We started Chinese school on Sunday. And by "we" I mean all four of us. It's something we want to do for Bea, John and I both want to learn more Mandarin, and, well, Liv can't stay home by herself for three or fours hours every Sunday afternoon.
I knew only vaguely what to expect based on various Chinese American friends' comments ("I HATED Chinese school." "Worst way to spend a Sunday, ever.")
Okay, got it. Place parents love to send their kids 'cause it's important, but place kids hate to go. Sounds like the dinner table, the grocery store, and bed.
(Aside: it's fantastic to live in a city where we have a Chinese school, especially such a large one. I don't know how many different classes there are, but all three floors of Alderdice High School were full of Chinese families shuttling children and grandchildren to language and culture classes.)
As we pulled up to the school, I noticed that every kid had a backpack. Crap. Guess what neither of our kids had? Note duly made for next week: Kids need backpacks.
First up for everyone: Two hours of language class. We deposited little Bea in her classroom, where she sat dubiously in her big honking school desk (those things never change, do they?) wondering what the hell we'd gotten her into. Apparently she declined to participate but also did not run screaming out of the room or sit in a corner throwing things. I call that a win, my friends.
Liv knew two girls in her language class (neither of them speak Chinese) so she was cool with being dropped off there.
John and I started out as the only people in our class. Awkward. Then a returning student showed up. Then one of the school administrators showed up with three others in tow. Less awkward.
But HARD. OMG, so hard. You might remember that I taught myself some caveman Mandarin (or, more accurately, toddler Mandarin) before we met Bea since she didn't speak any English at all. We've kept up with some of the phrases over the last 18 months, but I know my pronunciation is scary and I'm uncomfortably sure that I've got the tone of Bea's name wrong and am actually calling her a fish (same word, different tone).
So, yeah. I need some real instruction, not just self-study podcasts.
I'd forgotten how hard it was to spend hours struggling to pronounce words correctly, to remember what stuff is called, or to be able to pick out enough familiar words from someone's sentence to piece together a possibly plausible but usually wildly inaccurate meaning. "Oh! I recognized the word for 'three' in there. I bet she was asking if I rode my three zebras to school today!" (Because totally, why wouldn't she ask that?)
Most useful thing I learned today: How to tell Bea to be quiet. Really. When the teacher asked what kind of sentences we wanted to learn, everyone sat there and just stared at her. Before I realized what had happened, I'd blurted out, "How do I tell my kid to be quiet?" That phrase -- ānjìng -- is gonna get a lot of use around here.
Most random thing I learned today: I apparently cannot write normal-sized Chinese characters. They are GINORMOUS. It's embarrassing. I went through about 10 pages in my notebook yesterday because my characters are roughly the size of Texas.
In stark contrast: Bea apparently understood most everything perfectly (she'd do whatever the teacher asked in Chinese). She didn't really speak, and only participated a little bit, but said "I like it!" on the way home. I'm thrilled she still remembers so much; I was afraid she'd forgotten it. Her little mind amazes me.