i know what you mean!

Parents conference presentation

Posted on: April 28, 2014

May’s school, being a co-op, requires monthly attendance parents conferences.  The meetings typically run for just under 1.5 hours, often with the board of director giving updates or asking for inputs from co-op members, some sort of presentation/lecture or other group bonding activities.  I attended about 2 of these meetings last year before Tim was born, and then Son has been taking over since.

This year, with the new energetic board of director in place, there has been some changes, most notably the requirement for family-presentation.  There are about 40-50 families at APS, so the idea is for each family to take turn talking in front of everyone about themselves so that we all know a bit more about each other.  Each meeting would have about 4-7 of these presentations, each lasting anywhere from 3-10 minutes.  Son came home from these meetings telling me that it’s pretty neat sitting through these mini presentations, as this is Albany and we have all sorts of people in our group.  There were butchers, musicians, film producers, bakers, carpenters, pastors,  and then of course researchers, grad students, and lecturers who are affiliated with UC Berkeley.  He then informed me that he had signed us up to present at the last meeting of the year, this being the last year May will be attending APS.  Also the day right before May’s birthday.

Which would explain me sitting at the dinning table in a daze that evening feeding 2 kids some random dinner at 7:40pm, opening the laptop to check for KSH updates just to wake myself up a bit, when, *ding* up popped the reminder that I had set for myself in the i-calendar.  It said “APS meeting at 7pm!”  I ran to Son, who was left caring for the kids all afternoon and was finally taking a bathroom break when I came home a few minutes earlier.

“Son, guess what? I forgot I’m supposed to be going to the APS meeting tonight!”

“What time is it?”

“It’s past 7:30”

“Just go there right now.  I don’t care how late, I’m not going to pay another $60 penalty fee this time!”

So off I ran, showing up for roll call at 7:50pm, 10 minutes before the meeting is official over.

I came right when the parent-presentations were about to begin.  This being the last meeting of the year, there were at least 9 families queueing to present.  As advertised, these presentations were great fun.  There was a family with song-writer and tv producer team of husband and wife.  That guy sang us a song on his guitar and lasted 10 minutes.  Then there were 2 teams of researchers/scientists/academic figures who were cute and witty.  There was a woman who told story of how she picked up her good looking husband in a local bar.  There was a displaced Mexican political activist who is now doing something entirely different, because, “hey, this is not Mexico and I’ve gotta make a living somehow.”  There was another guy I can’t remember what his job title is, but it involved him doing some health related research for his team by going to the most popular bars in town and studying the risky behaviors of youth in relation to pick-up lines and alcohol consumption.  It seems like there is a specific format to these seemingly improv presentations though:  you need at least 1 prop to show or pass around (or both), and also you tell everyone about who you are by way of revealing your and your spouse’s occupation.  Son was cringing because he thinks that what he does for a living is nobody’s business and also has nothing to do with how he should be viewed or identified.  That was the reason why he sent me to this year end meeting after he has been the one to faithfully attend all other meetings.

So here is what I said:

Hello everyone, my name is _______, I’m May Song’s mom.  I think this is my first time attending a meeting for this year, so I pretty much don’t know what’s going on and who many of you are.  I have also missed the memo about ID badge wearing as well as prop requirement – oops.  But then again, I’m operating on about 2 hours of sleep last night because May Song’s birthday is tomorrow, so I’m sorry that only about 1/2 of my brain is still awake. I am typically at home around this time putting 2 kids to bed. Son is my husband, and he was the one who has been attending all of these meetings.  How many of you know Son ?  Can I have a show of hands?

(about 3,4 hands went up, most of them belonging to members of the board, whose job was to know all the families)

Ah, exactly, that’s what I’m talking about. Popular totally.   And I in turn don’t know most of you, probably most of you are seeing me for the first time tonight as well – I guess that’s why Son and I made a great pair – he actually thinks it’s hilarious to make me talk about us in front of you at the last meeting of the year, last year of attendance for us,  probably to see what I have to say besides “Hi it’s been nice not knowing any of you.”… 

… Well, we are both Vietnamese, me by way of Vietnam and him by way of Belgium.  I came to the US when I was 11, and he came after finishing school in Europe at 18, which means his Vietnamese level is probably lower than May Song’s, who is now starting to talk nonsense when I force her to speak Vietnamese at home – ah, this is the thing that ticks me off:  between my husband and I, we can speak at least 4-5 different languages, and before I had kids, I had thought that we would be able to give them the gift of languages.  You’re laughing? yeah? Of course it totally sucked for us.  May Song is barely commanding two languages right now after she has picked up English at school.  It’s just so so hard to make her speak Vietnamese when I’m mentally drained from sleep deprivation and chasing after another kid, so I am always so tempted to just go with English to make my life easier.  My brain just screams “simplify simplify simplify!”  So it’s not even something I can brag about to you because it looks like my kid is not getting a head start compare to some of your kids.  

Oh, and speaking of Vietnamese, even though May Song has been here for 2 years, we have not taught your children how to sing the Good Bye song in Vietnamese, so let me take this opportunity to explain: it’s not for the lack of trying, because believe me, I have spent the last two years attempting and failing to translate this song (they are rolling on the floor now because they think I’m being funny).  I mean, one of the 20 odd jobs I have on my resume includes translating and interpreting, so I’m not even an amateur, yet I can’t do a song that says “good afternoon, how are you, I’m fine thank you, how about you?”  in Vietnamese.  It’s just impossible.  Vietnamese doesn’t have a universal “you” as English does.  In Vietnamese, that pronoun depends on things like the subject’s social ranking, gender, age, relation to the person speaking… it just goes on and on.  So I can’t teach your children to sing “how are you?” to the tune of “Frere Jacques”  unless I just leave the “you” blank, since the song talks to teachers, friends, parents, and grandparents all at once. I don’t want to be irresponsible and teach them bad Vietnamese so that they can embarrass themselves when they go to Vietnam or get beat up.  Another part of the reason for me not doing the translation is,  we already have a preschool song that is sung to the tune of “Frere Jacques” in Vietnamese.  The song is well known in Vietnam, and I myself have learned this song when I went to preschool.  It’s a”goodbye song.”  so here, while I don’t teach Vietnamese to your children at APS, let me sing the “goodbye” song to you in Vietnamese just this once:

chào cô cháu về
chào cô cháu về
mai cháu đến
mai cháu đến
mai cháu ngoan hơn nay nhiều
mai cháu ngooan hơn nay nhiều
xin chào cô
xin chào cô

The lyrics say: goodbye teacher, tomorrow I will return, tomorrow I will behave better, goodbye. So there you have it, the goodbye song in Vietnamese.  And on that note. Good bye!


The presentation ran 3 minutes for me, and either because I have a comedic presence or because they drank too much beer, I had my audience laughing after I said 2 sentences and they kept on laughing until I walked off.  I think part of it is because I have always been very quiet and smiley at all social functions so perhaps people have certain preconceived notions about me, and then I showed up dressing like a high school kid in my aerospostale hoodie and jeans, looking at them with a deer in the headlight expression, and then out of my mouth came things that did not fit my image ?

Public speaking is an odd experience for me.  I both hate it and love it.  I can never feel comfortable or at ease speaking in front of strangers or a large group of people, but at the same time, I experience this sort of out-of-the-body sense where I feel like I’m a puppeteer controlling a body.  I’m not there, I’m fading away, just watching someone else speaking.  And that someone else has things to say that often I don’t anticipate.  And it’s often these unexpected things that have consistently had my audience rolling on the floor.   I forced myself through public speaking classes, acting roles, and leadership positions to confront my public speaking anxiety, but the nervousness is still there and it has always been the exact same energy, never abated or dulled.  My hands are always ice cold, my legs shaking, and my eyes pan slowly from one spot to another, not focusing on any particular person.  When I’m done, sometimes my teeth would even chatter.

I came home and reported to Son that I have fulfilled my mission:  I talked for 3 minutes, entertained everyone and, gave out nothing about what we do for a living or who we really are.


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