Late Sunday morning I found myself sitting on a long, rounded bench bordering a small rollerblading park in Nanliao. I watched intently as Siaya slowly made her way around the cemented area, proud that she was becoming more comfortable with an activity she had only recently begun to enjoy. On about her fifth lap, she rolled up to me and said that she had something for me. Intrigued, I watched as she reached into her bag that was lying at my feet and pulled out a Chinese exercise book, a pencil and a sheet of paper.
“Write about me while I rollerblade. Or draw a picture of me. Whatever.”
Shocked, I looked at my daughter (She is seven, by the way.) and simply repeated her request. (Or was it a demand?) She reaffirmed the fact that she wanted me to record that moment on paper and pushed off towards the center of the track again. I looked down at the instruments she had just placed in my lap, back up at her, shook my head and just smiled.
I didn’t ask for any clarification and so I don’t know if she had thought that I was bored watching her do laps, if this had been her way of interacting with me while she was exercising by herself or if she had simply wanted to ensure that she remained at the center of my universe. (It was probably the latter of the three.) Nevertheless, I obediently picked up the pencil and began to scribble notes on the paper. I figured I hadn’t written a post in a while so that was as good a time as any to start my blog back up again. Actually, it was the perfect time. Siaya had just handed me that ever elusive spark of inspiration on a silver platter; or in this case on the Chinese book which she had so thoughtfully provided as a board on which to write.
As I started scribbling notes on the blank sheet of paper in front of me, my thoughts immediately drifted back to the reason why we were in Nanliao in the first place; why I had refused Siaya’s request to watch cartoons that morning; why I had insisted that we go outside immediately after breakfast; why I had felt the urgent need to get Siaya outside and exercising.
I started jotting down notes about how I feared my daughter might be lazy and unmotivated to exercise. I continued by writing about how much she had complained the day before about the soreness in her legs and how she had pleaded with us to allow her to sit and rest after having had to endure a long and arduous forty-five minute walk. I began to fill the page with notes about how other kids had been running around the park beside us laughing and playing with their parents while Siaya grumbled and complained about too much exercise. I noted how we scolded her for being so whiny and told her to suck it up. My words rambled on to the bottom part of the paper about my own childhood and how I used to be outside running, riding my bike and playing with my friends every afternoon, never once complaining about sore, aching legs.
And then, before going any further with my wordy rant, I looked up. I’m glad I did. What I saw made me put down my pencil and put a little more thought into what I was attempting to write. At least twenty minutes had gone by since I had begun writing and Siaya was still at it, persistently trying to find a way to get a bit more roll into her steps. The same little girl who had whined for at least twenty minutes the day before about her sore legs had circled that track an endless amount of times with not so much as a peep. Not even to ask for some water. It didn’t take long for me to realize that although the words I had written were not words wasted, they were anything but an accurate representation of the truth.
And so I started to contemplate things without the aide of Siaya’s pencil. I drifted back once again to the day before only this time I focused more specifically on the reason why we had been walking the streets of Hsinchu. Siaya had been tagging along as Rachel and I searched for a new location in which to base our school. For about two and a half hours we had looked for red rental signs stuck to vacant windows, called realtors and landlords and checked out the inside of buildings. Of course, Siaya’s achy soreness had had nothing to do with her being lazy. She had simply been bored. The pain she had been feeling was the same ache that seems to possess my legs every time I go shopping with my wife. I am more fatigued after walking twenty minutes in a mall than I am after jogging twelve kilometers through the city. The only difference between my daughter and I is that I am not seven. I have enough experience to know and understand the repercussions of complaining while my wife is shopping. (See Track 41 – She Will Be Loved.) Siaya obviously needs to learn and master the skills of quiet discontentment.
As I continued to think about what I had written, I soon recognized how unfair and unreasonable it had also been for me to compare my childhood to Siaya’s. Siaya is growing up living in an apartment building on a busy road in Hsinchu. I could write a post on the dangers of allowing a seven year old to roam the streets of Taiwan alone. Needless to say her stepping out by herself to ride her bike or play with her friends isn’t an option right now. Compounded upon that is the sad fact that she doesn’t have any friends living close by and we aren’t in walking distance from a park. Even if I had time to take her to the park after school (Which I unfortunately don’t.), most of her friends have afternoon classes and thus have no time to hang out. Siaya’s only real chance to get out and enjoy the sun is when Rachel and I are able to take her out on the weekends. And when we take her out, she plays.
“And so,” I thought to myself as she finally skated over to me ready to call it quits for the day, “What was my point?” I didn’t have an answer. At the time, I had nothing left to write. I simply helped my daughter out of her blades, picked up the ball we had brought with us and started to play catch with her. We followed that with a small walk to the nearby fish market where we shared a barbecued squid and some orange juice. From there we made our way over to the park where we climbed trees and played on the exercise equipment. She showed off how flexible she was and I proved how stiff I had become. We finished off the morning with a long ride in a paddle boat complimented with an easy conversation about nothing in particular and everything in general.
And what is my point now? To be honest, I am still a little unsure. What I do know is that I need to be a little more empathetic to my daughter at times. I need to do my best to look for and tackle the reasons behind her inappropriate behaviors and look for ways to stop them before they start. I am also positive that my daughter is not lazy. Stubborn: yes. Precocious: yes. Vociferous: yes. A blast to be with: absolutely and positively, yes.
Firework, by Katy Perry, is one of the many songs that Siaya has learned vicariously through my wife and me. She has heard it in the car, on our i-pods or on the radio often enough so that she knows most of the words by heart. It has obviously made an impact on her as I often hear her singing it to herself as she is getting dressed, playing with her toys or just bumming around the house. I just hope that she is listening to the lyrics she is singing and understands how true they are of her. Then again, the mere fact that she pretty well instructed me to write this post shows me that she is well aware of the fact that she is and always will be a firework.
Firework youtube link: