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Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

The Unexpected Joys of Parenting Teens

band-camp/ © F.CHI -

“This would be a good day to rob Ann Arbor,” jokes Shi-yi as she waves to another friend she hasn’t seen all summer, “Half the town is here.”

After a summer of family time, it is quite a plunge back into the cold refreshing waters of school life up here at Interlochen where the Huron, Pioneer, and Skyline bands, orchestras, and choirs are about to perform after a week of band/orchestra/choir camp.

Hao Hao’s friend Samantha just got her phone unconfiscated so she and all the other middle school siblings in the audience are frantically texting their friends, “Where r u?!!” I spot Erik’s dad walking through the crowd and start searching for his mom. Wait a minute, he does not have any older siblings. So why are they here? Could he really be in ninth grade already?
There is Mrs. B, Emerson’s music teacher, following up on her beloved students, as she does every year. A big group of alums—now college freshmen—sit together watching Huron’s band warm up.

I love watching the fluid motion of Mr. Roberts’ body as he conducts the Huron Band. He looks like a dancer from behind, his body a lean serpentine, his arms animated wings, long fingertips spread out delicately, his whole body leaning forward into the crescendos and backing out of the diminuendos, his head bringing in the choir with a nod. This is not how I usually see him, when he is sitting in his windowless office, discussing logistics and fees. This is no mild-mannered teacher, but an artist transformed.

When the audience applauds, it is electric—not the “have to” applause you usually get, but real appreciative applause, cheers and whistles, even standing ovations—these kids are incredible. How did they pull such music together in only five days?

Just when things start to feel too serious to bear, with a pair of stern-faced tango dancers accompanying the choir, the kids in the choir start waving their arms in the air crazily and singing “taa-ta-taa-ta-tatata.” Everyone laughs. They are still kids.

I never knew I would enjoy the humor and light breezy spirit of teenagers so much. When the kids were little, I was so afraid of what these teenage years would bring. So many others seem to give up on this age group as hopelessly lost on Facebook and YouTube and let them hide locked in their rooms. Others discount the Asian American kids as caring only about grades and college admissions. Our time with them is so precious, so short.

My daughter calls home every night, complaining about how tired she is from marching practice and how hot it is. She also forgot her dress shoes, so I bring them to her between warm-up and performance. Surrounded by all the other young women in ever shorter skirts and even higher heels, I expect her to walk over to get her shoes with decorum. Instead, she kicks her tennis shoes off her feet and they come flying out at my head. And she laughs.

© 2011, Frances Kai-Hwa Wang. All rights reserved.

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Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Michigan and Hawaii. She is editor of Asian American Village, a contributor for New America Media's Ethnoblog, Chicago is the World, JACL's Pacific Citizen, InCultureParent and Multicultural Familia. She is on the Advisory Board of American Citizens for Justice. She team-teaches "Asian Pacific American History and the Law" at University of Michigan and University of Michigan Dearborn. She is a popular speaker on Asian Pacific American and multicultural issues. Check out her website at She can be reached at

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1 Comment
  1. CommentsFrances Kai-Hwa Wang   |  Saturday, 10 September 2011 at 5:55 am

    If you’ve ever wanted to eavesdrop on a great teenage Asian American conversation about boys…set to music…check out this music video by Prince Gomovillas and Brandon Patton, taken directly from an Asian Internet Forum, as featured in Hysterical.

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