I always thought there would be some way of making my child pay me back for the hours and money I spend on him, the sacrifices my body has made, and the many nights he has kept me awake.
I mean, I know there’s the love and all that, but really, I was looking for some recognition in cold, hard cash.
There are ways of getting “revenge” on children when they are young like dressing them in ridiculous clothes and keeping the photos for future use.
They do have some useful functions: One of the best is how easy it is to blame them for things. Need an excuse for arriving late to work or not attending some boring party? Just blame the child. That’s what they’re there for.
As my son got older and his Chinese skills surpassed mine, he actually started becoming more helpful.
Because Chinese people adore children so much, I have been able to manipulate this and his ability with their language to strike far better bargains with my landlady who hasn’t raised the rent in three years. At Yabao Lu, he scores far better prices than I ever could just by wowing the vendors with the Chinese that comes out of his quite obviously European little face.
That’s nice payback for those early months of hell.
What I hadn’t realized was that while I was using my child’s ability with Chinese for personal gain, he was using my incompetence with said lingo to score his own victories.
My son is in the first year of a Chinese primary school, and I had started to wonder why his Chinese homework, while so far, not particularly strenuous, had recently ceased to exist.
My character-writing may just about match that of a drunk Mallard duck, but at the moment, I recognize far more characters than my seven-year-old; and if I couldn’t, I would be giving up my HSK (Chinese Proficiency Test, a national standardized test for non-native speakers) attempt at the Live the Language school in Beijing forthwith.
He knows this.
So when I was chatting to his teacher after school one day, my child pulling at my sleeve rather worriedly for some reason, she volunteered a rather astonishing statement.
‘We don’t worry that your little boy doesn’t do any of his Chinese homework, we know you can’t help him with his characters because he’s told us you don’t read any Chinese.’
Not “not much Chinese” but “not any Chinese”.
She produced pages and pages of yuwen that he had been excused from doing in his own time because his poor stupid laowai mother was incapable of helping him.
There are ten years or so before I can legally send the little horror out to work, and even then, the options are rather limited now that chimney-sweeping is a thing of the past.
But while he isn’t doing his homework, I can at least bring him to the Silk Market.
Debbie Mason has lived in Beijing for more than ten years. She thought her Chinese was okay until she realized she could not understand her son and his Chinese playmates. In a bid to try and keep up with her 7-year-old, Debbie is taking Chinese classes at Live the Language. Follow her progress with her blog posts on beijingkids.
Photo by storyvillegirl of Flickr