Learning Chinese and a Poopie Diaper

I have been struggling with how to portray how I feel about my return to the Foreign Language Institute for training to top up my very stale Mandarin Chinese. Perhaps my most difficult issue was how to explain how hard this has been for me without sounding like a majorly sad grump. Because I will tell you, I have had some majorly sad and grumpy days.

For example, I had my first tear-stained breakdown. Yep, it happened. Thankfully it did not occur in front of any of my colleagues but rather in front of a member of the Chinese Department staff as I tried to explain my very real fears that I will not pass the Chinese test in January. She was very kind and told me not to worry, which only made me suspect she has no idea how badly I speak Chinese.

I also threw a pen in class. I am not proud of it. I could not help but think later that it while it was probably too mild a throw to make it in to some kind of “Diplomats Behaving Badly” montage, it most certainly was not one of my finer moments. I certainly did not make a conscious decision to throw the pen but after feeling browbeaten to create one too many a Chinese sentence in a grammatical structure I simply did not understand with a limited vocabulary of half-remembered words and phrases learned as recently as 2002…and then having the teacher cut me off two words into my response, I had had it. And the pen launch sequence commenced.

One of my biggest struggles has been finding a time to study. I tried studying in the evenings as C watched a DVD and then after she went to bed. Firstly, you parents out there must be laughing your socks off imagining me trying to study with a toddler in the room. Yeah, it went about as well as you imagine. “Mommy, change DVD, change DVD, change DVD.” “Mommy, snack, snack, snack!” “Mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy…” Secondly, my attempts at raising a jet setting night owl toddler have been too successful and I was too tired to do anything after she went to bed because it was also my bedtime.

Then I decided to wake up early in the morning, around 5 am, study until C woke up around 7:30, take her to child care and then drive on to the training institute for a little more study until class began at 10:40. Except on day one of this brilliant plan I woke up at 5:30 and I heard the sweet little call of “mommy?” at six.


Plan #3 has been to wake up at 5:30, get C to daycare by 6:45, drive to the training institute, arriving around 7:35, then studying in the cafeteria until class at 10:40. I study again for at least an hour in between my morning class and afternoon class. I also listen to Chinese in the car either to or from the training institute. I downloaded some popular Chinese songs and language learning podcasts, burned the textbook and other dialogues to disc, and purchased the soundtrack to Frozen in Mandarin. We are expected at the very least to study for 8 hours a day including our 5 hours of classroom time. This schedule means I can generally manage to get those three extra hours in. This has been mildly successful, at least in relative terms.

Yet every single day I eat a huge helping of humble pie in class and continue to harbor serious doubts about my readiness to test in January.

This morning I set about to take C to swimming class (I have at least followed through with this ONE thing from my “back in the U.S. to-do list”). I got myself dressed and her dressed. I took us out to the car and buckled C into the car seat.

Then I realized I had forgotten my towel.

[Note: I did not bring towels the first day of swim class because I expected, for some reason, they would be provided, and had to run into the nearby supermarket to buy a set of hand towels. I felt like schmuck.]

So I unbuckled C from the car seat and walked back to the apartment to get the towel and then returned to the car and buckled her back in. Only to realize I had forgotten a spare diaper.

So I unbuckled C from the car seat and walked back to the apartment to get the extra diaper and then returned to the car and began to buckle her back in. Then I smelled something unfortunate. C needed a diaper change.

<sigh> I wanted to just pack it in. I wanted to just get C out of the car and give up on the swim class at least for today and maybe forever. There was even a millisecond there I considered I might never leave the apartment again. I took a deep breath and convinced myself to keep going.

So I unbuckled C from the car seat and returned to the apartment, changed her diaper, and then returned to the car and buckled her back in.

We were late for swim class.
But we still got there and were able to participate.

This week my Chinese study has been derailed several times.

Last weekend C had a fever of 102 all day Saturday and 103 most of Sunday. Instead of being a docile and very sleepy sick person she became an extremely demanding one. Not one minute of studying that weekend. <sigh>

I arranged for my parents to watch her on Monday instead of taking her to daycare, so I actually departed home at 9:20 that day, after some haphazard studying in the apartment that morning. <sigh>

Early Wednesday morning, C woke up and demanded food. I mean she literally sat bolt upright in bed at the witching hour of 3:40 am and said “FOOD!” and would not go back to sleep until she had had some “Dora snacks” and a juice. So I let her sleep in a little and departed for daycare at 8 am. Then on the way to the daycare center that morning the low air light came on for my tires. I stopped to have them checked and every single one of them was low. <sigh>

On Thursday C woke up in the middle of the night upset, the fever was back. I gave her medicine but could not get back to sleep as I had developed a terrible stomach ache. So I called in sick and took C to the doctor. I imagined I might get a little studying done but again C would not nap, was extremely demanding, and, as an extra fun bonus, shoved an edamame bean up her nose in the afternoon. <sigh>

Right now I am feeling the best I have about Chinese in the four weeks I have been studying. I have no idea why.

On the drive back from swimming class today I thought the whole episode summed up how I feel I prepare for Chinese every day – shit happens but I AM trying.

That’s all I can do. 


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