Lonestar, Lone Yellow Face, Getting Schooled

Every little thing that you do
I’m so in love with you
It just keeps getting better
I wanna spend the rest of my life
With you by my side
Forever and ever
Every little thing that you do
Oh, every little thing that you do
Baby I’m amazed by you

How was this cheesy old song by Lonestar making me catch feelings?

It came on as Ellis and I drove out to another potential preschool for his big bro, while Big Bro was busy at his current school ’til we swooped him up before noon. Maybe I was just relieved and happy that I knew some song lyrics for once or maybe the

“Every little thing that you do
Oh, every little thing that you do
Baby I’m amazed by you”

took a hold of me as I kept looking back at my cutie, tickled by his constant companionship in his ubiquitous polar bear hat and puffy navy jacket on this “warmer” day of the week (high of 30). Growing up so fast. Would definitely be needing a new carseat next month. Mo’ money, mo’ money.

I had just left the open house of the prior school, stuffing the application packet in its nice maroon embossed folder into the back of Ellis’ stroller. Our car, streaked with winter wear, was parked on the street that still showed vestiges of the most recent snowstorm. This song from 1999 came on while my second son cooed and babbled at his mama stealing glances at him from her rearview as we drove away.

All of that coupled with my realization, AGAIN, that my boy was going to start PRESCHOOL this fall. NOT pre-preschool or nursery but PRESCHOOL where, depending on the school, he would be grown enough to wear a UNIFORM to school, like a bonafide little scholar.

I’d been learning about this whole NYC preschool selection process and at first, it was too daunting. Too many choices for preschool and too many factors to consider. I know it’s “only preschool” but that doesn’t mean I can skip the due diligence required to ensure that my son attends a safe, stimulating, fun, nurturing school.

As I drove, I started wondering if my parents could have afforded to take time off from running their store to go on preschool tours for me. Then I realized, WE WEREN’T EVEN IN AMERICA when I was Micah’s age. This blew my mind for some reason as that Lonestar chorus continued to replay in my head: “Baby I’m amazed by you-u-u…”

I attended a couple months of preschool in Seoul before we immigrated to Los Angeles. I vaguely recall standing around in a big circle with a bunch of other kids. I also remember my mama telling me that I wasn’t quite feeling it one day so I walked home during the school day, telling her an elaborate story about how Soojin (imaginary friend) and I were not enjoying school so we decided to come back home.

My East Coast boys were already growing up so differently from their mama. I was born WAY east…Seoul east. They have professional, English speaking parents who take preschool TOURS, not hesitant to ask any questions due to their limited English. Being the most vocal parent during the tour, asking about the school’s general philosophy, daily schedules, and whether our new mayor’s push for more universal pre-kindergarden could affect the upcoming academic year, and teacher-student ratios. Stark contrast from my own parents gathered in a huddle with other Korean immigrant parents after our kindergarden class let out, to group-translate the memos pinned to the back of their children’s shirts.

The second school Ellis and I checked out was comprised of 100% African-American students, from age two through third grade. One wide-eyed little girl said to her classmate, “It’s a Chinese baby!” as she gazed at my boy.

When I saw the classrooms filled with all Black students, I time-traveled back to my childhood, where my brother and I were the only non-Black kids in the neighborhood my parents ran a Chinese take-out store.

I was already a bit emotional after the unexpected Lonestar infection (“Every little thing that you doo-oo-oo…”) but it got cranked up a notch, maybe to Snow Patrol proportions (“If I lay here, if I just lay here…”). I am the first to admit that these songs are clearly the wrong soundtracks for this school tour day but I had no control over the DJ in my head.

The time travel was fast and furious. It had to be since I was a grown woman now, a mama, checking out a school for her firstborn. SWOOSH. Back to the present now.

I took it all in: the blue mesh cots stacked on top of each other for the kids’ naptimes after lunch. Different patterned blankets that each student had brought from home. It was clear how much they loved this place, even gathering around the staff member who was showing me around, repeatedly saying, “Hi, Mr. ______.” A teacher was giving a two year-old little boy some water to drink, the boy draped on her, looking so comfy.

I asked the staff how they thought my son would feel as the only non-Black face among his classmates. They explained that it was a very personal decision for our family but that they welcomed everyone.

The two school visits made me think about how much power we have in impacting our kids’ lives. By submitting a few sheets of paper, we could have him enrolled in school with all Black classmates, mostly Jewish classmates, or about 50% Japanese classmates (what his current class demographics ended up being, though still diverse). That would definitely shape his worldview, just like it did mine.

Ultimately, Kevin and I decided that the schools Ellis and I visited today were not for us. The first school simply did not fit our schedule and we would definitely mind that Micah would be the only non-Black child in the second school. Likewise, we would not want to send him to a school where the student body was 100% or nearly 100% of any race, be it White or Black or Asian.

Looking back, I loved having always attended such diverse schools though I did feel inferior when some of my classmates in the gifted magnet school I was bussed to from fourth to sixth grade were well off, with parents who were so involved in school activities.

I was in shock when I attended Kevin’s high school reunion where we were the only people of color. Well, us, and one Japanese-American dude that Kevin’s classmate had married, and of course, one other classmate actually went up to the dude and yelled, “Kevin!” while draping his arm around him, having to apologize to both repeatedly through the night. Kevin tried to show that he was just as down as me by peppering conversations with “all you white kids….” when a drunk classmate complimented him with what she probably deemed as the ultimate compliment: “Oh come on, KK, you’re as white as the rest of us.” Coming from schools where people of color outnumbered the White folk, it just felt gross. I wanted to open up my tattered copy of Malcolm X and read it near the bar.

And as much as we can help it, we do not want our sons to be the lone Asian-American representative at any school.

Aside from the racial composition of his school, we could end up choosing a school that he just did not like, or a school he absolutely loved. A school with loving staff, or a school with bad seeds. Or a school that just didn’t care enough. Or just a bad fit for whatever reason. Then we would just have to go back to the drawing board.

Education is such a personal choice for families. I just didn’t think too much about it since I didn’t have to when my kiddos were younger.

Of course, education is highly valued in most cultures, including mine, but I’m talking about the different paths parents choose for their kids. Homeschooling, charter schools, private schools, even UNschooling, just for starters. One common point of discussion while shopping for preschools is whether it’s “academic” enough and whether that’s even what you’re looking for. Some folks are certain that there is no place for “academic” among four year-olds, since they will be SCHOOLED for many years. No rush to pressure them into formal instruction. Preschool time should be child-led, letting the child choose areas of interest.

On an instinctual level, that sits well with me. Our dude will only be turning FOUR come November, no need for worksheets or memorizing anything…until I talk to some other mama while double-parked next to each other during pick-up time at Micah’s school, talking about how one school is “only nurturing, not actually teaching enough” or when a parent who moved away from our area tells me that her child is learning SO much more at her new school. Then the hibernating Tiger Mama in me wants to jump out my chest like in “Aliens” and start preparing Micah for his SATs.

“Micah, finish your cereal. You have to feed yourself! Stop dropping your sippy cup! And tell me again, what does ‘tergiversation’ mean? Use it in a sentence before I take you to the potty.”

Or when I’m good about our decision to send Micah to only a few hours of preschool since kindergarden and beyond will be full-time unlike the limited quality time to spend with Mama and Brother…until I hear a preschool director tell me that kids really need to prepare for kindergarden by getting used to the hours in preschool, and acquire “more skills.”

I am not cut from the same cloth as parents who’ve already formed their firm convictions about how to do thangs. I always enjoy chatting it up with others to see if I have a blind spot or if I should reconsider. Even with our choice for me to stay-at-home with them indefinitely, there are many days I waver in the conviction or confidence behind that choice. On the one hand, I’m glad I’m open-minded enough to talk to others and sift through different opinions, taking most with a grain of salt.

I also know that I need to remember WHO I’m talking to, as all opinions do not hold equal weight. Are they the type of parents or educators or people I respect and wish to emulate?

But on the other hand, I’m reminded of what Keith Urban said on American Idol this past week. He said that sometimes, listening to everyone’s critiques and ideas about what kind of singer you should be, can actually drown out your own natural voice/style and make you sing without heart.

I’m sure I have a lot of learnin’ to do as I mature in my parenting over my kids’ lifetimes, but what I do know is that I’m all heart. And when I do get nervous about choosing wrong for them, I’ll have to keep in mind that their mama couldn’t even speak English when she started kindergarden but still rocked the SATs, got herself jobs with zero connections, passed the NY Bar Exam on her first try, and started a blog with a readership of tens of tens.

But I do want them to surpass me in every way. Have more joy and confidence and peace. THRIVE.

I want to do right by them…

Cause “Baby I’m amazed by you-u-u…”

"Mama, you up there by the window again?  Choose a great school for me, aight?  Good lookin' out!"

“Mama, you up there by the window again? Choose a great school for me, aight? Good lookin’ out!”