Raising the Flag

Today when I picked up Jie-jie at school, her teacher told me that they selected Jie-jie for a role in the weekly flag-raising ceremony, that she believed Jie-jie would do a great job, and that Jie-jie said she did not want to do it.

I was surprised that they asked Jie-jie to participate in the highly formal ritual. The children taking part wear special uniforms. The entire school and a great many parents/grandparents attend the weekly event. I immediately sensed the teacher’s bewilderment that my daughter would not accept the honor (that is just not done here), and her expectation that I would be able to change that and produce a child that would agree to take on and later execute her responsibilities without resistance.

I generally try to encourage self-determination in my children – preferring, for example, to influence what clothes are in my children’s closet instead of telling them what they may and may not wear. My desire to avoid forcing them to do or not do anything that does not interest them is balanced by times in which I mandate an action in cases where fear, unwillingness to embrace novelty, and a lack of confidence are behind the opposition (e.g. I almost always have to wrestle Jie-jie into new shoes even though, when the time comes, she will cling to those same shoes when confronted with a new pair).

Is not wanting to be a part of the flag-raising more like new shoes or picking a mismatched set of clothes? What is motivating the opposition? What is the cost of not taking part? What is to be gained from forcing participation?

On the walk home I waited to see if Jie-jie mentioned the flag ceremony. When she did not raise the topic, I began talking around it (e.g. various morning activities at school and how I always enjoyed watching the ceremony). Jie-jie then mentioned that she was asked to take part but that she didn’t want to. I said that it was such a great honor to be asked, and how that meant she was a good student and a good marcher. She should be proud. She agreed but said that she was too shy to do it, and that she didn’t want to talk about it anymore.

We arrived at home, the kids were doing some art before nap, and I looked for opportunities to tell stories about times that Jie-jie and other people she knows were nervous about doing something but then they did it (e.g. dance recitals, being the flower girl in a wedding, etc). When Jie-jie said she would like to be a flower girl, I moved to suggesting that if you were going to look for work as a flower girl, prior work experience in similar jobs involving marching in front of crowds could only help your chances. When that tack failed and the conversation took another turn (toward birthdays), I suggested that Jie-jie’s August birthday was still a bit off, but there would be nothing from stopping us from celebrating other special events, like marching in the flag-raising ceremony.

The kids are napping now and I have had no success procuring a concession to participate. I am supposed to let the teacher know this afternoon if Jie-jie is willing to take part. There may be some merit in making her do it because it is an honor she should accept and it is a slight if she does not. On the other hand, she is only 4, she already sticks out like a sore thumb at school, and she is not typically so articulately against anything. Then there is the practical matter that telling her she has to do it means that she has to be fitted for and forced into a uniform, and behave appropriately during the ceremony if she is going to make good on the promise to take part. Although it is a slight not to accept the honor, I think it would be a scandal not to execute the responsibilities it brings.

I suspect that we will be slighting the school, but I will try a bit more cajoling and some mild bribery before I give up completely.

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