Life with Luran

—Happy 1999 (Year of the Rabbit) from Agnes and Jackson!—

January 1999, Long Island, New York

Sometimes a little angel, sometimes a little animal, Luran has made us feel forever incomplete without him. Each day we are amazed at his growth. We cannot believe it has been more than 2 years and 3 months since his birth.

Luran is our first child. Neither of us have observed or participated in the life of a small child before, nor do we remember how exactly we were brought up or what exactly we wanted when we were growing up. The love we give to Luran is what comes naturally from the bottom of our heart. It materializes in the sleepy eyes of the mother and the tired arms of the father. And what we get in return is something much more than we could ever expect. Radiantly happy, affectionate, bright, strong-willed, and full of energy, Luran is a terrific little boy.

"Are Teletubbies possibly coming today?"

Luran’s language ability is probably what often distinguishes him from other kids (especially boys) of the same age. At about 16 months, with only about a dozen productive words, he was already able to identify all the Chinese-chess pieces, which are depicted by Chinese characters, not pictures—Diadia (Hunan dialect for paternal grandfather) would ask him: "Bao3bao, na3 ge4 shi4 ma3? (Baby, which piece is a horse?)" And Luran would precisely point to a piece with the character "ma3" (horse) on it and declare at the top of his voice with 200% confidence and pride, "AH!!" He even ran around the house to invite everyone to applaud for him. After going to daycare at 21 months, his English flourished. Before two, he was producing utterances such as "Mommy get moon right now!" and at 26 months he was repeating sentences as long and complex as "The animals need you to help them get out of the bubbles!" (while playing with Reader Rabbit, a software for children of his age).

Not only does Luran make assertions and requests; he casts doubts and speculations and expresses compliments, apologies and regrets as well. Just about everyday recently, he asks, "Teletubbies jin1tian1 ke3 neng2 lai2 ma1? (Are Teletubbies possibly coming today?)" (Teletubbies is one of his favorite TV shows, along with Barney and The Lawrence Welk Show.) Seeing Daddy shoveling snow, he says "Ba4ba xin1 ku3 la4! (Daddy has been working hard! —an expression in Chinese indicating appreciation)" And he would cling to Mommy’s leg, pull her down to the floor, finger her hair, and say "Mommy hair beautiful!" He teases and jokes too. When Mommy was dramatizing nursery rhythms with exaggerated gestures and funny voices, he remarked sophisticatedly, "Silly silly Mommy." And for a few days he insisted, playfully, "My name are Daddy!"

At two years of age, he masters all English capital letters (and most of the lower-case letters), reads about 40-50 Chinese characters, counts till twenty-one (although skipping 14-18) in English, thirteen in Chinese, and ten in Spanish. He loves to sing many songs and learns most of the lyrics; when he doesn’t, he creates his own (e.g., "Doe, a deer a female deer; Ray, a jumble [drop of] golden sun… Tea, a Jenning Jenning brake—that’ll brake you fax to Doe, oh, oh, oh. [Tea, a drink with jam and bread—that’ll bring you back to Doe]").

At present, Luran speaks English naturally and his Chinese often needs to be elicited. He can even add Long Island accent just for the fun of it, with "dark" rhyming with "dog". We are determined to help him acquire both Chinese and English, but it is easier said than done. It can be a real effort to rephrase his English in Chinese and to be consistent in our own speech. And he is already struggling to resolve the differences between the two languages. For instance, one day he asked Daddy, "What does the train say?" After prompting him to say "huo3 che1 zen3 me jiao4?" (the same question in Chinese), Daddy replied, "Woo-woo!" (that’s how train’s whistling is described in Chinese). But Luran quickly objected, "No no! The train says choo-choo!!" After Daddy explained that trains in Chinese sound like "woo-woo", Luran seemed unconvinced and went to Mommy and asked her the same question.

"Lunar module going to the moon!"

We sometimes wonder what Luran might become when he grows up. Given that he is happy, outgoing, verbal (and verbose), and exhibitionistic, he might turn out a fitting politician or a showman. But he has also shown abundant traits of a scientist. At about 4 months, he looked at Mommy in the mirror, turned around to look at the real Mommy, repeated the process a few times, and smiled big smiles. At around 6 months when he was beginning to crawl on the floor, he hovered over the area under the skylights; it took us a while to figure out that he was puzzled by his own shadow. (Actually one of his first words was "daddow", for "shadow".) At 8 months, he discovered the moon, all by himself. We were taking him for a walk in his stroller when he gazed into the sky and shouted "Ah! Ah! Ah!" We looked in the direction he was looking at. And there was, faintly, a new moon in the serene late afternoon sky! Only after he was given the word "moon" did he calm down. When he got his first tricycle at around 12 months, instead of riding it, he raised the front wheel, lay down on the floor, trying to observe how the wheel rotates.

More recently Luran discovered that Barney has no ears, that the eyes of the white dog in the Elmo Talking Book are missing, that if you keep pressing the answer key you get the computer (computer for little ones) to spell the words you want, that classical Chinese ladies’ dance is but a fancy version of Ring-around-the-rosies (a children’s dance and sing game he learned at daycare), and that Daddy is a boy and Mommy is a "grow" [girl]. Like his Daddy, he becomes totally focused and oblivious when he is thinking of or doing something that grabs his interest. Young though he may be, he can sit in front of the computer (adult type) playing with Reader Rabbit for more than two hours non-stop, forgoing his afternoon snack. One day Mommy asked him, "Bao3bao, ni3 jin1 tian1 da3 dun3dun le4 ma1? (Baby, did you take a nap today?)" He looked at Mommy straight in the eyes and replied solemnly, "Mommy, lunar module going to the moon!"

"Daddy car has a big boo-boo!"

We take pride in the fact that Luran is full of imagination. A little older than one, when he was reading with Grandma a Sesame Street book on Cookie Monster, he would pretend to pick up a cookie from the book, and deliver it to Mommy or Daddy in a different room (and stuff his fingers with the pretend cookie into our mouth). Before turning two, he would open and close a little box that Diadia gave him and say first "Read a book", pretending to be opening and closing the pages of a book, and then "Butterfly", imaging the movement of the box lid to be the fluttering butterfly wings. And sometimes it’s hard to differentiate his imagination from his misunderstanding. In one of his favorite books the fire fighters (depicted as pigs) are trying to save a couple of cats from fire. Hence when he hears the sirens of the fire department, which is not far from our house, he would often comment, "Jiu4 mao1 mao1 (rescue the cat)". Mid December last year, Daddy had a car accident. Luckily, Daddy was okay and Luran wasn’t even at the scene! But Daddy’s car was severely damaged. Afterwards, we told him briefly what happened. He seemed to have understood what we said and drew the following conclusion:

"Daddy car has a big boo-boo! Lady! [meaning a lady hit Daddy’s car] Somebody else fix it. Daddy got a green, blue, and black boo-boo [referring to Daddy’s injured hand]. They towed Daddy car it’s a long time! Somebody else fix it. We’ll drive it back! (Moving his hands as if steering the wheel.)"

"Ethiopia!"

We cannot quite figure out how Luran’s memory works. He would be on his way to the dining room to eat, get distracted by the toy school bus in the living room, and forget all about food. On the other hand, he memorizes that Daddy went to Beida and Mommy went to Beiwai (the acronyms for the universities in China which we attended respectively)—things which are entirely abstract and meaningless to him. At around 18 months, he could easily point out on the globe America, China, Spain (places where we and his two sets of grandparents live), the equator, the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean. That’s before he learned his English alphabet and before he could say the names of these places. Nowadays he can quickly locate and articulate close to 20 countries and regions on the globe, including Ethiopia, Turkey, Sweden, and California. He finds great joy saying these names aloud. (We really didn’t mean to teach him these things except for a few; in most cases, he would just point at a spot which for some reasons interests him and ask us what it is.) But we know he doesn’t read; he reads a little bit of Chinese and really nothing in English except for the alphabet. One simple example would tell. At home he uses a sippy cup. The label on the cup reads "SIP ‘N’ SEAL". One day Luran spelled the letters on the label, "N-S-E-A-L", and then added, "Says ‘milk’!" There was milk in the cup.

"Sit on your bottom!"

In some ways, Luran is unlike either of us. He jumps, runs, rolls, climbs, and never stops, not even when he is coughing and under an asthma attack. He doesn’t use his highchair. He prefers "the big chair" (the regular dining chair) where he can kneel, squat, stand and wiggle. Sometimes he tells himself to "sit on your bottom", a command he learned from daycare. Even during his sleep, he makes 360 turns on the big mattress which we use as his bed—the crib is apparently too restrictive to him and he refuses to go in from very early on. (Sometimes we wonder whether this has to do with the name we gave him. "Luran" in Chinese means "in the manner of a journey". In view of this plausibility, we have decided to name our next child "Yiran", meaning "with peace and grace".)

Whether we like it or not, Luran demands that we play with him. If Daddy is reading a magazine, he would grab it and throw it away. He loves to use Daddy as his jungle-gym, crawling through and around his legs and arms, climbing over his shoulders, and rolling and tumbling with him—something in which he finds immense pleasure ever since he could move. He likes to get the two of us to "stand up, hold hands, sing Ring-around-rosies!" and do the game with him. When he sees us dance, he would join us, holding onto one leg of each of us. One day he pinned Mommy down to the floor, then climbed onto her, proclaiming with a loud voice and a great deal of drool, "I love you too, Mommy!"

There is much much more growing to do, both for Luran and for us. He is yet to actually use the potty, not just talking about how to use the potty. He needs to learn that after Friday it is Saturday and not Monday, and that there is no "xing1 qi1 ba1" (the eighth day of the week). He needs to figure out that when playing hide-and-seek he should hide and wait to be found rather than running out of hiding only after a few seconds. He needs to understand that it takes time to get waffles ready for breakfast and to learn to wait. He needs to learn that it is not okay to throw a tantrum after being asked to clean up the mess he makes. He needs to know that there are more and greater evils in the world than "da4 hui1 lang2" (the big gray wolf—a character often portrayed as the villain in Chinese children’s stories, which he used to pronounce as "da4 fei1 lang2", the big flying wolf). But all this doesn’t mean that we would like him to grow up any faster. We relish each moment we have with him. We ourselves also need time to learn how to parent. We thought we would share the above with you, as a way to thank all of you who have given Luran love and helped him grow in one way or another. Happy 1999!