Saturday, July 14, 2007

Zoe's Kindergarten Graduation

Another milestone for Zoe – kindergarten graduation! And who would have dreamed, five years ago when she came home with me, that she’d be graduating from a Chinese kindergarten?! It’s quite an accomplishment for this little girl who was dropped in this place 5 months ago, unable to speak a word of Chinese!

It wasn’t quite what I expected as a graduation, though. It was more like an end-of-year class party. There were no mortarboards, no robes, no “Pomp & Circumstances.” In fact, very few of the kids or parents made any effort to mark the occasion with fancy clothes of any kind. So Zoe really stood out in her “grown-up dress” specially chosen for the occasion. (Of course, Maya insisted on a “pretty dress,” too.)
We got to the kindergarten early (so I could have time to stop sweating and change into a dry shirt!), so we helped with chairs and balloon decorations. The kids ran around like banshees (what exactly is a banshee, anyway?!) while the parents jockeyed for a good seat.

The ceremony began with announcements in Chinese – I just clapped when everyone else did! And then each child was called up individually to make a personally prepared speech. I had NO idea that was expected, no one told me. Zoe left her seat in a panic to say she couldn’t do that, and I told her she could just say, “Thank you, Teacher, good bye, friends,” (I could understand that much in most of the kids’ speeches) in English, and that would be fine. But she categorically refused. But she wasn’t the first to refuse. Soon kids were fleeing to their parents in panic, other kids were standing in front of everyone holding the microphone and staring like the proverbial deer in the headlights. Some would squeak out a few words and then stare at the floor or ceiling as if the rest of the speech was written there. And a few hams gave their memorized speech with professional flair.

I thought this part of the program would never end – there were 38 kids after all. And the MC (one of the moms from the class) was not merciful with the kids who stood without saying a word. She let them twist in the wind FOREVER before accepting the inevitable and ushering them off center stage. But with all the kids who wouldn’t go up at all, this part was much shorter than I anticipated!
The kids then sang a song as a group, the lyrics of which said something about teachers, friends, thanks, and goodbye.
I could barely catch Zoe in any of the group activities, because she always headed right to the back row. Once, when all the head swaying worked out just right, I finally managed to catch a glimpse of her there!
She was still upset about the expected speech-making, and I’m afraid that ruined most of the ceremony for her.

BTW, you know our image of strictly-disciplined Chinese kids, acting like little automatons, especially at school? Well, not a bit of it was evident there! During all the speech-making and refusing-to-make-a-speech activity, the kids were up and down, out of their seats, fighting with each other, playing with each other, and neither parents nor teachers did a thing about it. One mom did pull her son away from a fight, but he got mad at her for doing so, so when he was supposed to play a piano duet with another boy, he sat at the piano with arms crossed and refused to touch the keys! It was all pretty funny, I thought, especially since my two girls were behaving like angels for a change!
Soon the MC was speaking again, and I could understand “Jin YiLing’s mama” – that’s my cue! They asked me beforehand to lead the children in an English song. Well, Zoe apparently didn’t think I’d heard my cue, because she came running up to me saying, “That’s you, Mama, they want you to sing!” She tugged me out of my seat and then pushed me to the front of the room, to everyone’s hearty laughter. I had the kids sing “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” In fact, we did it 3 times – the kids love it when I have them sing it “slowwwwwwww.” And then we sing it “fast,” which they really get a kick out of.

The parents seemed to appreciate the performance, and I was presented with a gift to say thank you. (As per Chinese tradition, I did not open the gift then, that’s not considered polite. When I unwrapped it at home, it was a lovely wooden comb. I love the English description of it:

Regarding the dye craft of it, CaoMuRan is made by picking herbaceous plants,
extracting their natural juice, treating the juice with great care in teens of
process: wash, bleach, dye, grind, solidarity its hue, add the fragrance,
polish etc. These process then can make the natural hue of plants made
into CaoMuRan reappear.

Attention: CaoMuRan is forbidden to
wash with warm water and hard brush, so as to maintain its natural beauty and
I THINK it’s telling me that it’s plant-dyed wood, and it is pretty and it does have a flowery fragrance.)

There was one more class song, in Chinese, and then there was a break for games. One game had the kids blindfolded and trying to pick out their moms from a line.
Zoe pulled me up for the second round, and I figured she’d pick me out easily since my shape is fairly distinctive in a group of petite Chinese women! Well, she didn’t want to leave it to chance, so she kept peeking out from under the blindfold. So I managed to trick her – I switched places with the mom next to me at the last minute, and Zoe made a bee-line for her. It was all we could do not to laugh when Zoe clutched her and realized almost immediately it was NOT her mom! Still blindfolded, she got me on the second try, and when one of the teachers tried to redirect her to another mom who is kind of plump, in an effort to fool her, she refused to let go! Zoe says this was her favorite part of graduation.

In the last part of the ceremony, the teacher gave each child a Chinese dictionary, and a memory book with group photos of the class and photos of each child in the class. (We were asked to bring 37 copies of a picture of Zoe “doing something fun,” and we brought one of the pictures of Zoe with a panda. So that’s what’s in everyone else’s book.)
The book also has a report card (I think) with checks in various columns next to various descriptions. I have no idea what any of it says. Zoe did either very well or very badly – almost all of her checks are in the first column. With Chinese being read right to left, I have a feeling that first column is not an A!

My favorite picture is the one of Zoe in the front – her official “graduation photo,” which was taken a few weeks ago at school. Here’s a photo of that photo:
My goodness, it doesn’t take much imagination on my part to see her in 12 years, grown into that gown and hat and graduating from high school, or in 16 years graduating from college, or in 19 or 20 years graduating from law school or medical school, or getting her Ph.D. . . . Heady stuff, these graduations in miniature!


mimifrancoise said...

What a hoot! Was the ceremony in her classroom? I am not surprised Zoe would not speak for the parents. She is really not a ham if she does not know the people. I bet you had fun leading the songs in English. Does that mean that the girls are not going to school anymore?

Sophie's Mom said...

Congratulations Zoe! What an incredible experience. I enjoy your blog so much!

Anonymous said...

I don't know if I could do
all that walking in that
heat. Zoe happy graduation!
We'll all go into withdrawals
when we can no longer follow
you adventures in China.
Are you going to continue giving
us updates on the girls when you
go back stateside? elizabeth

Allen said...

"My goodness, it doesn’t take much imagination on my part to see her in 12 years, ... or in 19 or 20 years graduating from law school or medical school, or getting her Ph.D."

I think you just sound like a Chinese parent. A law school or medical school? Oh, well. Now we have one more competition from Texas. I have truly enjoyed your blogs. I initially came here in the hope of getting more information on Xiamen from some Americans' perspective to share with my kids because they have been wanting to learn more about daddy's background. Your effort and sacrifice in raising Zoe and Maya has been an encouragement. Keep up the good work. May you have many more memorial moments with your daughters. BTW, our kids are a little bit older than yours. They go to a Wesleyan school for their K-12 education. So go Wesleyan!!!

mimifrancoise said...

Of course you know that I think that "our" girls are amazing. I KNOW that they can become anything they want. They have the intelligence and family backup they need to succeed in anything they want to the sky is the limit. Will they go to Rice University, your old Alma Mater? We are now counting the days till you get home.