Planning our baby’s future
It might seem a bit premature to be worrying already about my son Daniel’s education. After all, he’s only 8 months old – there’s plenty of time yet to save our pennies for his formal education. But they say education begins at home, and as a headmaster’s son with memories of extra homework during the school holidays, I know it to be true. What happens, though, when home is multi-cultural?
I’m fortunate that my wife and I seem to be on the same page: I was subjected to intense competition and my wife suffered spoon-fed rote learning, so we both want to avoid our son being pushed in the same way. And if Su and I share many of the same ideas about how to bring up our child, we also share many of the same worries. Chief amongst these is the difficulty of bringing up an independent-spirited, unpampered child in Beijing around his extended family. Loving as they are, some of Dan’s relatives have a tendency to mollycoddle. Okay, I know he’s only a baby and babies are meant to be coddled, but how many people does it take to change a nappy? Two, it seems: one to do the actual changing, and another to hold baby’s hand lest he utter the merest whimper, offering comforting words like “There, there, it’ll all be over soon.” I admit that at this stage it almost certainly doesn’t matter. But as parents, we worry about what will happen later on, and I am inclined to believe it may be kinder to be cruel.
Language acquisition, however, may provide an early test of our parental accord. As a product of a good old-fashioned liberal Western education myself, naturally I don’t want to start pushing Daniel to charge ahead of the pack before he can even crawl. Nevertheless, Su and I are both determined that he should be bilingual, for obvious enough reasons. Now, most would think that English and Chinese would be enough for a young mind to have to cope with. Yet, my darling Su has had the bright idea of adding Japanese into the mix (Su and I met in Japan, I should explain, and Japanese remains our langue de l’amour). It is a delicate matter, as Su’s trilingual tendencies no doubt derive from fine motives, but I fear the British veto may have to be dusted off.
Despite my professed liberalism, I must confess that my child has already been caught in the middle of a competition between me and his team of Chinese-speaking helpers: I have been drawn into a battle with his ayi and grandma to keep his English listening on a par with his Chinese. The game is that grandma/ayi says “灯,” (deng) and Daniel – sometimes – gives the light a meaningful look, though sometimes he will stare at random objects with a similar sense of purpose. Then, I will say “light,” and he – theoretically – performs the same trick. Given that Daniel currently only has a grasp of only one word in each language, however, it’s hard to see yet if these tricks are working.