I’ve disappointed myself with how I’ve spent my break. Although I
- went to SLO with family friends,
- arranged a Beauty and the Beast medley for @sleightlymusical and my a cappella group’s ICCA set,
- learned my junior recital rep,
- had long conversations with parents about ~future~,
- read 4 books,
- finished my CS personal project,
- saw lotss of friends, and
- binge-watched some TV I’ve always wanted to watch,
I think I feel largely unfulfilled because I haven’t taken the time to thoughtfully organize all that has transpired since that last time I blogged so intently (last winter break).
But let me begin the processing now.
This break, I spent a lot of time and energy practicing piano with my sister, reading with her, watching “wholesome” movies with her, cooking with her… essentially making sure that she doesn’t bum around at home. At the same time, my 18-year-old brother, who will never experience the other- and self-imposed familial obligations that I’ve perceived since my single-digit years, wakes up at noon and makes her ramen and encourages my dad to buy her Yogurtland. Sigh…at least he’s no longer bullying her…right? #emotionallabor
Practicing piano with my sister is rough. She’s pretty good for a 3rd grader, but I drill her pretty intensely on technique and I’m quite impatient and unkind. But in my defense, I treat her like I wanted to be treated as a 3rd grader — seriously, with respect to my ~*potential*~, and with confidence that I will succeed with hard work. However, I’ve been impressed with how well my sister responds. She puts up with my drills, my ridiculous illustrations, my effort to help her see more of the music than what’s on the page.
The rest of the day goes like this: we look up recipes, she makes a shopping list, and we go to Safeway to buy what we need to make a new dish. I treat her like a serious sous-chef (because many child psychologists affirm the importance not underestimating the capacity of children to mimic speech and actions so it’s v important to speak maturely and properly to them!! and yes I am the kind of person who would read these studies lol). Then, we drive to the library, where she picks out a couple books, and we head to a cafe and read together for an hour.
After taking care of her for a few days, it amuses me — and scares me — to think about what kind of mother I’d be. I think I’ve certainly experienced a very realistic lifestyle as a caretaker who is and whose child is subject to the immense pressures of the South Bay. Here, children’s academic achievements as elementary school students are just the beginning of a lifelong striving for well-rounded intellectual, extracurricular (musical, athletic, etc) and social achievements.
I’m absolutely going to be a tiger mom. I, admittedly, veryy easily fall prey to the glories and shininess of the achievements I was able to attain before college, and I even remember resenting my parents for not pushing me harder. I see what people are able to achieve with effort, even if they lack raw ability (aka me in every academic area). And although I can question Bay Area’s hypercompetitive, narrow, and anxiety-inducing value system from afar, coming home to the rush of the packed Chinese school parking lot and to the madness of college application season (which I sense from my mom’s – church friend’s – family friend’s daughter), makes me fall into the unquestioned frenzy of ensuring that one’s children are provided with every sort of advantage, from birth until… when? An afternoon of gossip from my piano teacher forces me to confront the reality of the finesse required for parents to “perfectly” orchestrate opportunities and curate consistent happiness for their child/children, from the instruments they’re able to master to the private high schools they will attend to the scores they will receive and the perfectly polished college application they send out to the major they select and internships they attain to their eventual significant other and how successful their children will be. And time and time again, I’ve seen that when parents control too much, the relationship between parent/child(ren) thins dangerously, but if parents don’t control enough, they may be knowingly letting their child(ren) miss out on ~*some opportunity*~?!
Let’s talk about these opportunities. Although I’m very grateful for the opportunities and privileges I’ve experienced throughout my life, I’ve also become critical in reflecting on which opportunities have actually proven to be inspiring, important, influential, pivotal, and lasting.
If you want to think about the instrumental value of these opportunities (i.e. evaluating the worth of these opportunities based on the types of pre-professional success they can help one gain), I can easily say that plenty of people who have not experienced a comparable wealth of opportunities (in terms of, for example, musical opportunity) have ended up at Pomona College, are able to intern at the places I’ve worked, etc. And similarly, many people who have had greater opportunities have also not been able to get into Pomona College, intern at the places I’ve interned, etc.
But I would obviously be severely cheapening the value of these opportunities by simply assessing whether they’ve been able to help me get into Pomona or intern here or there. They’ve built my self-confidence, expanded my capacity to appreciate culture, and just enhanced my emotional and social well-being in ways that a college acceptance letter and internship offer could never measure.
But again, let’s circle back to these opportunities that parents so eagerly try to provide for their children, and the perspective that I’d like to have about the opportunities I might want to ensure for my children in the future. I don’t have too many thoughts on this, but all I can say is that I hope I’m not the kind of parent who just shoves myself into a ton of extracurriculars with the false hope that each will be very beneficial for my child. I hope that I will see intellectual/extracurricular/social opportunities as a means by which my child learns discipline and grit. And I hope that these opportunities allow them to experience the joy at working diligently with their God-given abilities.
No break is complete without the “so…what are you doing with your life? What are you working towards?” question. Ever since I decided not to major in Computer Science, I’ve felt quite liberated, but also insecure. So when dad 1) brought up grad school, 2) asked me to explain the strategic significance of signing an management consulting internship offer, and 3) asked me how dating fits into all of this, I low-key flipped.
The advice my dad gently provided was completely reasonable. He asked what older Cognitive Science major students did with their degrees, whether I was interested in grad school, whether I would want to do management consulting after graduation, and where I wanted to live. Completely reasonable questions. But, in a frenzy of internalized doubt and frustration that I’ve never adequately explained to anyone, I completely twisted his gentle and good intentions and projected my fears onto what he was asking me to think more about. His questions exacerbated my confusion, confusion that stemmed from insecurity that has been accumulating since my first semester of college. I thought my dad was 1) disapproving my interest in trying out management consulting for 2 months, 2) doubtful of the viable future of learning cognitive science, 3) afraid that I would not be taken seriously for not having a CS degree while potentially living in the bay, 4) hesitant to allow me to try things that don’t clearly correspond to/contribute to a path towards…something (anything!), 5) critical that I hadn’t spent more time this break contacting alumni and doing research on future opportunities.
But my dad wasn’t saying any of this.
These are evolving worries that have pressed on me since I first entered college.
I’ve always worried that “following my heart” was only something that “worked” and was “practically advantageous” when distinguishing myself on a college application. As college unfolded and I saw friends on set paths achieve more visible / universally recognizable / acknowledgeable opportunities that aligned with their interests, I panicked. Sure that I could never compete with *those* people, I strived to distinguish myself through what I’ve always done best: splitting up my time and trying to be good at everything and hoping to the liberal arts gods that this all “pays off” and that some employer will see the value in my motley combination of interests and experiences. But this was only a weak attempt at addressing the overall fear that everyone knows what they want and is actively, and successfully, working towards their respective goals.
I’m scared to apply to grad school, because although I love love love Cognitive Science, I can much more convincingly engage a job interviewer and show off my random professional skills than woo and wow an admissions officer with my transcript and GRE. I want to go to grad school because I think I was much more suited for a Masters in HCI/CogSci than an undergrad degree in CogSci/CompSci. And while I do really like research, I’ve been disappointed with some research experiences, and PhD’s take forever and I know you have to be really confident that you want it for the sake of wanting it before starting a PhD program. Another concern is that I wouldn’t want to spend my first 5 years as a “young professional” in school whereas I think I could learn more from the social and professional interactions afforded by an industry job.
My life felt like a mess after my dad talked to me — he’s right in that while a Cognitive Science degree allows me to make the most of my opportunities at a liberal arts college, it’s a really useless degree without higher education. He’s right in that I might one day be confused at why I didn’t try to get a CS degree while 1) I’m sort of interested in it and 2) could persevere through 4 more rough classes. And he’s probably right that I should take advantage of the fact that I received such a good education at a liberal arts college, and that it might be harder to go to grad school after working for a while, even though I want to work to understand what sort of a degree would complement my overall goals. As confident and excited I am by the decision to not major in CS, I looked at my transcript and felt like a completely discombobulated mess, even though with some work, I could spin all my experiences into a hopefully unconventional, but strong application for grad school, if I ever decide that I want to do it.
I binge-watched Wongfu’s “Single by 30” (which says a lot, because I’m rarely captivated by TV/movies), and really appreciated its exploration of the complexity of intertwining friendships and romantic relationships as people get older and dating becomes more serious. It was also very refreshing to watch some of my favorite Asians / Asian Americans in the entertainment industry take the stage.
As I observe how my parents get along and reflect on how my friends’ dating relationships that have both thrived and suffered, here are some thoughts:
>> Habits in communication are important
I realize that my mom and I are both quite passive aggressive. We keep our observations and frustrations to ourselves, perhaps in attempt to save face in a certain moment or because we’ve always been told to be quick to forgive (so what’s the point of bringing something up if we feel like it’s “small” enough that we ought to “get over” it ASAP anyways?). And we never voluntarily openly apologize. We just try to slip our guilt in through a softened tone of voice or downcast look.
I’m not saying that my parents are uncommunicative about making decisions, but we as a family have just learned to let what we perceive as the “little things” in the moment slide. But as I’ve carried that habit over to some of my friendships, I’m disappointed to realize that many of my friendships have soured because of my desires to 1) not make a fuss and to 2) forgive quickly, which sometimes isn’t possible because the little things add up and by the time they’re serious, I feel awkward for being mad because the other person has no idea that I’ve been mad about for the past who knows how many months and I feel bad for being mad at them and for not addressing anything because how could they have known that I am angry? And have been angry??
Anyways — complete, open, loving honesty. I need to start practicing that in my home, with people who will 100% love me and want to make sure I become a better communicator. Complete, open, loving honesty. That’s what I’m striving to practice with friends, before I screw it up with a potential significant other.
>> You have to know what you want
In “Single by 30,” the protagonist’s mother advises him to date a girl who wants what he wants in terms of lifestyle, location, etc. It’s much more convenient to commit to a relationship between two people whose goals in terms of career/location/etc already align. This is something that mom and dad have been telling me too… of course, I’d hope that a mutual love / admiration with my significant other can be a starting point for negotiating differences, but it’s undeniable that many logistics of the relationship are easier to deal with, and that some conflict can be avoided, if both people have thought thoroughly about the negotiable and non-negotiable aspects lives they’d want to lead.