If I Had To Do College All Over Again

Since we’ve been talking about college so much, whether about missing it or getting into it, I thought I’d share what I would do differently at college if I knew then what I know now. (Of course, some of you know how I freak out about alternate timelines so this is only in the case that my current timeline wouldn’t be affected because if my action were to erase my three beautiful babies I would just GAH!!!)

Anyhow, my mild hysterics aside, here are some things I would change:

1) Study. I was a smart kid in high school and got by with minimal studying and relied mostly on my smarts. Unfortunately, what I failed to realize once I got into UCLA was that EVERYONE who got into UCLA was smart so I wasn’t anything special. Therefore, the students who actually studied would do better than the smart but lazy students. Futhermore, no matter how intelligent a person is, smarts are meaningless in the absence of actual knowledge. My being smart was useless since I didn’t have ANY knowledge about physics or advanced microbiology.

2) Change majors. I had this weird idea that being “Undeclared” was a highly laughable situation for hippies who wanted to “find themselves” and had nothing but contempt for them. I mocked people who kept changing majors but in reality, it was a case of “the lady doth protest too much.” Why was I so hung up on being consistent and faithful to a major that I didn’t really understand what it was when I chose it? I was sixteen years old when I applied for college. (I didn’t turn eighteen until my second year at UCLA so I was nicknamed “Jail Bait.”) Why would I expect my sixteen year old self to know ANYTHING about majors and what they entailed?

I don’t really know what I would’ve changed my major to. I knew pretty early on that I no longer wanted to go the Pre-Med route but was too afraid to tell my parents since I had convinced them to let me go to UCLA on account of UCLA having a great medical school. I was worried that if I changed my major, my parents would tell me to transfer to Cal (which was far too close to my parents’ house for my liking).

It’s not that I didn’t like Microbiology & Molecular Genetics, it’s just that everything was so SMALL and required a microscope. And looking into microscopes make me nauseous because of the constant changing depth of field when going back and forth between the microscope and my lab book. It made me motion sick. I should’ve taken that as a sign.

However, looking back, I would’ve liked to switch to Chemistry (I found that endlessly fascinating but was terrified of Physical Chemistry so I chickened out) or Psychology (too bad I thought it was such a pseudoscience at the time). Or Asian American Studies (which screams, “Hire me”) or Business (I didn’t want to take more math). And now that I’m older, perhaps even Computer Science (at the time, I didn’t even understand what programming was – just that I wasn’t some geeky Asian dude who played video games all day or the fact that my father said I wasn’t smart enough to do it).

3) Get a job. Technically, I had a job as a Program Assistant my senior year but I didn’t really do anything and am surprised I kept my job all year long. I didn’t know how to do interviews. (I showed up to an interview in glasses, barely combed hair, a thermal long-sleeved shirt, and torn jeans. I also marked that I had a misdemeanor because I thought a speeding ticket was a misdemeanor. One of my friends who was really good at her job was completely appalled that that was how I showed up. She coached me so I could actually get the PA job.) I didn’t know how to write a resume. I didn’t have confidence that I could do anything at all – so having a low stakes job in college would’ve been really helpful. However, I was convinced my parents didn’t want me to work and focus only on my studies, so I never asked. (Sense a theme, here?)

4) Be less self-righteous and rigid with my beliefs. Granted, I graduated when I was twenty so as a teenager, I thought I knew everything. I was convinced that I had being a Christian all figured out and that my parents were total hypocrites and Pharisees (when really, so was I!) and was such an ungrateful little shit. Besides, it’s really easy to be all “Jesus loves everyone and we should give all our money to the poor” when you have never worked an honest day’s wages in your entire life and had everything handed to you on a silver platter. (I went to UCLA during the dotcom boom so we were pretty flush.)

5) Not be so obsessed with boys and being in a relationship. How many hours of my life did I waste on drama with boys? GAH. So stupid. I mean, don’t get me wrong. Some of the boys were fine people. (Many were not.) But how sad that I focused so much of my self-worth and time on boys instead of myself? LAME.

6) Pursued interests other than my Christian Fellowship. I loved my Christian fellowship (InterVarsity). I learned so much about Jesus and most of my conviction about social justice came from them. However, they were not the only things I loved or cared about. I wish I had taken the lead role in a musical my senior year instead of turning it down. (I said it was because God wanted me to spend more time with non-Christians on my floor, but really, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to memorize all those lines and songs and would fail in a spectacularly public way.) Instead of letting InterVarsity take over my entire life, I wish I had the strength to pursue other interests without bowing to the pressure (whether intentional or not) to do EVERYTHING InterVarsity.

Sadly, like so much of my life, much of my decisions in college were influence by fear. If there is one thing I am realizing my blog is about more and more, it’s about living a life without fear. Who knows what I could’ve become had I not been so afraid of my parents, my self, or other people’s opinions? Alas, I will never know. But it definitely encourages me to live my life NOW without fear.

What would you do differently?

The Myth of Meritocracy

ETA: Apparently, this post has attracted a lot of attention. (Much to my surprise although Hapa Papa has graciously mocked me with, “Do you NOT know how the internet works?”) At any rate, if you are new to my blog, might I kindly steer you to my Site Disclaimer & Comment Policy? You don’t have to read it, but you are responsible for adhering to it. I don’t mind if you disagree with me – that is totally your right. Just like it is my right to not allow any personally insulting or attacking comments. Free speech is guaranteed by the government, not my blog. 

When Hapa Papa and I were first dating, he used to mock me for using big words in common, every day speech. He told me that I was being an elitist and that no one normal could understand me so I should stop showing off. I was greatly offended. I told him, “I had twenty SAT words drilled in my head every week from the 7th grade through Senior year in high school. I read over a hundred books a year. These words are a part of my vocabulary. What the hell were YOU doing in high school? Didn’t you study for the SAT?”

Hapa Papa just shrugged and said that he took the SATs once during his senior year. He didn’t study for it. Didn’t really know he could study for it. He just showed up to take the SAT his senior year. His parents had never spoken to him about college other than telling him he couldn’t go to an expensive one. He assumed he’d attend a community college or something like that. His parents didn’t encourage him to go to college. (ETA: For those of you who are new to my site, Hapa Papa is half Japanese and half German. I am Pro SCA5 even at the supposed detriment to my own children.) He knew nothing about college applications. No counselors told him what to do. He only took one AP class (he can’t remember which subject: English or History) and applied only to one school, Cal State LA (CSULA), and got in (along with some scholarships). That’s it.

I was astounded. More like incredulous. I thought his parents and school were horrible.

“They didn’t tell you anything? You didn’t study at all? You just, ‘showed up’ one day to take the test?”

“Yep.”

“Did you go to school in the inner city? Are LA schools really that bad? How is it possible you did not know ANYTHING?”

My sheltered little brain couldn’t conceive of a world in which the parents and teachers did not provide a united push for the sole goal of getting their kids into college. The thing is, Hapa Papa actually went to a pretty good school in LA. (The school where they filmed Grease.) College just wasn’t a big deal for him or his parents. Even now, I still have trouble processing this fact.

This scenario of his would have NEVER occurred in my family or my friends’ families. NEVER. As in IMPOSSIBLE. ZERO% chance.

By the time I was in 7th grade, the next six years of my educational life were geared solely to get into college. I had tutors. Bought SAT books. Took as many AP classes as possible. Joined extracurricular activities in order to look good on my college applications. Took summer school for “easy” throw away classes so I could make room for more AP classes. I had piano and voice lessons. I was in choir and marching band and the Colorguard. Took the SATs (both the original SATs and then the SAT I and II) multiple times in multiple years. Took PSATs. Took assessment tests for the standardized tests. Took multiple AP tests. Went to college fairs and information sessions. Our classes were geared to getting us into as well as succeeding at college.

All my friends were like me to varying degrees. My best friends made up the top 5% of my class and I rounded it out, the dumbest of all my super smart friends. And even then, my weighted high school GPA was well over 4.0. (I’d tell you the exact number but I really don’t remember.) College was NEVER not an option.

Another time, we were hanging out with Hapa Papa’s CSULA friends, (who incidentally, were mostly Latino), and they started reminiscing about college. Wanting to contribute to the conversation and bond with them, I started talking about the dorm life and how the cafeteria food was amazing and like restaurant quality when I realized his friends had all fallen silent and just kind of gave me a blank stare. Embarrassed, my voice petered out and never finished what I had started to say.

Later, Hapa Papa gave me shit for being completely tone deaf to the situation. His friends worked through school and either lived with their parents or in the super cheap fraternity house. Their dorms weren’t fancy and they didn’t have amazing restaurant quality cafeterias. He called me a spoiled little rich girl. I felt foolish and ashamed.

I remember a Latino friend at UCLA telling me how angry he was when he realized just how different his schooling was from the majority of other UCLA students. He felt constantly out of place and kept thinking he didn’t deserve to be at campus even though he was in the top of his high school. He had started to think he was stupid and slow at picking things up when he realized it wasn’t because he was stupid. It was because the other students had ALREADY learned these subjects in high school and were taking them again for an easy “A.”

I remember a black friend at UCLA who was clearly smarter than me, worked harder than me, came from a similar socioeconomic background and completely deserved to be at UCLA and yet, people always assumed he got in because of affirmative action. Even back when I was at UCLA, a time before Prop 209 killed affirmative action, at most there were one or two black students in my classes of three hundred. There were so few black people on campus, even though the student population in the late 1990s was approximately 35,000, they knew all the other black students by sight if not by name.

Where am I going with all this?

This past week, I have seen many of my Asian friends post “No on SCA5” on their Facebook feeds, linking articles on how the bill is racist and discriminatory and how it is a new version of the Chinese Exclusion ActSCA5 would repeal provisions of Prop 209 and allow the State of California to deny an individual or group’s rights to public education on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin. In layman’s terms, SCA5 would re-allow CA to use race as admissions criteria for UCs and CSUs. Basically, to re-allow affirmative action in UCs and CSUs.

According to UC data, the UC’s 2013 freshman class was 36% Asian, 28.1% white, 27.6% Latino and 4.2% black. At some campuses, including UC San Diego and UC Irvine, Asians are more than 45% of admitted freshmen this year. As of 2010, Asians made up only 14.9% of CA’s population.

If SCA5 passes and UCs and CSUs want to increase Latino and black student populations, due to the immutable properties of math, Asian and white student populations will decrease. And since Asians make up the predominant group, it is highly likely Asians would be the most affected. Understandably, many people (especially Asians) are up in arms over this.

I get why my Asian friends are angry and upset over SCA5. When I was applying for colleges, I remember debating whether or not I should tick off “Asian” when applying. After all, that could hurt my chances to get into school. And now, if SCA5 passes and isn’t repealed, when it comes turn for my children to attend university, their chances of getting into their colleges of choice will also be impacted.

It doesn’t seem fair. Why should blacks, Latinos, and heck, whites, get my kids’ spot just because of their race? They should work hard, get good grades and EARN their way – just like the rest of us.

But what is fair? On the surface, merit-based ONLY (the status quo) seems fair. But is it?

I want meritocracy to be true. I don’t want to admit that I did not get to where I am by myself – that I had help. But truthfully, I did. I benefited from tutors, better teachers, schools, and environment. I grew up without the expectation of violence. I had trusted advisors (who had already gone to college) show me what I needed to do in order to get into UCLA or similar institutions. Many of my extra-curricular activities were possible because my family had enough money so that A) I could do these things and pay for the materials they required and B) I wouldn’t have to work because I wasn’t expected to contribute to the family income.

In addition, I grew up in an environment where attending college was the rule not the exception. Being Taiwanese and the daughter of two MBA graduates makes it assumed that I would make good grades and go to a good school. Whatever you think of the “model minority myth,” society constantly reinforced the idea that I was smart, great at math and sciences, and would likely become a doctor.

I want to believe that I am singularly awesome and responsible for my success. I don’t want to believe that the black or Latino student who didn’t get into UCLA likely could’ve gotten in and done BETTER than I had they my advantages. Who wants to think that of themselves?

But when I honestly look at myself and my work ethic (or complete lack thereof), if situations were reversed and I was in an environment where succeeding at school was considered being a “race traitor” or I had few examples of academic success or all of society was telling me that I could only be successful as either a rap star or an athlete but never an intelligent human being and that I was most likely a thief, a thug, or a drug dealer and going to be knocked up at fourteen or incarcerated, I really don’t think I would have the mental fortitude or personal strength to overcome all of that. 

Even just from the anecdotes I included at the beginning of this post, without doing any research at all (which also backs up what I am saying), it is evident that there are huge differences in student backgrounds.

Money, neighborhoods, schools, race, and cultural expectations make it impossible to have a level playing field. 

Obviously, not ALL blacks and Latinos grow up in poverty. That is clearly false. However, at 12.6%, Asians have half the poverty rates of Latinos (23.6%) and African Americans (24.2%) in California. (Whites are at 9.8%.) So, even though not ALL blacks and Latinos have to overcome immense hurdles, many do. Besides, I’m not worried about the rich and middle-class black/Latino kids. They would get into the UCs and CSUs without affirmative action. But this helps blacks and Latinos who may not have the same grades (especially weighted grades) or access to AP classes, tutors, etc. and had to overcome overwhelming odds to get the opportunity to attend school.

Furthermore, even though Asian households have the highest median income in America, that fails to distinguish between different ethnic groups with different histories. When divided up by ethnicity, the majority of economic and academic success is concentrated in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Indian Americans. Cambodians (14.6%), Hmong (16%), Laotians (13%), and to a lesser extent, Vietnamese (26.1%), have college graduation rates lower than the US national average (28%). Additionally, one in five Hmong and Bangladeshi people live in poverty.

These are the Asians most likely to be hurt by SCA5. (Not the vast majority of Asians who are protesting on Facebook.)

There are no easy answers. There are limited spots. But sometimes, people in privilege have to give up some of theirs in order to allow other people a seat at the table. That is the burden and responsibility of being in a “majority” or in a seat of privilege. And in this case, I would consider Asians to be in the majority since they occupy a huge portion of spots at the UCs and CSUs.

Remember, Asians benefited greatly from the advocacy and rights of blacks and Latinos. We benefit from their fights for racial equality yet rarely do anything to help out their causes when we could. We Asians think that we achieved all our successes by ourselves when we wouldn’t even be in the conversation if it were not for blacks demanding their civil rights. We can’t have our cake and eat it too.

How hypocritical for Asians to demand opportunities in situations where we clearly benefit but not offer others that same opportunity where we would NOT benefit? Where would we be in other areas (bamboo and glass ceilings) if many whites did not give up some of THEIR privilege? Where would we be if blacks and Latinos had not fought for equal opportunities in employment, housing, and education?

Though much of our personal successes are due to our hard work, how much of that would have mattered if our rights were not secure in the first place? We Asians forget that we stand on top of the backs of our black and Latino friends as they paved the way and fought for our right to be here. 

What good does it do us if we succeed at the expense of blacks and Latinos? Who will come to our aid when we need it? (And believe me, we will need it.)

We are too afraid and pinning too much of our hopes and dreams on getting into certain schools. The truth is, there are so many opportunities out there. It SEEMS like a zero sum game where there is one pie and fuck it we’re losing some of our slice to blacks and Latinos. But in reality, our kids who would succeed at UCs and CSUs would succeed in many different schools. They will be fine. There are SO MANY pies. (Mmmm… pies…) UCs and CSUs are NOT the only game in town. There are many ways to succeed.

We do not need to fear.

Ultimately, is SCA5 fair? I don’t think so. But until I see Asians rallying with equal fervency against the unfairness of impoverished schools, the many Latino and black kids in underperforming school districts, living in areas of violence, drugs, broken families, and hardship, which, unsurprisingly, leads to it being much more difficult to do well in school (especially if you may be the first kid in your family to go to college), I am going to vote Yes on SCA5.

Suggested Reading:

Top 5 Anti-Affirmative Action Myths About SCA-5

NY Times: Asian Americans in the Argument

Civil Rights 101

14 Important Statistics on Asian Americans

Poverty in California

Reflections on the Rise of Asian Americans or Don’t Believe the Hype

Intelligence Squared Affirmative Action Debate (Hat Tip: Andrea Lee)

Myths and Realities of Affirmative Action for College Bound Students

Minorities and Whites Follow Unequal College Paths

A New SAT Aims to Realign With Schoolwork

Rainbows and Genocide

‘Cuz God is a killer from the start
Why you think Noah had to build his ark?

Heaven, Ice Cube

Everything I ever learned in Sunday School about Noah’s Ark involved cute little animals marching up the plank onto a giant boat. Oh, and of course, 40 days of rain, rain, rain and crows and doves and olive branches. And rainbows. Pretty, pretty rainbows. And perhaps some passing mention of flooding the world to the point where everyone died except for eight people stuck on a boat.

Wait, what?!

God kills almost every person on the planet (not to mention all the animals and plants) and we Christians teach it to kids with catchy songs because it has cute fluffy animals and boats and stuff?

I find that really inappropriate.

In a related vein, my kids’ Sunday School teachers are going to hate me.

It doesn’t bother me that everyone dies by God’s hand. It bothers me because we gloss over hard parts of the Bible, Disney-fy a Grimm story, and put a pretty bow on it with a nice banal song to boot. Maybe even add a talking animal friend.

Basically, we lie to our children about God and His story and one day, they’re going to read the Bible for themselves and hit Noah’s Ark and say, “What the flying fuck is this?”

And not just Noah’s Ark. The Bible is page after page of completely messed up stories and people that challenge us and make no sense sometimes, and often bring up more questions than answers about God and His infinite mercy and wisdom.

Don’t think the Bible is that edited when we teach our kids? How about the raping of Dinah and her brothers killing all the men of the offending tribe when they are recovering from circumcision? Or David committing murder so he can cover up adultery and knocking up someone else’s wife? Or God commanding the Israelites to kill all the people – women and children included – in their skirmishes as they invade another people’s land to turn into their own? Or the tenth plague of Egypt where the Angel of Death kills every single first born – including babies and toddlers (which I have a huge problem with)? Or when Abraham whores out his wife, Sarah, to various kings because he is too cowardly to claim her as his wife?

I mean, this barely scratches the first few books of the Old Testament! You could say, “But that’s the Old Testament! God was different and full of wrath!” To which I reply, “Oh, God changes personality then? He is inconstant and schizophrenic? That’s comforting.”

But let’s say you’re right. What about the cozy, heartwarming stories from the New Testament? Like when the lovely baby Jesus is born and King Herod massacres all Jewish baby boys under two or three? (Kinda like with Moses.) Or that delightful, kid-friendly crucifixion – the basis of the Christian faith? Or John the Baptist’s head on a platter because King Herod lusted after his grand-niece/step-daughter (let’s not even get into the incest!)? Or Ananias and Sapphira being struck dead on the spot for lying about how much money they got for a plot of land?

We Christians give our kids such sanitized Bible stories that when they inevitably find out the truth by actually reading the Bible, our kids are totally unprepared for the brutality and hard questions these stories raise. At best they will think the Bible has no relevance to the real world and at worst, they will think the Bible a pack of lies. We rob the Bible of any teeth and power by serving it diluted. We do an immense disservice to our children when we “clean up” and serve God and the story of His people in palatable bites.

The Bible is NOT palatable. The Bible is not easy. The Bible is not safe.

The reason, of course, is that God is not palatable, easy, or safe.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver […] “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis [emphasis mine]

Why are we so afraid of teaching our kids the unedited stories of the Bible? Is it because we secretly don’t believe that God is good? Or that God is big enough to handle our questions and doubts? Or maybe we are too lazy to think about these things at all? Because if we did think about what the Bible actually says about gossip, the poor, money, and grace, we would actually have to change our way of life?

I realize no parent in their right mind wants to discuss after Sunday School why it seems okay for God to kill babies or what adultery means. But that’s our job as parents. I don’t want to talk about drugs or sex or race with my kids, either, but I will because that is my job as a parent. To frame and put hard things in context. To equip my kids the best way I know how even if eventually they decide that my values and faith will not be their values and faith.

For me, that is the hardest thing. To trust that God will take care of my family and kids even if they reject everything I teach them. That even if I do everything “right,” there is no guarantee of safety or shelter from suffering. That life is like the stories in the Bible: messy, complicated, and sometimes, really screwed up.

Yes, life has beautiful and grand moments. It’s easy to think God is good then. But as we all know and experience, life is not always lovely and wonderful.

If we only cherry pick the good parts of the Bible and God, how will our children know to cleave to God when life spirals into the grimiest shit? How will they respond to the seeming disconnect between “God is good” and the world they see with their own eyes?

This is why I get so mad about Sunday School stories as they currently are. They paint a lie of the world – that if we just believe in God, everything will be shiny and full of ponies! That God makes everything better and rewards good little children. That only pillars of faith make it in the Bible – not real humans.

But that’s NOT TRUE. It is a lie.

The truth is, “[God] causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45, NIV) That no matter how faithful you are, sometimes, prayer doesn’t work out the way we want and families split up or friends die of cancer. That despite all our good intentions, babies starve, women are raped, and children are sexually enslaved.

It is a fallen and broken world in which we live. The same fallen and broken world in which the Bible and its characters and the story of God’s people take place. I’m not saying that Sunday School should be a depressing experience, but it should at least sometimes reflect reality and not a Pollyanna view of the world. Sunday School should be a safe place for equipping our children to examine and question what the people do (as well as how God responds) in the Bible. Sunday School should not only be a place for our kids to learn about the Bible, but to learn how to grapple with the tension between the hope and promise of a new kingdom, and the temporary reality of pain and suffering in this world.

This sounds great in theory, but I have no idea how to implement this with my own children. They are young, yet. Plus, I doubt I will ever find this type of Sunday School while my kids are still eligible to attend. *sigh*

What do you do with your kids? How do you explain suffering and hope in an age-appropriate manner? For that matter, how do you approach religion and faith in your family? Let me know in the comments. I’m looking for ideas I can blatantly steal. 🙂 Cheer me up, please!

How Am I Going to Send 3+ Kids to College?: Money Series Pt 1

The thought is terrifying from a monetary standpoint. In about twenty years, I will have three children in college AT THE SAME TIME. Talk about poor family planning (from a paying for college standpoint). And if I do end up having four kids, I will have three kids in college for at least 2-3 years IN A ROW. They’re on their own for grad school, man. Geez.

You’ve seen the numbers. From 1985-2011, college costs rose 500%. (I don’t even want to know what it will cost me in fifteen years when Cookie Monster starts college.) As for loans, I suppose I could have my kids take them out, but have you seen the statistics? Plus, all that brouhaha right now about student loans and interest rates and how I know people who are my age who are STILL paying off student loans (both for undergrad and grad school) and how much that hampers them financially.

So what am I to do? If I can help it, I don’t want my kids saddled with debt (at least too much of it). I can’t count on scholarships (especially not athletic) because who knows how smart or hard-working my kids will be? Since my neighborhood is half Indian/Pakistani and half Chinese, I really have no illusions of them being at the top of the pack. (And I’m OK with that. Hapa Papa was nowhere near the top of the pack in high school, went to a state school, and makes SCADS more money than I ever did because he works harder and smarter than I ever wanted to. That’s another post for some other day.)

And no, I’m not going to move to a less competitive neighborhood because really, who doesn’t want their kids surrounded by smart, hard-working kids? If I don’t like my kids’ grades, then they’ll just have to work HARDER, not move to an easier school. (White flight, I’m looking at YOU!)

The only other recourse (in terms of helping my kids with their education costs) is to save aggressively and to save NOW. (Of course, they can also work in high school – and Hapa Papa has big plans for that – and college, too. Those are absolutely on the table!) This is when it totally helps to be a financial advisor (and to have a mother for one as well).

Here is what we are currently doing and hoping to do so in the future. Hopefully, this will help you, but I do realize that I may be in a different financial situation than you and your family so please don’t feel too bad or too smug if you are doing better or worse than we are. There are many ways to pay for school. This is just what I am doing for now.

Disclaimer: I am a financial advisor and own a financial advising firm with my mother. I am not being compensated by any entity or company for the following information. I am ONLY explaining what I do for my own children. If you should so choose to take this advice, please realize that it is not customized nor tailored for your specific situation. I am not dispensing personalized advice for you or your situation. I am not responsible in any way, shape, or form if your investments rise or fall due to market conditions. YMMV. You have been warned.

1) 529 Plans – These are plans that accumulate tax-free and are dispensed tax-free as long as you use them for qualifying higher education costs. The funds remain in our custody and we can switch the beneficiary at any time. (So, if Cookie Monster gets a full ride and doesn’t need this money, then I can transfer the funds to Gamera or Baby3.)

We opened an account for each child as soon as I got their Social Security numbers. I seed it with some money and then contribute about $100/mo per account. I would put more in here, but because it can only be used for higher education costs, I don’t want to put TOO much money in here just in case the kids don’t end up at college or whatever.

2) UGMA/UTMA Accounts – These are just regular savings/investment accounts for my children. I am the custodian but my kids are the ultimate owners when they hit either 18, 21, or 25 (For CA). (I am pretty sure I chose 21.) After that, the money is theirs to do with HOWEVER THEY WISH. Somewhat terrifying, but hopefully, I will have taught my children how to handle their finances well and to make good decisions. I do have to pay taxes on these accounts, but since they’re children, the tax rate is not as horrible.

Any gift cards/checks/cash I received during baby showers, gifts, birthdays, Chinese New Year, etc., I put in here. (In the case of gift cards, I just use the gift card and deposit a corresponding amount into their account.) As with the 529 plan, as soon as I get their Social Security number, I open an UTMA for my kid and deposit a “seed” amount. Then, when they receive money, I put it in their accounts – even if it’s as trivial as a few dollars for a birthday or Chinese New Year. (Usually, I round up and add something on top of it.)

If Hapa Papa gets a bonus at work, or sells some stock grants, or whatever, I will take either all or a portion of it and apply it equally among the kids. If we happen to get a really nice financial gift from family, I do the same. Whatever “extra” money that comes our way, I will always consider putting it in the kids’ accounts. (Unless, for some reason, we need to replenish our emergency fund, our IRA contributions are coming up, or property taxes are coming up, I usually put some in the kids’ accounts.)

Also, any time there is a new baby, I will not only seed money in the new baby’s account, I will also add some money into the older kids’ accounts. Not as much, of course, but some.

3) Aggressively pay down all other debts. That’s pretty self-explanatory. We paid off our mini-van last year ahead of schedule thanks to a stock grant, and we pay extra on our principal for our mortgage every month. Every now and then, we also send in a fat chunk of a bonus or severance or stock grant to pay down the mortgage principal even more. Our goal is to pay off the mortgage before Cookie Monster starts college. We are very lucky that currently, our mortgage is our only debt. This may change if we have to buy a new car later down the road or if we have to get a bigger house when the kids become teenagers.

4) Save aggressively for our retirement. This may seem strange to include as part of the kids’ education savings, but it makes perfect sense to me. The more we save now, due to the time value of money, the less we will have to put away when we’re older and much closer to retirement. In other words, when the kids are in college, we will not have to be scrambling any more than usual to come up with money both for college AND for retirement. The retirement money (barring some horrible economic downturn AGAIN) will already be there.

5) Have the kids work. My parents paid entirely for my education and as a result, I don’t think I took it very seriously. I have been coddled pretty much all my life. Hapa Papa, on the other hand, had some scholarships and worked his way through college without any substantial help from his family. I would like my kids to have something in between.

My current plan is to have the majority of tuition and board as well as some “fun” money for my kids covered. I will give them a monthly stipend and if they run out, they’re out. If they need more money, they can work for it. Also, Hapa Papa is thinking that some day, he’ll start his own consulting firm and farm out work to the kids. He’ll pay them and yes, they can spend some of that money, but a good portion of that will be forced into their college savings account so that they will also pay for their college in that way.

This, of course, is the highly speculative portion of my plan. The kids obviously cannot work now. (Such slackers! Their fellow Chinese kids are making clothes right now! Lazy bastards.) We have no idea if Hapa Papa will ever open up his own shop. We don’t know if college will even be relevant in the future (although, likely yes). But that is our plan for the moment.

I know that we are very fortunate to have so many options. Many folks do not have enough money after necessities to set aside for their kids (let alone for themselves). I would say in terms of priorities, take care of your daily needs first, then emergency funds, then retirement, then kids. No one will give you a loan for the first three, but the last one, there are plenty available.

Again, when I think of all these resources I have available for both myself and my children, I am overwhelmed with gratefulness and guilt and relief. We always want the best for our children – no matter what our circumstances. So I have no doubt that the folks who cannot provide as much for their kids would OF COURSE, do so if their circumstances allowed it. Ultimately, money is important, but there are plenty of children who grew up without a single financial want who have huge holes in their souls due to other unmet needs.

Hrm. Didn’t mean to get all Hallmark on you there. I just know that because of Hapa Papa’s job, we are able to provide much for our family without too much hardship. It isn’t fair; I’m sorry. My only hope is that we can be generous to others as well as ourselves.

Non-negotiables in Parenting

Every parent has a set of non-negotiables for their kids. Some more than others. I have very few because I am ultimately, a really lazy parent. It also helps me not to have an apoplexy every time my kids don’t do something the way I want it.

Here are my main non-negotiables (of course, I may discover more as both I and my children grow older):

1) Breakfast – They MUST eat a good breakfast (99% of the time, it is plain oatmeal with milk). The rest of the day may be shot to hell with snacks and stubborn toddlers refusing lunch and dinner and wanting only cookies, but dammit, they WILL eat a good breakfast.

2) Cleaning Up – Before my kids can pull out another toy, they have to put away what they’re currently playing with. Sometimes, the rules get lax when I’m tired or there is a playdate at my house (because can you honestly enforce that with 10 children running amok in your house?), but ultimately, I make my kids clean up their mess. Otherwise, it’s Time Out! (My Facebook friends can attest to my children’s constant Time Out statuses.) This avoids my house looking like a tornado tore through and prevents foot injuries from Legos and small dinosaurs.

3) Learning and using Mandarin – I try to speak to my children 90% of the time in Mandarin Chinese. It’s easy right now since their vocabulary needs are right in line with my abilities. But I do admit, I never knew I had to look up so many trucks and animals in Chinese (thank goodness for the iPhone app!).

I know it will just get more and more difficult to enforce when the kids get older and their vocabularies and interests expand. This is why I go out of my way to enroll my kids in Mandarin Mommy and Me classes, Mandarin preschool, (all provided by the awesome Po-Wen of Fun Learning Mandarin), Mandarin Language Playdates, buying Mandarin DVDs of shows, etc. I’ll likely also sign up Cookie Monster for Chinese School (12+ years of Saturdays gone – just like that!) next year when he is old enough. I am thinking of signing him up for some more Mandarin classes with other teachers as well.

If I were more hardcore, I would ban the kids from watching any shows not in Mandarin, but since I value expediency and convenience more than watching Chinese DVDs, I totally suck at this. I make the kids listen to Chinese songs and stories on CD and try to speak Mandarin and surround myself with Mandarin speakers as much as possible. But of course, we live in the real world and that will be harder and harder – especially when Cookie Monster goes off to Kindergarten in two years.

Sadly, Gamera speaks a lot more English than Mandarin, but she does understand both very well. She is also starting to speak more Mandarin so that makes me happier. Unfortunately, this is the consequence of being a second child. Cookie Monster pretty much ONLY spoke Mandarin until 18 months or so (and then I ruined it all by letting him watch copious amounts of TV and YouTube). Now, Cookie Monster and Gamera pretty much converse only in English. (Broken, Fobby English, but English nonetheless.)

When I read bedtime stories to them, I usually simultaneously translate the stories into Chinese vs. reading them in English. This does unfortunately ruin the rhythm of many children’s books, but I don’t feel bad because Hapa Papa obviously reads these stories to them in English so they’re not missing out on too much. They get both! I have a feeling this will fall by the wayside once the books advance. I’m not THAT good. hahah. Fortunately, I have a decent amount of Chinese books that my mother either saved for me, or that I have purchased – so I have that going for me.

As you can see by the length of this non-negotiable, it is SUPER important to me. I may have resented being sent to Chinese School for my entire K-12 life and missing out on so many Saturday morning cartoons and perhaps the opportunity costs of sports/arts/etc., but now that I’m in my mid-thirties, I am incredibly grateful to my crazy parents for sticking to it for so long.

And that, my friends, is the end of my non-negotiables. I think I have so few because it takes so much energy to focus really, really well and enforce them. Obviously, I have other rules, etc., but these are the things I MUST do every day. Other things can slide or fall by the wayside occasionally, but these things, I am adamant about promoting. I think that’s the only reason it’s stuck for 3.5+ years so far. After all, I am pretty flighty, and other than my goal of having four kids ~22 months apart (3 down, 1 to go!), this is the only thing I’ve ever consistently accomplished.

Ok, your turn! What are your non-negotiables? (And perhaps, why, if you are so inclined to expand in the comments.)