Tears On The Agenda

After three years in an American school, M could not wait to move back into an international school. She had a choice in Vienna. The American International School in Vienna (AIS), or the Vienna International School (VIS). There was no doubt in her young mind. She was going to be a sixth grader at VIS. It was after all the UN school. The sister school of UNIS. United Nations International School. The school in Manhattan that celebrated diversity in both its students and teachers. The school with a playground that had a map of the world under her feet, and she travelled around the globe everyday. Several times a day.

Vienna International School. M thought she was going back to UNIS. And so did I. Until the first day of school.

Like UNIS, VIS had students and teachers from many countries. And because it was a UN school, many of the children had parents working at UN offices in Vienna. There were also many Austrian students whose parents were not connected to the UN.

Unlike UNIS though, not many students came and went. That year, there were only two new students in sixth grade. M and Nicey, an Indian girl whose parents were UN employees.

Everyone was nice to the new students. The teachers introduced them in class. The students showed them around. Everyone wanted to know if they could help. But there was one problem. Everyone had been in the same class since kindergarten. Together for the past six years. Their friendships were set in stone. Everyone belonged to a group, and for the girls, it was the norm to have a best friend. One best friend.

M and Nicey became best friends. They had no choice. They were put in the same class. The two new girls. What could be more natural. They had each other. Just like all the other girls. M liked Nicey. But she was miserable. She was having a tough time adjusting to the new school. Not surprising really. She was pre-pubescent. It would have been difficult. Even if we had not moved. To a new city. A new country. A new school. That is what I told myself.

Vienna. It was love at first sight for M. As we neared the center of the city, the grand circular boulevard known as the Ringstrasse, she felt like entering the land of fairy tales. She was mesmerized by the resplendent imperial buildings, by the massive stone statues, by the red and white streetcar. Everything was just like it was in the pictures. Everything was just as she had imagined. Everything but the new school.

But she liked going to school. She liked learning French again. She liked learning a new language. German.

M went to school from our apartment hotel in the heart of the city. She got on and off the U-bahn, the subway, at Stephansplatz. She passed by the Stephansdom cathedral and its Gothic spire at least twice a day.

She would go to school with Daddy in the morning. VIS was two subway stations away from his office. I would go and pick her up in the afternoon. And as she has done since kindergarten, she would tell me everything that happened in school. From the minute she let go of Daddy’s hand, and walked through the gates, to the minute she saw me in the school hallway.  She always told me everything. Every single thing.

And I loved listening to her. M was a perceptive child, and she was very precise with her narratives. I had a clear picture of what the other girls were wearing. I knew exactly what conversations she had with whom. And I learned what the teachers taught that day. M had an excellent memory. It felt like I went to school with her.

As she reaches the end of her narrative, we would be walking along the cobblestoned street leading to our hotel. And I would be asking her if the day was finally sunny, still rainy, cloudy, or cloudy with a little bit of sun.

I was not really asking about the weather.

M was so miserable during those first few weeks that she cried herself to sleep every night. Very, very quietly. It broke my heart.

Time for Mommy talk about life.

Mommy: M, do you remember the rainy season in Japan?

M: It rained every day. All day.

Mommy: Yes, it did. But on some days, the sun would shine. And on other days, it would be just cloudy


Mommy: And does it rain all year in Japan?

M: No.

Mommy: Let’s just say that you are going through the rainy season right now. A really bad day in school is a rainy day. A little bit of a bad day is a cloudy day. And if something nice happened, it is a cloudy day with a bit of sun. Let’s see what tomorrow’s weather is like.

And as we walked home along the historic streets of Vienna, I would be asking about the weather in school.

It stayed rainy for a while. And M’s cheeks were damp at night. And in the morning, as she put on her shoes, tears would leave small spots on her coat. It broke my heart.

Mommy: M, do you want to go and see what AIS is like? It may be like ASIJ.

M: No.

Mommy: Do you want to stay home from school today? Spend the day with Mommy? Go to Diglas for schoko palaschinken?

M: No. I cannot miss German.

I silently thanked the German teacher.

The autumn wind grew colder. And it was still rainy at school. And my pillow was damp at night.

And then, M made a decision. The decision.

M: Mommy, it has been raining all week.

Mommy: Not a single cloudy day?

M: Um…one…

Mommy: Cloudy with a bit of sun?

M: Maybe.


M: I am going to cry tonight.


M: I am going to cry buckets.


M: I am going to cry very loudly.


M: I am going to cry for the last time. I won’t cry tomorrow.

Mommy: OK.

And that night, M cried. Buckets. Sobbed. Loud. Very loud. And I cried. And Daddy cried.

It stayed rainy at school the following day. And it continued to be rainy for a while. But in our hotel room, it was fnally dry.


14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. mamamouserenovates
    Jan 14, 2011 @ 01:45:13

    Hi! I found your website through the comment you left on one of Amy Chua’s interview. What a beautiful blog you have. I too am from Manila but now residing in Boston, also a stay at home mom to M(as well : ) who is now 9. By choice. And agree with what you said about the time we spend with them, and how precious it is.


    • haha
      Jan 14, 2011 @ 03:08:51

      Thank you very much for visiting my blog. It all started with one essay, my high school graduation gift to my daughter…
      I will never regret my decision to stay at home for her. The seventeen years went by too quickly…
      I was told she will need me less as she grows up, but I grew up with her. I evolved, and learned she needs me just as much as ever…in very different ways…
      I hope you read “Reluctant Role Models”. It is tough being a parent. : )


  2. 3cmum
    Jan 14, 2011 @ 13:41:01

    Found your blog and have read all the entries. You write beautifully. I am an older mum of a 9 and 4 year old in int’l schools in the UK. You are very perceptive!

    Keep up the blog. It could easily become a book!


    • haha
      Jan 15, 2011 @ 04:51:10

      Hello, 3cmum.
      Thank you for reading my blog.
      My daughter attended four international schools. She always cried the day before school started. And because I knew in my heart that she would be fine, I once callously told her that considering she had moved several times, she should be used to it.
      Her reply,
      “I can get used to moving, but it does not mean it no longer hurts.”
      My daughter was also very much my teacher.
      Good Chinese Mother
      P.S. Do read “Unforseen Dividends”. You never know when you will have to face the same request.


  3. Ted Condo
    Jan 18, 2011 @ 14:42:10

    Dear Ms. Good Chinese Mother,
    I agree whole-heartedly with 3cmum’s post: You are a gifted storyteller, and I hope you publish a book on parenting. Better yet, I hope you publish a book on what it means to be a loving human being because that is what you are. Thank you.


    • haha
      Jan 18, 2011 @ 14:47:24

      Thank you very much, Ted Condo!

      I will never get published. Who will buy my book? After all, I am only a mom, but for me, it is the greatest career I could have had.



  4. yew
    Jan 28, 2011 @ 04:00:19

    ^I will buy your book if you ever get published!I agree with everyone..You’re one gifted storyteller GCM..:)
    I’m a teenager..If I happen to be a mom in the future, I’ll be a stay home mom like you..I think motherhood is a very noble and rewarding job..You’re an inspiration GCM. Keep it up..I’m thankful I stumbled upon your blog..:)


    • haha
      Jan 28, 2011 @ 04:06:52

      Dear Yew,

      So sweet of you to say all those things!

      I have no dreams of being published. I am just an ordinary mom.

      And please try not to be a stay-at-home mom. I will never regret being one, but I have advised M to try and balance career and motherhood. No matter how good a mom you are, it is one career you cannot put on your resume should you ever need to work again. I am learning that now…

      You have a lot of time to think of what will be best for you.

      All the best.



  5. NB
    Jan 28, 2011 @ 13:34:53

    Love your stories and writing. I never ever leave comments and this is the first time. I’m a career-driven mom of two precious children who is ALWAYS dealing with “have I made the right choice going back to work?” since the day my little girl was born . I have a 4 1/2 (girl) and a 1 1/2 (boy). I value your stories. I would be the first one to buy your book if you ever publish one. I will be reading/printing out all your articles. You are such a beautiful human being and a very lucky mother of M. Looking forward to reading more…


    • haha
      Jan 28, 2011 @ 15:15:16

      Dear NB,

      Thank you for the very kind words.

      I never thought I would be a stay-at-home mom. I was very happy being one, and I know I will never regret being one, but I have to admit that all throughout the seventeen years, I had M at home, I was constantly wondering if I had made the right choice for my own happiness as a person.

      M once came home in tears after she met by chance a man who knew me in college. This man who was then someone who held a very important job apparently told my daughter that I was a much better student than him. M felt that I could have had the same job this man had, and she felt sorry I had to give up my own dreams for her.

      I, of course, reassured M of my contentment and happiness, but I do tell her as well that I would rather she not be a stay-at-home mom, and that she find a balance between motherhood and a career.

      Like I said, I do not regret my choice, but being M’s mom is not something I can put on my resume when I go looking for a job, and more, and more, I feel that society punishes the women who choose to focus on raising their children.

      I cannot begin to imagine how difficult it must be for working mothers like you. I could not be one. Please continue trying to find the balance that works for you.



  6. Lois Huang
    Feb 20, 2011 @ 01:25:52

    M is very lucky to have you as her mom. I remember moving around a lot when I was young, with my mom being less involved with helping me settle in and more preoccupied with planning for things I didn’t know about. Luckily, I didn’t have to learn as many languages as M, or I might have gone ballistic on my parents.


    • haha
      Feb 20, 2011 @ 17:41:50

      Thank you, Lois.

      We moved every three years. I was one of the very few constant factors in M’s life, and while I was unable to control where we lived, I was able to create the same home wherever we went. I always landed on my two feet running. “Home” was always ready in a matter of weeks, and with me carrying all my recipes, and measuring cups and spoons in my checked-in luggage, M was able to eat all her favourite dishes immediately wherever.

      M and I often discuss the advantages and disadvantages of having been nomads. While we both see how our lives have been enhanced by our vast experiences, the loneliness is undeniable, too. Probably explains why we are very close to each other.

      It would be interesting to compare notes with you.



  7. Student@Intl
    Nov 05, 2011 @ 03:49:45

    Wow! I myself am a Asian American student at an international school in Asia. And I myself, before coming here, went to school in New York City. Brooklyn, though. I find it amazing how responsible your daughter is/was. You are very lucky!


    • haha
      Nov 05, 2011 @ 04:40:16

      Yes, I am one lucky mom! M went to a total of four different international schools. The first few weeks in a new school were always tough. She was always anxious, and quite often, she cried the night before the first day of school. According to her, the good thing about having gone to four schools is that she has four times as many batch mates. In college, she sat next to a boy who was in her first grade class. And on her first day at work, she ran into a girl who was her classmate in fifth grade.

      I wish you the best during your years in Asia. No doubt the experience will work to your advantage in the future.



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