The video above is from Beanie’s second time in the water with Surf Academy, this past Friday; two hours of instruction and she’s starting to get the hang of it. Surf Academy is the name for the optional surf lessons affiliated with her school: three times per week of surf classes at the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed time of 6:30 am. Delightfully, this means her mother must wake up at 5 am to get the day started.
When the semester began, Beanie expressed no interest in Surf Academy, and we didn’t think she would be taking part. Over the next two months, as she heard some of her friends were signing up and as we lightly but regularly sprinkled mentions of surfing into our conversations with her, she warmed up to the idea. At some point, almost organically, it became a given that she would be taking Surf Academy. Persuasion by percolation.
At the end of the morning lessons, one of the other parents will usually ask her if she had fun. Beanie being Beanie, will wrinkle her nose and say, “No.” We call Beanie a “Daria,” that animated MTV character from the 1990s—a very difficult to impress or frazzle young person. This is both a weakness and a superpower, I think. With her logic and detachment, she’s so far been able to stay above the fray of friend drama, finding the squabbles and jealousy of who-likes-whom-better more funny than upsetting. On the other hand, being positive and outwardly showing enthusiasm is considered a desirable trait, especially in American culture. While I want her to be herself, she’s going to have to practice responding to questions politely and more in line with social niceties.
And it’s not like she doesn’t enjoy anything. She’s eight years old and too young for ennui! Sometimes it just takes her a while to warm up to things and decide she does like them. This week, Beanie has been practicing her surfing pop-ups. On a yoga mat, she goes from lying on her belly with active toes to springing up and thudding her two feet onto her “board.” Tonight, I filmed her as she practiced, and she made a game of it.
“Who wants to demonstrate?” she asked, pretending to be the instructor.
Then she turned around and faced the imaginary instructor, raising her hand and waving it eagerly. “Ooooh, me! Me!”
She lay down on the yoga mat and paddled, before jumping up into her surf stance, first her back foot down, followed quickly by her front foot. Taz and I know nothing about surfing and cannot guide or correct her; she has to show us how it’s done. This tickles her very much. Knowing things that we don’t know, and teaching these things to us, is a pleasing state of affairs for her.
Beanie has also been taking Spanish lessons during and after school. All the classes, plus her young and absorbent brain, mean she has the best Spanish among the three of us by far, despite Taz and my diligent daily Duolingo work. A benefit we hadn’t anticipated of being in Costa Rica and recently, in Mexico, is that she’s able to take charge, helpfully translating for us.
“What does this mean?” we’ll ask her. “Hair,” she’ll say. Or “stapler“ or “drawer.” At Mari Gold restaurant in Mexico City, I was about to order a cucumber salad when she pointed out there was granada in the dish, which means “pomegranate.” Her dad can’t eat granada and never orders it. We talked and decided we would still get the dish because the pomegranate seeds could be picked out, but it was good that she had noticed so we were able to have the discussion.
Usually when you are helping young children find their footing, there’s a bit of pretend in the praise (sometimes more than a bit): the exaggerated claps and “wow, I didn’t know that!” and “good job!” Then, at some point—and for us, that’s now—the children learn things you don’t know and you cannot help them with. There will be things they can do that you will be so genuinely impressed by that you forget to clap exaggeratedly. Those moments come more and more as they grow older, and I know that’s the way it’s supposed to be. But it still feels strange and surprising.
Recently, I had a chat with someone who knows they don’t want to have children. It was not my aim to change their mind, but I did express how I myself feel about having kids. It’s not for everyone, and plenty of people live rich and fulfilling lives without children. Yet…parenthood is a facet of the human experience that is unlike any other. Not going through it doesn’t make life less-than, but undertaking it in many ways makes life more-than. Well, that’s how I feel and I’m sure there are some who will disagree. I just know it’s a singular experience to raise children who start off as little Beans and cannot do anything for themselves—not talk or walk or even turn their bodies over—only to arrive at a day when they can read a menu in a language you don’t understand and warn you not to order the pomegranate.
It’s all rather marvelous.
Despite the 5 am wakeup call on Surf Academy mornings, I am enjoying the experience of being on the beach and watching Beanie become a surf girl. I sit with the other parents, chit-chat, and and take videos when I see Beanie catch a wave. I hope she sticks with it at least through this semester. I’ll report back again on progress over time—of her surfing skills and how she feels about this whole surfing business. We’ll see how it all goes.
Pretty Good Things
Why Oakland Parents Are Flocking to a Chinese-Immersion School
I’ve never thought of Chinese immersion schools as anything more than schools with a language focus. For at least this one Oakland school, though, Chinese immersion is actually a proxy for an academically challenging elite school that’s open to all. From the New Yorker article:
Yu Ming, then, presents a different form of élite academic education. Unlike test-in magnet schools like Stuyvesant or Bronx Science in New York City, Yu Ming does not screen its students, except to insure that a certain percentage of them come from low-income backgrounds. The school is free and open to everyone in the state of California, with preference given to local students. All you have to do for your kid to receive the best education in the Bay Area is put them in a classroom where their teachers will not speak English for most of the school day. But the people who are willing to do that and push for their child to go to a charter school will always be a self-selecting group, regardless of their class or ethnic background.
Keigo Higashino mysteries
Keigo Higashino is a very famous contemporary Japanese mystery writer. His works have been translated into many languages, but only recently have a number of them been available in English. Some of his most popular works are the Detective Galileo and Police Detective Kaga series, a few of which have been translated to English—the publisher is working its way through the two series.
I read mysteries regularly, and many are disappointing—it’s quite rare to find competent writing and satisfying plots, as with Higashino’s books. His stories are also replete with details of modern Japanese life and culture, a nice bonus.