Rants & Raves

Lots of Odds and Ends

The cruel Beijing Winter behind us, we look forward to a cruel Beijing Summer.  This Spring we look forward to lots of visitors: The Cristina’s sister and dear nephew, the kids’ Tata Emilio with Forest’s Chilean Aunt & Uncle, the whole Andy Casanueva clan from Santa Barbara, Forest’s buds Mark Sampson and Tobin D.  Who will be next on the list???? Who will be next to book their tickets and make it official???
One of the things we love most about Beijing is the kids school,  Western Academy of Beijing.  It could possibly keep us in Beijing longer than planned,  except we have to weigh its benefits against the life-shortening pollution situation.  After decades of living through Southern California’s smoggiest years on record, and a bronchitis filled year in Santiago Chile, my lungs had recovered in the clean San Francisco and Seattle environs.  Life in Beijing brings our lungs two shades black.   Truth be told, none of us have been really sick and even Carlos’ usual winter hack-fest was pretty tame this year.  However, returning to Beijing after being gone for a week was a little like going into a smoky bingo hall in the middle of a Spring afternoon.  You just smell the havoc.  After reading that the worst exposure to pollutants occurs while in traffic, at least I can rest assured that we are minimizing damage by walking to and from school every day, even more joyfully now that the weather is warm.
Forest and I spent a whole day at “WAB” this week for a Student Led Conference.  Carlos took us around to his favorite classes, and we spent time in his homeroom checking out all the cool stuff he does.  We even got to eat in the cafeteria!  Unfortunately, they didn’t serve the usual grub,  so we didn’t get to sample the vast array of starchy food that Carlos puts on his tray day to day.
Carlos is cranking away on reading.  He gets taken out twice a week to catch up with the other kids on writing and spelling. He enjoys the small group dynamic, the teacher makes him laugh and his confidence in writing stories is going up.  He loves performing arts and P.E., and has really clicked with his classmates. He has a really cute little posse of mates and they play imaginary adventure games at recess. His mind is quite mathematical and his Lego creations are fantastic. 
Caetano’s preschool program is remarkable too.  They have lots of freedom and a great little group dynamic of 12 4-year olds. They spend lots of time on practical concepts: light, nature, numbers, seasons, cooking. Their art is fantastic and they swim once a week, and do lots of creative projects.
Last month I had a meeting with 5 of Caetano’s teachers and a school counselor.  Bad news: it was about his naughtiness.  Not intimidating at all!! Good news:  it has gotten better.  The amazing thing:  feeling this real helpful community spirit among my 4 year old’s educators.  Even better: being able to talk to him about all this, seeing his changes, his effort, his pride in getting  “good notes” from teacher instead of who he hit or what he said, etc. etc.
The two of them crack me up all the time.  When Forest was gone for 16 days, my saving grace was having these two little team mates cooperating so well with me and making each day fun.
Part of the fun has been doing some interesting new things myself and having extra help around the house.  I am taking a jewelry making and drawing/painting class, both of which I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I can’t wait to buy beads at the big jewelry market now that I finally have tools and techniques to start with.  As much as I loved drawing and painting in high school, I am not inclined to sit and sketch or paint anymore.  I don’t feel like recreating anything I see in this way, or mixing paints to match the chroma or contrast.  I like making 3 dimensional things, like Carlos’ dinosaur robot model or papier mache pinatas. In my class, there was a woman there who kept making excuses for how bad she was and how un artistic she is and how hard this was for her and blah blah, and I kept wanting to ask her, “why are you taking this class if you know it isn’t for you?”  She knew she wasn’t going to discover anything new about herself.  She already decided she was bad at it.  Why do people do such things?
The kids have a new “ayi”, a Chinese woman who  picks them up from school and provides Mandarin commentary for every single thing they do.  I am hoping that her voice is becoming part of Caetano’s unconscious. Carlos can’t stand her and tunes her out completely. Caetano is becoming buddies with her.  We’ll see in a few weeks if he can start communicating with her two-way.  At Carlos’ school conference, we got to see how much work he does in Chinese class. His notebook was crammed with characters, names of animals, clothes, seasons, greetings.  He was able to read songs and poems in Pinyin (romanized phonetic version of Chinese words).  But he didn’t understand a thing.  One hour a day of Chinese he gets.  And none of it has sunk in. I get 4 hours a week and am able to communicate roughly with people who speak simply and slowly.  All Carlos can say is “hi” and “thank you.” 
Is he like the woman in the art class? Has he already decided he has no use for Mandarin? Or is his mind already being filled so many things that he would rather learn?  Is he past the magical age when your mind absorbs language like a sponge? Or is he perhaps retaining very much that we don’t know that at some later date will gestate and start to flower when he is ready?