Whole Child Education

Her strength

Sue is a painter.

She holds Bachelor and Master’s degrees in French Plastic Arts. She studied Contemporary Art at Versailles Academy of Fine Arts in France. She is the visiting professor of Nanchang University of Technology. She has held a number of solo exhibitions, and co-authored a photography art piece “The Cemetery is a Poem of Sculpture ” with Professor Zhao Xinshan.

Sue is also a mother.

Both her daughters attend Dipont Huayao Collegiate School (hereinafter HC), with Catherine in Grade 9 and Serena in the first year of kindergarten. Catherine went to the United States to study in junior high school for two years. After she got the offer from her favorite American high schools, she decided to return to China. Not wanting to separate the two girls, and hoping that Catherine could continue with the American curricula system, Sue chose HC after careful comparison and consideration.

The pandemic has lasted for three years now. Sue also had a rather turbulent three years and experienced separation, death, struggles, reconciliation, and reunion…… She still paints while dealing with the necessary daily mundaneness. She used her paintbrush to record the trivialities of life, as well as her daughters’ growth.

Earlier this year, Sue’s exhibition with the theme of “Warmth under the Epidemic” was ready to open, but had to put on hold due to the recent outbreak. We were able to see some of these works, which convey a warm and healing power in the current situation.

When the outside world is in chaos, what can we do as ordinary people? Sue’s experience may give us some inspiration.

The following is based on the interviewee’s dictation.

Supporting My Child’s Decision

When I sent Catherine to study in America, some of my friends said I was “too cruel”, and my family also showed deep concern. How can they not worry when a young girl had to go to such a faraway place on her own?

However, it was Catherine’s own decision to study abroad, and I respected her. I’m a Libra. I have difficulty making decisions and I’m OK with either way. Since my daughter really wanted to go, I would just try to make that happen.

In the fall of 2019, I sent Catherine to the United States, helped her settle down in school and host family, and took Serena to visit her sister at the end of the year. Shortly after we returned, the global pandemic broke out. Catherine had to stay put with her host family when schools were all closed in the US. We can’t go there to be with her and she couldn’t come back to us.

During these couple of years, many things have changed in my life. My best friend, her parents (who were also my godparents), my grandmother, and my father all died in the last few years.

“Parting with life and death” could not describe the pain I felt. I can’t forget how my best friend lay on my shoulder before she died and how I accompanied my father to chemotherapy. Experiencing these, my heart’s desire for affection has also been amplified. I think it’s best for my family to be all together safe and healthy first.

Catherine had already got offers from all four American high schools she applied for, which were all very good schools. We did spend time to make comparison and decisions and we even paid the tuition of the first academic year, but in the end we decided to give up the offers.

Catherine was very understanding. She said, “Mom, I know what’s going on at home, and you can either let me stay here or you can have me back. I’d love to go back home and be with you.” Also, she misses Chinese food: Malatang, hot pot… She hasn’t had a taste of hometown food for two years: how can she not miss it?

Upon a friend’s referral, and after careful investigation, we chose HC. On one hand, we chose this school because it is an all-through school, so we could all stay together. On the other hand, HC’s American curricula system guarantees academic consistency for Catherine. To this day, I still think it was a very good choice.

I was a little worried at the beginning because Catherine entered the school a month later than other students due to the quarantine time after returning to China, but it turned out that she quickly adapted to the new environment as it is very similar to her previous experience an American school, not only academically, but also socially. Recently, many places ask residents to stay put at home. One of her best friends used to be a boarder and Catherine invited her to stay at our place. The two girls keep each other company both for recreation and for studying and they’re all very happy.

Seeing Children’s Inner Strength

In March this year, the original plan was to open my art exhibition, and the preliminary curation work has already been completed. However, due to the recent outbreak, the exhibition has to be postponed.

The theme of this exhibition is “Warmth under the Epidemic”, which is very simple, but also very relevant.

Upon seeing my works, many friends say that they really feel a sense of warmth. This is also my strongest feeling when creating these pieces, to draw the power of existence from the triviality of life.

When Catherine was studying in America, the only person around me who gave me energy was Serena. She wasn’t like adults who would comfort or enlighten me. My young daughter just stayed with me, holding my hand while cuddling me. It felt like I was being charged with hope and warmth.

Therefore, the most frequently seen figure in my works was Serena. To observe, record and feel her growth is a healing process for me. She has some immature yet sincere expression through her painting, which give me a lot of inspiration. I think this is why we call the exhibition “warmth under the epidemic”. Human feelings often are interlinked, especially now. The warmth flowing within each small family is all the more precious.

Serena attends HC’s kindergarten, and now her contact with her kindergarten teachers is all online. Does it drive me crazy? Sometimes definitely. In the beginning, I could not help but getting anxious when she accidentally turned off the iPad, or when she wasn’t able to sit still for the whole session. But gradually, I found that she adapted to the new mode quite well. Her teachers would guide them on how to conduct independent learning while conducting many interesting activities.

Some time ago, Serena’s art teacher Tobi held an online costume design contest and asked all the kids to draw sketches. The top ones would be rated by online votes and the art teacher would find ways to make real pieces out of the winning designs. I really think that level of dedication is very rare. At the time, I posted the voting link to the parents’ group of Catherine’s class, and one mom said, “Serena is everyone’s sister, so of course we should support her.” I was very touched: we are all like a big family.

After Serena started at HC kindergarten, I found that, more and more, she was able to express her ideas with drawings. Both her ability to express herself and her imagination have improved significantly. I think that has a lot to do with the school’s educational philosophy.

She misses her teacher and her school so much that she would watch the video lessons recorded by her kindergarten teachers before. There was a video about rainbow flowers that we have a book about at home which I read with Serena. That night, during Serena’s bedtime reading, she pulled out the book again and tried to tell her own story.

Serena made this drawing a while back, and I thought it was very interesting, so I worked on it a bit more.

Serena saw it and said, “Mom, why is this painting upside down?” Only then did I realize that I had misunderstood her. I got pulled over one time by police with Serena on the bike, and she recorded it with drawing.

This is also a small inspiration for me: children often have a different perspective than adults. A lot of times, we parents may not understand their ideas, but if we give them more patience and have more communication, we would harvest more surprises and results.

Growing with My Children

No one expected that the epidemic would carry on till now.

It’s been a tough time for everyone. There is so much sad news every day. As ordinary people, when you switch on your phone, you would be filled with a sense of powerlessness and disorderness. I also told my three children seriously and candidly that sometimes their mother couldn’t control her temper and may lose it. I understand that they feel annoyed that they can’t go out to play or go to school as usual. Therefore, we should help and understand each other all the more.

I joked that it was stressful with two adolescence, one active kid, and me the “semi-menopause” at home. Serena has a childish but cute description: “Mom, I feel like my mood has been ‘pressed’.”

Previously, before Kunshan was in lockdown, some of my friends have started to hoard supplies. Friends in Shanghai talked about running out of baby diapers and toilet paper, and they reminded me to keep enough supplies of these daily necessities. I thought it made sense and quickly ordered some tissues.

I was in a hurry when placing the order and didn’t realize how much I bought. When I went to pick up the delivery, there were four huge packages of tissues. It was raining heavily that day. When I was walking in the rain carrying those tissues, I felt like an idiot to either hoarding them or not. Thinking about it, I couldn’t help laughing. Sometimes, I consider myself a self-mockery person: I would try to face life with a smile as long as I could afford to.

In fact, I do not have that much experience to share: I guess everyone is the same powerless at a time like this. In the education documentary Childhood Elsewhere, Zhou Yijun said that: in the end, education is not a one-way indoctrination, but to battle the challenges of this era together with your children.

We could only start from small: it’s OK to make a mess when the kids are playing and drawing in the house, but they need to behave and keep tidy when I do the cleaning. I may not be able to cook three meals every day and take care of all of them, so the two older children would help with the cooking. When we’re allowed to go outside in our residential compound, we need to ensure sufficient outdoor activity time, to support our emotional energy……

When I have doubts about the family of origin and parenthood, I would find books to read. Reading professional books like Alfred Adler’s Educational Psychology of Children, as well as stories by Yu Hua and Feng Tang, can really help to untangle some of the knots in my heart and make me more peaceful when spending time with the kids.

I also had the time to watch many classic old movies lately. “Forest” in Forrest Gump and “the Father” in Life is Beautiful still give me goosebumps and fill me with power when I see them again on screen. These figures always cherish the good experience in life even if it is very brief, and use it as nourishment for healing and growth. And these nutrients, aren’t they what we need most at the moment?