I Am Smart

I am smartBy Jae-Ha Kim
January 21, 2014

My son wrote this note for me the other day (with a little help from his dad). After he wrote the first four lines, he thoughtfully added, “I am smart.”

On the surface, it’s an adorable note written by a precocious little 5-year-old boy. It made me smile. But, it also made me think.

The day before he gave me this note, he had Korean school. For four hours every Saturday, my little guy sits in class and tries to understand what his teacher is saying. Unlike my child, all of his classmates speak fluent Korean (as well as English). Their parents — who speak Korean much better than I do — enrolled them in school not to learn Korean, but to retain their language skills.

Although I had every intention of raising my son to be bilingual, the fact is that English is my dominant language, too. As he was growing up, I spoke less and less Korean to him. It was just easier at the time.

His teacher had told me that Kyle is a fast learner with a good memory. Yet every time I’d ask him what he learned in Korean school, he’d say he couldn’t remember. With a little cajoling — and my asking him the right questions (“Did the letter look like a backwards ‘F’ or a capital ‘T’?”) — he’d tell me what he learned.

On this particular day, he couldn’t think of anything (or didn’t want to tell me). And I grew angry. The kind of silent anger that I didn’t voice, but he could sense.

In my rear view mirror, I saw him nervously flipping through his binder of schoolwork containing words that he didn’t understand. He was looking for something — anything — that he recognized so that he could make me happy. And there I was being a shithead.

He’s only 5 and he’s doing so well navigating his way through kindergarten, tae kwon do, chess club and, yes, even Korean school.

I remembered what the school’s director told me when I expressed concerns about enrolling him. I was afraid that he wouldn’t be able to keep up with his classmates. She told me not to worry — that until the children got to first or second grade, Korean school was more to familiarize them with the alphabet and language. It wouldn’t be until after they were older that they would learn to read and write sentences.

I was more than twice Kyle’s age when I started going to weekend Korean school. And my experience was less than stellar. I complained on a regular basis about not wanting to go back.  

My son has complained exactly once, and that’s because he wanted to stay home and enjoy the previous evening’s snowfall. And even then, he perked up when he thought about the delicious Korean lunch he’d get to eat at school and the friends that he’d see.

Kyle is a very good boy. And because he’s advanced in so many ways — tossing around words like “vertices” and “rhombus” (wha?!) — I sometimes forget that he is a young child, whose lesson plans (in kindergarten and Korean school) are so much more advanced than anything I dealt with at a comparable age.

When he gave me this note, he was reminding me not only that he loved me, but that I should love him back, regardless of how smart he is. And, as he pointed out, he is smart.

I needed to hear that. I need to be smarter about the kind of parent I am to this child — my child — who is so forgiving and loving.

He is smart. So very, very smart.

© 2014 JAE-HA KIM | All Rights Reserved

Comments (12)

  1. Richard Lee says:

    Parenting is never easy and we are lucky that children are so forgiving. I really enjoyed this piece.

  2. danedear says:

    pretty sure i teared up as i read this.

  3. Mary says:

    I needed to read this today. I often need to take a step back and think about whether what I’m doing is best of my daughter or me. Love you! Mary

    • Jae-Ha Kim says:

      I agree. There’s a fine line to balance between encouraging and instilling our own wishes on our children. I think it’s also telling sometimes it takes me a while to realize that I am an educated adult who SHOULD know more than a kindergartener. Who’s the baby here? Me. 🙁

  4. Lois Maurice says:

    Parenting is one of the most difficult jobs there is. It is also the most fulfilling, in my opinion. We learn from our mistakes and try to do better. I think we’ve all been where you are. Kids can be maddening, and we might yell at them sometimes but it’s all normal. Your son is a sweetheart. Thank you for sharing this piece. It hit home.

  5. Hanna Garth says:

    Tear 🙁

  6. Irene says:

    Lovely post, Kim.

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