed to pick up my son (but not enough time to make the round trip home) so I began reading Eve L. Ewing’s Ghosts in the Schoolyard for a Twitter chat that I’m excited to participate in next week.  This is the second weekend in a row that I’ve read something of my choosing, not directly for my work (although I’m an educator, and teacher educator, so almost everything can relate to my work).  I actually love to read but have relegated myself to reading academic articles and whatever crosses my social media feeds, so reading books is actually pretty extraordinary for me, and I’m remembering my love for reading.

Chicken roasting in Instant Pot for dinner, to be accompanied by sweet potato fries & salad

This afternoon, I did get a few things done for tomorrow (for work), but then spent an hour playing with my daughter and started roasting a chicken in my instant pot.  Cooking and making food that I’m proud to eat and that can last for a few meals during the semester is a pretty big breakthrough too.

I guess all of this to say that change and growth are possible, even after 40 years of seeking endless external validation through production.

Or perhaps, I’m saying, “Winner, winner, chicken dinner” 🙂

Blessings on My Day 1 (of Teaching)

The last of the police cars in front of my house yesterday. Hint: They weren’t there for me

Yesterday was my first day of teaching for the fall semester, my second day of Chinese class, and my third day of running (of my 11th week of training for the Long Beach Half Marathon).

I had trouble sleeping, woke up early and read some discussion board posts before taking off on my run.  After 4-miles and about 4o minutes, I was crossing the railroad tracks near my home when I realized that there were three police cars, an ambulance and a fire truck outside my front door.  I stopped to talk with an onlooking dog walker who told me that 15-20 minutes before a man had apparently randomly attacked two men on the street, punched a car window and tried to get into the passenger door of another car window before trying to enter a neighbor’s condo and being tackled in the bushes next to our front gate where he was held until the authorities could arrive.  I missed the whole thing on the 40-minutes between the time I stepped out my front door and the time I returned from my run.

Feeling fortunate to have missed that particular adventure, I went about my day, heading to Chinese class with my homework complete but confronted by the fact that I still struggle to remember tones and characters when writing.  It’s definitely still an ongoing process.

Finally, at 3:50 exactly, I was able to enter my classroom for my first (teaching) class of the semester.  I was nervous about this for a couple of reasons: 1) I wasn’t in the active learning classroom and since much of my pedagogy has been adapted to writeable surfaces, multiple whiteboards around the room (that students have easy access to) and multiple usable screens in the classroom, I was nervous about the activities in the space; 2) I was starting the semester with a new activity around compassion and mindfulness.

But, as students began to file in, I appreciated their energy, excitement (many clearly knew one another), and engagement.  We did partner interviews & introductions, explored literacy and then came to our activity around mindfulness and compassion.  I asked students to define mindfulness & compassion then asked them how they could be mindful and compassionate to others in the space and how we could be mindful and compassionate towards them.  We then did a snowball (anonymous) discussion, unpacked our mostly convergent definitions of mindfulness & compassion and then ways in which we could show compassion and mindfulness to one another in the classroom space.  Students then engaged in a conversation about why it might be important to start class in this way.  It was inspiring.

Our debrief board from the compassion & mindfulness activity

This was a good first week. It was balanced and full of community and collaborative learning.  It was a first week during which I was present to the many blessings of this work and life. I am grateful to do work that I love, work that centers compassion and mindfulness in teaching, work that broadens notions of the importance of language and literacy, work to humanize pedagogy and teacher education.

Hope the end of this week brings peace and presence to all of my (educator) friends.

Day 1/ Semester 2: A Profound Shift

Off we go! Semester 2 of Mandarin classes started today!

Today was the start of my Chinese 102 class.

I was nervous last night.  I did not practice like I wanted to over the summer.  I did begin reviewing my Chinese notes in the last two weeks, using both my son’s kindergarten flashcards and my own Chinese 101 flashcards.  And, of course, there was my jump into the deep end on The First Day of Chinese School, but I know myself, and I felt very unsure coming into day 1, semester 2.

But, you know, I’m a student who knows how to “student,” so I went to class, even though I felt like a super imposter, even though I had all the same worries as last semester (except now my picture has appeared on the campus website so people recognize me more, which makes me feel even more awkward), even though it was hard.

It also did not help that there are people in the class who: 1) are fluent Mandarin speakers; 2) have taken 3 years of Mandarin in high school; 3) clearly remember more of Chinese 101 than I do.

For reals though, I am 40 years old, and I am still comparing myself to 19 year olds in an undergraduate class (and LOSING in that comparison).

It kinda makes me laugh thinking about it.

I am grateful that I am not 18 or 19 or 21 (even though those are all great ages), and I’m grateful that this semester I’m in a class in which (even though I’m less comfortable) I feel like I’m going to practice speaking a lot more.  This class is pushing me WAY out of my comfort zone, but that is how we grow.

And continue to develop empathy.

The other thing I realized today (and somewhat on Sunday at my son’s Chinese school too) is that I actually do know some Mandarin.  (I actually teared up writing that sentence.)

Getting back a sense of my heritage language is profoundly empowering.

I am shifting in other ways too.

Tonight, while I did some Chinese homework and responded to some discussion board posts, for my own course, I also spent an hour watching videos and reading with my little girl.  The book we are reading, Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen by my friend, Debbi Michiko Florence, about a Japanese American 8-year old little girl in Los Angeles and her desire to help make mochi for New Years, is the kind of Asian American young reader novel I only could have dreamed of as a little girl.  It is the first week of the semester. I still have more work to do (when is there ever not work to do?), and I took time to be with my girl. And earlier today, I took time to drive my son home from school and talk with him about our respective classes.

In reclaiming my language and my time, I am also acknowledging all of who I am, reclaiming growing up in Canyon Country (because there’s so much about my growing up that I’ve tried hard to forget), acknowledging that it’s hard not to do all the things, learning (slowly) to say no more and yes less.

I am grateful for it all. I am grateful to be present to this shift.  I am so, so grateful for the many amazing people in my life who are with me now, have been with me through all the things, and who witness this journey.

I am always becoming, but I feel, for the first time, like I am actually arriving.  At a moment. At a station.  At a place to rest.

And I am so grateful.

The First Day of Chinese School

It’s the first day of Chinese school and we’re fine…really, we’re fine….

Those of you who either know me IRL or have been following this blog for awhile may remember that last year, I started a journey towards actively reclaiming my cultural and linguistic identity, part of which included reconnecting with people who were close to my mother, who I lost when I was 16, and part of which included starting a second bachelor’s degree in Chinese studies and taking my very first Chinese class (ever) last semester. I’ve also been doing research on Asian American teachers and their experiences, which has helped me to feel less alone as I think about my own journey as a second-generation Taiwanese American daughter, secondary teacher, mom and heritage language learner.

Today, my son started his ninth year of learning Mandarin, in one form or another. He began in a 90/10 Mandarin immersion program in Kindergarten, then a year of 5 day a week, after school  heritage classes when we moved for my university position, then 3 years of 50/50 immersion, and for the last 4 years, back to weekend heritage school.  He is awesome, which you also know if you’ve been following my Mandarin learning journey, since he’s been my main tutor and language support (I repay him by helping him with more complex English grammar rules for his essays).  He was nervous today, but also, fine.  It’s all part of the routine he’s used to during the school year.

Arguably, I am always more nervous before the start of a new Chinese school year than he is. The last four years, I have dreaded the first day of Chinese school.  He attends a weekend heritage school which is sponsored by a Taiwanese Buddhist humanitarian organization.  The volunteer staff and teachers are super nice.  The parents are kind and explain things in English to me when I don’t understand a thing.  My son consistently does well in class, and has the same classmates each year so they’re (sort of) a community of (reluctant) learners.

However, I always feel a mix of shame, guilt, sadness, and confusion.  I always worry that the parents are secretly judging me behind their kind smiles.  I always worry that because I don’t know what is being said at orientation that my son is going to miss out on important information that he needs to be successful.  I always worry that this year will be the year that his lack of a Mandarin-fluent parent will mean that he will fail his class and hate his language and culture.

I know, I know…projecting much?

My son, on the way to school, tells me not to worry about it.  He says I’m fine.  He says that I know plenty of Mandarin and that he’ll be fine. He’s a little nervous because he’s always a little nervous on the first day of class, but he’s sure it will be fine.

He finds his class, talks with his friends, and we proceed to class and parent orientation.

I understand about 50% of the presentation, which is actually WAY more than I’ve ever understood and I recognize a bunch of characters that remind me that I really should review my Chinese 101 flashcard before I start class next week.  Another parent saves me (because my Chinese still isn’t that great) from being room parent. I use my Mandarin to ask about my son’s canceled elective class (and fill out the withdraw request in English).

After the meeting, I drive across town to the Korean grocery story to buy food for lunch and dinner, and various Asian snacks (because I buy food when I feel stressed, guilty and want to show my son love), then go back to pick him up.  We both like his teacher a lot.  We got about the same amount from the orientation and generally agree on the information that we heard.  He’s excited because he can read the information in Korean on the snacks (he just started Korean classes a few weeks ago at his “regular”). He tells me about the first “quiz” that the teacher gave.  He got a 90%.  It’s above the mean so he’s satisfied.

So, we made it.  I mean, he was fine the whole time, but I made it. We’re going to learn a lot of Chinese this year, both of us, I think.  And maybe we’ll start to doubt ourselves a little less and trust ourselves a little more in the process.  I hope so.

When the Teacher Becomes a Student

It’s almost the end of my first semester of Chinese classes.  I started this semester 3.5 months ago with a few phrases of spoken Mandarin (mixed with some Taiwanese words that I didn’t realize weren’t Mandarin) and a lot of fear.  I’m ending having mastered at least 100 characters and having a decent grasp of almost 100 more.  It’s a start, but there’s a long way to go on the journey to develop my heritage language.

Something happened today as I was working in the language lab with my partner for our oral final (not pictured above–above is the extra credit typing homework).  We were getting our dialogue checked by the TA in Chinese, a kind, graduate student, native speaker.

She pointed out a few errors that I had made with phrases and characters–nothing major, some “rookie mistakes,” as I like to call these small errors when you’re learning something for the first time, then she asked if my partner and I were Chinese minors.  My partner said she was, but I was a major.  I noted that I was just beginning though.

The TA said, “That’s okay,” to me and then said, “Your Chinese, I think, it’s very good though.” I thought, with that phrase, that she was talking to my partner who then said that she had watched many Chinese films and dramas.

I have been feeling pretty bad about this interaction for the last two hours, which is ridiculous because: 1) I don’t know whether in fact, she was complimenting both of us on our Chinese or just my partner; 2) my partner is very good at Chinese; 3) I’m not here for anyone’s approval because that is what has been stopping me for 35 years prior from taking Chinese classes earlier; and 4) you can be good at Chinese and make mistakes or not get compliments.

This isn’t doesn’t mean anything, but it also means everything.

What I’m realizing lately is just how far I have to go in so many ways.  I am such a people pleaser.  I thrive on recognition.  I want to be the best at everything and when I’m not the best at something, I inherently feel like I should just give up, go home and do something I’m much better at.  This is not a healthy attitude, especially in academia, but also, in life.  And it’s one I see in my own children, which prompted me to take up studying Chinese in the first place.

As an academic, I’ve come to terms with the limits I have on my time and energy based on institutional structures and personal life choices, but I’m not there yet, as a student.  As I mentioned in earlier blog posts, it’s been a hard transition for me, going from full time student to full-time professional (parent, active faith community member & volunteer) and part time student.  In fact, at this moment, while I’m blogging, I should be prepping my summer class, studying for my final and working on multiple research projects). I’m also in the midst of the last week of training for a (charity) half marathon while also doing a weeklong global poverty awareness challenge and waiting in the library for my son to arrive so I can take him to Tae Kwon Do.

I’m frankly struggling with everything, and in these moments, when I need the most validation ever, I also tend to feel the most inadequate, which probably explains my ruminating on not having my Chinese complimented (which may or may not have happened anyways) and spending a half an hour that I really don’t have to blog about it so I can let it go.

As a teacher, this reminds me of how vitally important it is to be aware of my power, that complimenting one person in front of others, while not being a willful omission or malevolent gesture, can cause unintended self-questioning.  It also reminds me that we never know what our students might be carrying with them from past experiences, what they’re going through (big or small) in a moment, how hard they’re trying, even when they’re making a bunch of mistakes.  And this all makes me reflect on the fact that, when we make a bunch of mistakes, it’s because we’re stretching, growing and learning.  I am learning so much, and I am making my fair share of mistakes along the way. That is part of the process.

These are good reminders.  They are reminders that I am doing the best I can, that we all are (or at least the great majority of us are), in any given moment. So, I will tell myself that my Chinese is pretty good, for a beginner, and I will get to the many other things I have to do, after I breathe and publish this post.

Coming Together

Tonight, my son and I did our Chinese homework together.

We both had similar exercises, with his characters more complex than mine, but with my repetitions more numerous than his.  He corrected my pronunciation, but I didn’t mind as much as I did a few months ago because I could hear the difference between what I was saying and what he was saying.  It’s still hard for me to say the words correctly, but learning to hear the difference is a big first step.

I’m learning vocabulary that he’s learned and forgotten, but is remembering as I pick it up for the first time.  He scans his homework for characters or phrases I might know, pointing out the differences between traditional and simplified, between how I’m learning to pronounce things and how they’d be pronounced in Taiwan.  He’s reading me his homework and figuring out what to do through trying to explain it to me.

We are learning Chinese, in parallel, together.

He is teaching me many things — pronunciation, patience, vocabulary, radicals.

He is learning from me other things — patience, perseverance, dedication, neatness.

I feel like the luckiest mom in the world when he says to me, “Hey Mom, let’s do our Chinese homework together.” My 13-year old wants to do something with me, and not just any something, but Chinese homework — the most dreaded of homework activities for him.

While he’s working, he tells me stories of his experiences, when he learned the characters I’m learning (Kindergarten, 1st grade, 2nd or 3rd grade), what it was like coming into a new Chinese school when we first moved to Southern California, how he doesn’t really understand why he’s learning some of the vocabulary he’s learning that he doesn’t really think will be useful in everyday life.  They’re good stories and good questions.  I don’t have answers, but he’s not really looking for them.  Somehow he knows that even if he never uses that random character he’s learning, that this is important to me and to us, and so he diligently does his work; we do our work; together.

Then he’s done.  He goes back to Youtube.  I go to tuck in his sister, and come back to work on reviewing an action research proposal that one of my students has written, for a conference we’ll have tomorrow afternoon, and then begin on this blog.

I am grateful.

I am learning.

Things are coming together.

We are coming together.

Striving Towards Imperfection

Tonight, at family dinner time, I posed this conundrum to my son and husband, “Since I used to work 12 hours a day, and now, I work, roughly 8 hours a day, and am trying to do better about work-life balance, it’s physically impossible to cram the same amount of work into that much less time.  Yet, I still have so much work. What should I do?”

Their answers were roughly the same.

My 12-year old said, “Just do what you can and don’t stress about it, if that’s possible.”

My partner said, “I think you’re just going to have to let go of some things and be okay with imperfection in some areas of your life.”

They are wise people, my son and husband, and so I asked, “How do I not stress about not getting everything done since I’ve built my life around productivity…or rather, how do you guys do it?”

They shrugged.

My husband said, “We started early. Lots of practice.”


I got my first Chinese test back today — 97.5%. On both homework packets (pictured above), I’ve gotten 96%.  I know this “not stressing about things” and “being okay with imperfection” is going to be a journey since an A (instead of 100%) still annoys me.

But, I think what they’re saying is really that it’s a shift in perspective for me.

I am so, super excited about the research I’m doing and the people it’s allowing me to connect with (as collaborators and participants).  Doing interviews and hearing people’s stories gives me so much life.

I am loving learning Chinese.  I can feel my brain growing and am so grateful for the way it’s allowed my son and I to work together. I’m so grateful for his help, support and tutelage.

I am loving that I am not a slave to technology ALL THE TIME. I appreciate turning off my e-mail program multiple times a day.  I love family dinner time.

I still often work 12-hour days.  It’s not like I’m slacking off.  I’m just changing my pace.

And, I’m happy because I feel like my time is aligned with my values, with my commitments and with my goals.  My work has been intentional even if it hasn’t (exactly) been as externally as “productive.”

It’s time to tuck in my 3-year old for bed so I’ll go now, grateful for the imperfections of a too-full life, and the perspective to appreciate it.

I’m Learning!

I just got back from the language lab.  It’s week 2 of Chinese 101. I survived my first quiz. My son says my intonation is getting better.  The writing of characters is getting a little easier.  I am learning.

I have always been afraid that if I tried to study the Chinese language, I would fail.  Perhaps this comes at the hands of trying to pronounce words in the past and being corrected in ways that I couldn’t hear, understand or process.

This would happen a lot with my son.  I would say what I had internalized (a long time ago) in my youth, and inevitably either my articulation or my intonation would be wrong. He’d repeat it in the correct way and I would, in frustration, exclaim, “That’s WHAT I JUST SAID.”

To which he would respond, “No, you said….It’s….”

I would look at him incredulously, and say, “That’s what I said. You just said the same thing twice.  I said that.”

He would look at me, with both pity and frustration and say, “Okay, Mom, that’s what you said.”

But we both knew I hadn’t gotten it right, and we were both somewhat sad and frustrated that I wasn’t learning.

My son was more gentle and patient with me than Mandarin speakers I didn’t know. These people would speak to me first in Mandarin, then, upon hearing my labored attempts to say anything (even, “I don’t understand”) would sigh in frustration (and maybe contempt?) and switch to English.

These experiences made me so nervous to even attempt a Chinese course.

But, as of week 2, I really feel like I’m actually learning the language (little by little), and it’s a huge thing for me.

I’m also learning how to learn with and from my son. Learning pinyin and the differences between the tones (through explanation, practice and not just by ear) has helped us to have a common framework to work from.  He’s been great at acknowledging my progress, excited to quiz me and really proud of my successes.  He also encourages me when I feel overwhelmed and helps me break down characters into radicals so that I can better remember them.

In fact, learning Chinese has been an unexpectedly awesome mother-son bonding experience.  Last week, Nate and I did our Chinese homework together.  We watched the cheesy (he would call them “cringe-y”) Chinese practice videos that accompany my textbook. We practiced the sample dialogue on my way to drop him off at school.  Last night, we discussed the character with the most strokes in the language, which he had already learned about (and written for himself) last year in Chinese school.

I’m only 21 characters into the language, but I’ve already been given a priceless gift through this journey.  I truly am so grateful.

Day 1: Chinese Class and Other Adventures

Today was the first day of the Spring 2019 semester.

It was a really hard day, but honestly, I’m really proud of myself.

My son needed a last minute ride to school, putting me an hour behind schedule on a day where I already had very little give time.  But, I got to take him to school so he could serve as a “student ambassador” to visiting students from China, and during the ride, we got to talk and he reassured me (once again) that my first day of Chinese class would go well.

My 10am meeting was super productive and great, but went until 11:50 and instead of eating lunch quickly in between the meeting and my class, I ended up just snacking on a few (delicious) chocolate shortbread cookies and rushing to make it to class in time.

My first Chinese class. Chinese 101.  As I texted my husband after the class, “This was the most awkward educational experience of my entire life.”  I am great at school. I have always been great at school. School has always been my comfort zone.  But, until today, I have always been pretty much the traditional student.  Younger than most of my peers and progressing along the expected timeline.  Today, I was, by far the oldest student in the room, and I felt awkward even entering the room.  I think I enter the room like a professor (because I mean, it’s a part of my identity). There’s a cadence in my step, and I was not dressed like a student (because for the rest of my day, I wasn’t a student). So, when I first walked in the room, everyone paused (or at least it felt like they did).  Then, after saying hello to the people around us, we had to do introductions: Name, year at CSULB, major.  SIGH.  I didn’t really know what to say so I said I was faculty working on my second bachelors in Chinese studies, which is, of course, the truth.  And then, because I have been reading rooms of students for the last 18 years, I saw the sideways glances exchanged.  I could barely find a partner willing to work with me on the dialogue. It was awkward. But, maybe it’s awkward for many people, maybe it was also awkward for me 20 years ago and I’ve just forgotten.  I’m not sure.

I had an hour between my class and my second meeting of the day with the dean and some other colleagues.  I scarfed down 3 pieces of leftover slices of pizza from a birthday party my daughter attended over the weekend.  Then I spent the next hour addressing e-mail.  It took the whole hour and I didn’t finish.

My next meeting should have ended with JUST enough time to get to my son on time before his martial arts lesson.  But, traffic was terrible. I was late getting him from the library to Tae Kwon Do, and just before arriving to pick him up, the low tire pressure light went on in the car.  I dropped him off, went to the nearby gas station, checked the pressure on all 4 tires, determined which tire was low, pumped it, and recalibrated the tire pressure system.  So much for using that time to write.

Our plan for dinner was a local taqueria, but they didn’t have fish tacos or quesadillas so we detoured to get dinner for the whole family because, after being gone all weekend, I didn’t have time to plan meals for the week.

When we finally arrived home, despite all there was still left to do, we had family dinner time. I caught up on a few e-mails. Then, Nate and I did family Chinese homework time, which was awesome for both of us.  It was awesome for me because I actually feel like I’m learning something and it’s an accomplishment to see a page full of characters in my own handwriting. It was awesome for him because he actually got his homework done much more quickly (because he was focused on doing it with me instead of with the distraction of 2+ electronic inputs). I tucked in Jo, finished my character writing for the day, responded to a few more e-mails, and finally, sat down to blog.

It was an absolutely crazy day.

But I’m really, really proud of myself.

Today, I did not let my fear stop me.  Today, I did not feel guilty for what I couldn’t accomplish.  Today, I didn’t get angry at the things I couldn’t control. Today, I did something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I am learning a lot, but perhaps most importantly, I’m learning patience with myself.