Home > FTIAT, Guest blogger > FTIAT: What I Didn’t Realize

FTIAT: What I Didn’t Realize

Crystal (Can you hear me now?) and I first exchanged tweets about author Sonya Sones, who was then very new to me but had long been dear to her. Our Twitter conversations continue, but they’re supplemented by blog and email discussions as well.  Through these I have been given glimpses into a mind whose great–and utilized–capacities are equalled by its bearer’s heart.

I long believed that wisdom could only come with age. Crystal is an excellent reminder that the truth might perhaps be better stated as, “Greater wisdom may come with greater age.”

Recommended post: STARBURST.

What I Didn’t Realize

I know that TMiYC has a lot of parent readers and bloggers, so I’ve decided to share my parents with you.

My parents were of the “tiger mom” type. They immigrated here from Asia (I won’t say any more lest I get in trouble with my computer tech dad), so were brought up in very strict households. As such, they had many expectations of us. My brother and I were expected to become successful doctors, fluent in the three dialects of Chinese that our family knows, get our Grade 10 Piano certifications, be consistent honour students, get into university and maybe go for a second degree, learn the violin, become black belts in taekwondo, be good kids… just short of being child prodigies. On top of that, being the oldest meant that I was expected to be a role model for my little brother.

I resented all of that. It’s true that I am fluent in three dialects of Chinese. It is true that I am now attending the “Harvard of Canada.” It’s also true that I know how to play the piano, violin, and trumpet. I was a consistent A student in high school, and was at the top of my game when it came to interacting and networking with people, as I was the head of the debate club. I never got my black belt, but my physical skills were never that high a priority to me or my parents after a couple accidents over the years. I fell short of being a child prodigy because I never really excelled in anything, but in my head something told me that I should try to be one because it’s the right thing to do. Being good at everything wasn’t enough. I needed to be excellent, maybe even perfect. It’s the thing to do, if not to ensure my future success, then to make my parents proud of me. And I resented it. I resented learning Chinese when I didn’t want to learn it in school. I didn’t want to go to piano lessons, and I absolutely hated taekwondo, even if it was for the exercise. The only thing I truly enjoyed doing were the things I chose to do for myself, which were joining band class, debate club and learning the violin. Even when I was good, above average, they still pushed and pushed and pushed. They were strict. They were tough. They believed that it was the only way to make it easier for me in the future. My mom kept telling me and my brother that they were pushing us because it’s for our own good, and over the years I’ve come to accept it. I didn’t quite understand it, but I took it to heart every time I felt like crap when my dad told me my best wasn’t good enough.

(In some ways, the last paragraph isn’t the best representation of my parents. I remember the controversy that was Tiger Mom, and I would like to make it clear that my parents, and Tiger Mom herself, are not cold-hearted beings. In many ways it’s a cultural thing, but I won’t go into it here. I did have fun times growing up. My parents did let me play, but only after I was done homework and practice, which is what every teacher and educator have been telling us to do.)

Eventually it became clear that I wasn’t going to be valedictorian or debate champion. My parents became satisfied that I am trying my best, so my grades went from being “not good enough” to “just what I expect from you.” I was active and constantly talking about things (my dad and I would sit and watch PBS science programs or the news and talk about it), so it’s not because I wasn’t smart, I just didn’t show it in my grades. It was with that acceptance that I entered university. I was hoping that I would finally be able to shine and accomplish something, pave a road for myself. My parents had the same hopes and it was with those sentiments that they sent me across the country to university.

University was nothing like the place I imagined. I had questionable roommates, and even more questionable grades. But I took it all with a grin because, hey, it’s college. Crazy things happen freshman year, right? I’ll just try harder. And I did. I tried harder and harder and harder until I couldn’t take it anymore. I was getting sick with flu, from stress, humid weather, and too many people around me. I still pushed through, and managed not to completely drop out of school, though the dismal GPA was enough to make me consider it. First year flew by, and second year rolled along with even more trouble than the first. My would-be roommate ditched me, with no apartment, a week before school started. I was running around trying to find a place while school was piling on lecture after lecture, all the while commuting an three hours a day to get to and from school from my grandma’s house, with unaccommodating night labs to boot. I was sick again, this time with terrible colds that kept me from classes for a week. I became homesick. I felt lonely.

On a cold October night, I broke down and wondered why the world sucked so much with as much teenage vigour I could muster. When I finally let the dam break, I couldn’t stop. It was a rush defeat, shame and disappointment that came out, but just from me. From my parents came concern, worry, and unconditional love that I had never realized my stoic parents could show before that moment.

Not once did my parents push me. They would only sit quietly while I cried over Skype, tell me it will be alright soon, and that they are always there for me. My dad didn’t say that my best wasn’t good enough. My mom didn’t tell me that the whole shebang was all for my own good. They never once told me to be better because I have to be; instead they told me to be better because they know I can be. I just need to hold on.

In the 19 (at the time) years I’ve been alive, never once had I broken down in front my parents because I’ve always been afraid that they wouldn’t like it. Maybe I was afraid that it would show them that I’m not good enough, not smart enough, not talented enough, not gifted enough. It was only after that night that I realize that they never once believed that. My parents have always believed that we have the potential to be better than what we are now. My dad’s motto of “Each generation is better and stronger than the last” is really the fuel that spurs my parents to keep trying, keep pushing. Now that motto is helping me get through my hard times.

This guest blog is supposed to be about being thankful. I am thankful to my parents. Not just for raising me and taking care of me, but for pushing me when I was young, and believing that I am, can and will be better. I want to thank them for being naggy and annoying. I want to thank them for sending me an overnight care package of homemade curry and laksa, my favourite foods, for Thanksgiving, because I have midterms right after and can’t go visiting my extended over the long weekend. I want to thank them for always treating me like an adult-child, asking for my opinions in politics and household finances, while still worrying if I have enough money to spend, enough food to eat. I want to thank them for listening while I cried, and keeping the “I told you so” comments to a minimum. I want to thank them for being frugal, just so my brother and I can each have a Gameboy so we can play Pokémon to our hearts’ content. I want them to know just how important they are to me. This long read isn’t enough to justify how much I want to thank them and how much I truly love them.

Through this post, I wanted to share how I grew up, and help parents out there know that it’s okay to push their kids once in a while. They’ll eventually realize that it isn’t because you’re trying to be mean and old-fashioned, but because you truly believe that your kids are better people and you’re just trying to get them to see that. I’ve started to unknowingly push myself to be better, to set goals, and make myself fulfill them. I think we have to go through the terrible teens (which may be even worse than terrible twos) in order to see how important our parents are.

It may be twenty, thirty years before I have my own set of teenagers to argue with, but I will make sure they know that everything I do, from grounding them to making them practice piano, is for their own good. It may be traumatizing. It will be hard. There will probably be lasting aftereffects, but as parents and kids, the only thing we can do is try our best to accommodate and understand that at the end of the day, we all want the best.

It’s been two years since I’ve left high school, left home, left life as I knew it, and since then, I’ve come to realize just how important my parents are. It took me 20 years, but I don’t think it’s too late.

last The Thankful Writer: A Guest Blog About Gratitude | A Moment of Claritynext

  1. October 21, 2011 at 5:51 am

    What a beautiful and powerful post–and amazing wisdom for someone less than half my age. If only I could have been so insightful when I was 20.

    Thanks for sharing from your heart, Crystal!


    • October 21, 2011 at 8:37 am

      Thank you Kathy! To be described as insightful is one of the best compliments I’ve ever received. I am very glad you liked the post. 🙂

  2. October 21, 2011 at 5:54 am

    I am kind of in love with your parents!!! You should seriously rent them out. 😉

    What a touching, well-written tribute piece. I’ll bet they are over the moon proud of you.


    • October 21, 2011 at 8:45 am

      Rent out my parents? Oh man! Imagine all the consent forms and waivers that would need to be signed… “Not liable for clean room.” I guess we’ll need Deb to help us write up those contracts, eh?

      Thank you so much for reading this. I hope that every parent gets the chance to be proud of their kids.

  3. October 21, 2011 at 6:01 am

    What a brilliant and touching post – I hope your parents get to read it. x

    • October 21, 2011 at 8:47 am

      That’s actually something I haven’t decided on yet! I’m not sure how I can give to my parents without feeling very awkward… That’s the remnant teenager in me talking :p

      Thank you for reading!

  4. October 21, 2011 at 6:02 am

    This was wonderful. Thank you for sharing your parents with us. As a mom of two young kids, I have a feeling the teen years will be a trying time for all of us (to say the least). After reading this, I have a better appreciation for the hard job of parenting. No doubt your parents are doing something right to have raised you to become such an insightful, intelligent and respectful woman.

    • October 21, 2011 at 8:57 am

      Remember: No matter how bratty your kids will be (coughitotallywasntcough) they will come to realize that grounding them isn’t your way of ruining their lives. My parents always said “Do you think we’ll even bother if we didn’t care about you?”

      I’m happy that you got something out of this. Thank you for reading!

  5. October 21, 2011 at 6:25 am

    Among my favorite quotes lies the wisdom of Maria Rilke Rainer ““Live your questions now, and perhaps even without knowing it, you will live along some distant day into your answers. “ Wonderful post. What a lovely Thanksgiving gift to your parents even if you can’t be there. Clearly you carry them in your heart.

    • October 21, 2011 at 9:00 am

      That quote sounds like something you hear lots of parents say: “You’ll understand when you’re older.” It’s very true! One of my favourite sayings is “Let time tell its tale.” It’s only when you’ve mulled over it, thought about it, forgotten about it, lived it and let it age (like a good wine) that you can fully appreciate its depth and meaning.

      Thank you for reading and commenting!

  6. October 21, 2011 at 7:59 am

    Crystal, although I’ve heard bits and pieces of this story from you, I don’t think I realized your true emotions until I had read this.

    This post reminded me again of how thankful I am for my parents and for their being the way they are – I think we are all reflective images of our parents to an extent. I believe that one of the greatest gifts a child can give to parents is understanding that they truly love you and care about you despite what seems like nagging and pushing.

    Thank you Deborah Bryan for doing this series.
    Thank you to all the parents out there and thank you Crystal for sharing a very important part of your life with us!

    • October 21, 2011 at 9:02 am

      It’s so strange seeing a comment from you here, especially since we see each other every day (and more)!

      Thanks a lot, Susie, for reading this. We shall discuss more when you come back 🙂

  7. October 21, 2011 at 8:26 am

    There are a ton of self-help books out there on parenting but still, kids don’t come with an instruction manual. As parents, all we can do is our best and hope and pray that we don’t mess up our kids too much.

    What a blessing to your parents, to know that you love and appreciate them, and what they have tried to do for you. And how mature of you, at your age, to recognize that their actions, great, good and not so good, were rooted in love.

    • October 21, 2011 at 9:09 am

      We only get to be kids once, the same way we can only be parents once. If practice makes perfect, then there is no way we can be perfect kids or parents. As you said, we can only hope to do our best.

      Thank you for reading and understanding.

  8. October 21, 2011 at 9:09 am

    Wow, Crystal, you have tears streaming down my face. I hope you’ll share this wonderful post with your parents, because I know your words will mean the world to them. Thank you for your perspective. This post is especially meaningful to me. My daughter is in her first year of medical school. She’s been doing very well up until this past week. Her class recently started gross anatomy and she’s feeling very overwhelmed with her huge workload and she’s also very homesick. She had a good cry on the phone with me last night and I’m praying that she’s feeling better today. I so understand your parents’ philosophy of making each generation better than the last. I have the exact same desire for my children to be better and have a better, easier life than I’ve had. It’s hard to make it without a support system and you have much to be thankful for with your parents.

    • October 21, 2011 at 11:26 am

      Good luck to your daughter! I hope she is feeling better too. There was once a time I wanted to go to med school and, being a science student myself, I can only begin to imagine how stressful it is for her. I’m glad she has a parent to call and gather strength from.

      Since that time in October, I’ve been trying to put myself in my parents’ shoes. How would I feel if my own kids are so far away, lonely and crying, and the only thing I can do is watch and listen? It terrifies me that it is all part of parenting, so I’ve been trying to step up and hunker down in terms of giving my parents less to worry about. Of course, there are still times I feel like my parents worry too much, and sometimes that annoys me. In those cases, I remind myself that they’re doing it because they love me, and that I’m feeling annoyed because I’m grateful and, well, that’s what kids do. As soon as I do, I can’t help but be reminded that my parents love me.

      Your daughter is going to be an amazing doctor, thanks you an amazing mom like you.

  9. October 21, 2011 at 10:19 am

    There’s so much heart and wisdom in this post. I wish I had this much insight when I was your age. You’ll go places, young lady. I also hope you’ll share this post with your parents someday…soon.

    • October 21, 2011 at 11:31 am

      Thank you. I’ve still got a long way to go! But yes, hopefully I’ll go places. Thank you for believing that I can.

      It’s actually been around a year since those events I wrote about took place. Looks like it’s a good time to share with my parents, no?

  10. October 21, 2011 at 10:22 am

    I just wanted to second/third/fourth others above in hoping you’ll share this with your parents, Crystal! I can definitely understand your hesitation since, but I wanted to chime in that this parent is full of love, awe and delight at the mere thought of ever having something about this written by her own child(ren). ♥

    • October 21, 2011 at 11:34 am

      Well… I’m in the process of emailing the links to my parents right now! I figured that it’s been a year since last October (way to state the obvious) it would be a good time to truly thank them.

      Thank you, Deb, for posting this and giving me a chance to share them with amazing people. You’ve got quite a cult following 😀

  11. October 21, 2011 at 12:17 pm

    As a parent of a young woman, I’m glad you sent links to this to your parents. It should warm their hearts to hear it all. I wasn’t as lucky as you in the parent department, and I’ve always wondered what differences there would have been in my life if I’d had parents who could’ve nurtured a sensitive child they didn’t understand. You’re lucky you got the parents you needed, and that you realized it so soon in your life. Your post is a wonderful contribution to this series.

    • October 21, 2011 at 12:40 pm

      Sorry to interject, but this comment really struck close to home. I wish I’d realized sooner just how lucky I was to land my mom. There was a lot of sadness around her mental illness, but I benefited greatly by her experiences being the family’s “black sheep.” It was those experiences that led her to be the mom from “This sorta fairytale,” and the one who–out of her own hurt–did indeed lovingly say that “story’s” words.

      • October 21, 2011 at 5:11 pm

        It’s never too late to realize how lucky you are, just as long as you do eventually. 🙂

    • October 21, 2011 at 5:10 pm

      Thank you. Everything that happens to us accumulates to make who we are right? When friends in the past have told me that their parents weren’t understanding, I would think that that is something we can learn from and try not to do in the future, when we’re in their shoes. Looking back, it might have been a bit naive of me to think that, but the truth is that what’s happened before affects us now. It’s just how we make of it, right? So whether it be “good” parenting or “bad” parenting, as long as we get something out of it we can use in a good way it’s worth it.

      Thank you ever so much for reading and sharing a bit of yourself with us.

  12. John Erickson
    October 21, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    Crystal, my father was always trying to teach me to be “handy” – to build things with my own two hands, to fix and repair just about anything from plumbing to electrical goods to cars. Some of it I liked, a lot of it seemed really dumb. Why build a table when you can buy one already built and finished?
    Then my health crashed, I lost a lucrative job, and ended up a financial exile from Chicago, now in rural SE Ohio. And we really don’t have much money, but we manage a fairly comfortable living. Because I know how to keep our cars running. And how to fix things others throw out. And how to build needed furniture.
    Could my dad foresee that, almost 4 decades ago? No, not at all. But he pushed me to learn these things because he had gone wanting as a child growing up in a single-parent household during the Depression, and he never wanted to see me WANT.
    Sometimes, our parents are just a little bit wiser than we thought they were when we were kids, no? 😉

    • October 21, 2011 at 5:22 pm

      Definitely. They aren’t the boogey monsters that delight is seeing us suffer. They just /seem/ that way. 😛

      I kind of mentioned it in the post, but growing up Chinese was a big part of my day to day life. While other immigrant parents were afraid of their kids (my peers) not learning English because little English was spoken at home, my parents were afraid that my brother and I won’t learn and keep Chinese. It’s hard for them not to learn English in an English-speaking country, they argued. Turns out they were right. I may have hated learning the characters (my own name was particularly hard!) and always mixed up the dialects, but an experience I had during a high school internship completely changed my perspective.

      I was interning in the hospital, helping nurses around the ward. There were a couple Chinese patients and, because I was fluent in two of the most common dialects, I was able to translate and help the patients communicate with the nurses. That summer, I gained a new found appreciation of my culture and language, and I was happy that my parents forced me to keep it up.

      Fact: Parents can tell the future. 😛

      • John Erickson
        October 21, 2011 at 5:28 pm

        Touche. I was hoping to sneak an agreement out of you. Foiled again! 😀

  13. October 21, 2011 at 3:22 pm


    I love this post. Interestingly, i had to do the opposite today. I had to turn down my Tiget Momma to let my son breathe a little. This year, the difficulty level really ramped up for him in school. He felt like he dropped the ball in Home & Careers today (really?) and he literally dropped the ball in gym (seriously?) Poor kid came home and went downstairs to try to practice his piano and came upstairs in tears. He can’t figure out the piece. I ant music to be a fun outlet for him. So I held his hands as the tears leaked out of his eyes and I had to tell him not to worry about it. He is so hard on himself, and he so rarely cracks, so rarely “messes up,” I think all this “failure” felt really big to him today.

    My parents pushed me, so I push myself and I know I push him. As an only, he gets all the expectation aimed at him. So today, I told him not to worry about piano. I plan to call his piano teacher and ask her to select easier pieces because — honestly — he is being challenged enough in the world right now.

    When he has chilled out and the world feels right again, I’ll let her know. But the last thing I want him to do is lose his love for piano or quit because he fears he can’t please his teacher. As far as priorities go, school, bar-mitzvah practice and fencing come first. Music is lagniappe.

    This has been a good day for all of us. Because while I appreciate being pushed now, it would have been nice to know that someone would — maybe — call off the dogs once in a while. I would have liked that.

    • October 21, 2011 at 5:42 pm

      Do you know what’s strange? I grew up as the piano teacher’s daughter, so I know exactly what you’re talking about. Not only have I cried over pieces, but I’ve seen some of her best crack as well. When you just can’t seem to do well at something you enjoy and believe you excel in, it sucks. Plain and simple.

      Selecting easier pieces is exactly the thing my mom did for me too! Fun songs too. Pop songs, playing with the digital piano, encouraging me to compose… those are fun things that kept me in music, and helped me work out my stress. My parents also believed (still believe) that school always comes first, so not take my piano exams, while a slight loss for my mom’s studio, was something my parents supported.

      Good luck to you and your son, and thank you for reading and commenting!

  14. October 21, 2011 at 7:55 pm

    Crystal, this is a beautiful tribute to your parents. You are very wise. It took me until I had children of my own to really appreciate my parent’s sacrifices, choices and perspective. I applaud your insight. Thank you so much for sharing.

    • October 21, 2011 at 8:56 pm

      Thank you for reading! It means so much to me when people tell me that.

  15. October 22, 2011 at 1:04 am

    It’s never too late to share our gratitude and I applaud you for sharing yours… Our parents don’t get a manual when they raise us, and most do the best they can;out of love. You shared your story beautifully and I send you hugs and blessing… same to your parents. 🙂

    • October 22, 2011 at 3:37 pm

      (>^^)> from myself and on behalf of my parents.

      Thank you for reading and for your words. Isn’t it so true? They aren’t perfect, but growing up we can’t help but expect that they are. As you said, doing it out of love is the way they know how.

  16. October 22, 2011 at 6:51 am

    Crystal, this was beautiful! It’s definitely not too late. This struck a chord with me because it reminded me a lot of the FTIAT post I wrote (going up in Dec). Not because my parents were strict (quite the opposite, although they did hold me to a certain standard, especially when it came to grades), but because I shared the feeling of not being good enough, and not excelling at any one thing. It was around your age (I’m 29 now) that I let a lot of that go, and allowed my true self to shine through. So glad to see you experiencing this freedom 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing this with us.

    • October 22, 2011 at 3:40 pm

      College: When old expectations tumble down and new expectations get built. It’s so hard! Especially when you grow up with certain standards that have always been achievable! It’s a cold hard reality that we don’t usually like face, and is the hardest to accept. That’s probably because our own self has always been under our own control.

      I can’t wait to read your FTIAT! Thank you for reading, comment, and supporting me. 🙂

  17. October 22, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    This was an absolutely beautiful post. I’m a year older than you, so I can definitely understand where you’re coming from and the difficulties you went through. My parents pushed me too, in their own way, and I’ll always be thankful for it.

    • October 22, 2011 at 10:16 pm

      It’s such a fine line, I feel. Nowadays, especially. You hear about parenting methods that don’t encourage parents to push too hard, or those stories of kids that were seen to be been pushed too hard (ie Tiger Mom), but without a slight push here and there, we won’t be going anywhere, will we?

      Thank you for reading and understanding!

  18. YvoYeungGirl
    October 22, 2011 at 8:28 pm

    Hey hun,

    I really enjoyed reading this. I guess that’s part of growing up. Definitely attending the “Harvard of Canada” can go both ways when so far away from home. I am so proud of you for putting this up! You have done a great thing posting this up. It’s an amazing piece for both parents and children.

    My “tiger-mom” made me feel like that at times, but then breaking down in over phone really made us understand each other a lot better, that while expectations are there, they don’t need to be unrealistic or unachievable.

    You’re on a role with your writing! Much luck to you, and never stop expressing yourself through words.

    Much Love.

    • October 22, 2011 at 10:31 pm

      I just saw you 4 hours ago! hehehe

      Thanks for reading this. I means a lot to me to have my friends read and enjoy what I write.

      Much love to you too. ❤

  19. October 23, 2011 at 5:01 am

    Great share! And it is NEVER too late.

    • October 23, 2011 at 8:31 am

      Thanks for reading!! *high fives the bat signal*

  20. Ann Bose
    October 26, 2011 at 11:47 pm

    Hey Crystal,

    It’s a one of a kind post when you’re constantly blinking to not shed a tear.
    Never. stop. writing.

    • October 27, 2011 at 3:51 pm

      Thanks, Ann! I don’t plan to. 😀

      Speaking of writing, we need to start our writing project…

  1. October 21, 2011 at 5:58 am
  2. October 21, 2011 at 10:04 pm
  3. October 28, 2011 at 5:31 am
  4. November 3, 2011 at 10:33 am
  5. November 4, 2011 at 5:31 am
  6. January 1, 2012 at 4:29 pm
  7. November 30, 2012 at 6:17 am

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