Insufficient Praise (Flash Fiction #91)

Image by Kevin Phillips from Pixabay

“Can you believe that Arju complains about her daughter Niki all the time? What kind of mother does that? Every time when she talks about her daughter, she would complain: Niki didn’t come home on time last weekend; Niki spent too much time on her theater activities; Niki wears what she likes and doesn’t listen to the sanction of the parents.” Lulan says to Ivy.

Ivy and her husband Tom Tsai are the owners of the Ivy Training Center (ITC) in Edison, New Jersey. And Lulan, a jobless anthropologist, is one of their employees. Ivy and Lulan are talking about Arju, who’s the parent of the 15-year-old daughter Niki and 8-year-old Tony, but Tony is the only one who’s taking classes in ITC.

“But Lulan, every mother complains her teenage daughter. It’s a common thing.” Ivy says.

“But Arju’s complaints are quite out of line. She says her daughter is mean and wanton, almost a degenerate kind of girl, but I just can’t believe that’s true. A good mother, or a normal mother, will not say such things unless the daughter is really …” Lulan says.

ITC’s art teacher Jun comes over and says, “are you talking about Arju Choi and her daughter Niki? My kid is in the same class with Niki, who’s a talkative and vivacious girl. I don’t think that kind of character can fit in with the reserved atmosphere of Arju and her husband. I know there have been big rows over Niki’s outfit, boyfriend etc. Niki is quite a normal Asian American girl in my opinion, but her parents can’t tolerate her behavior. Anyway, Arju has all her hopes and investment on her son Tony. She doesn’t give her daughter much attention anyway. I guess the only attention she gives is her criticism.”

“Tony is a good kid, but his mother’s indulgence doesn’t do him any good at all. I was at their place for a dinner party once. And the boy said nobody should touch the vase that’s on a side table because that belongs to him. He said his parents told him that everything in the house belongs to him. We all laughed heartily but I just think the kid is a little…” Lulan says.

“Look, Arju is parking her car. She is coming in.” Ivy says to Jun and Lulan.”Nobody criticizes Arju. Ok? Nobody criticizes her no matter what she does. And no mention of her daughter either since she’s never going to spend much money on her daughter anyway. On the other hand, her indulgence on Tony is a wonderful news to ITC, isn’t it? Arju’s going to believe anything we tell her about Tony and I want to sell her the art class and the music class for Tony before Christmas. Jun and Lulan, you two need to back me up. Lulan, especially you.”

“I hear you. I tried to praise little Tony several times.” Lulan says.

“That’s not enough. Your praise is too subtle and too real. That’s not enough for a mother like Arju. An insufficient praise is no good. Try to learn from me and see how I talk with Arju.” Ivy says.

“Sorry, I am late. I am usually earlier than this.” Arju comes in, apologizing to everybody even though there’s no need to do that. “Thank goodness the math class is not over yet. Otherwise my little Tony is going to get worried if I don’t show up on time.”

“Don’t worry. Ten minutes to go.” Lulan says.

“Wow, Tony is such a little genius, isn’t he? I’ve never seen a boy with such a big potential. His eyes just shine with intelligence and wisdom that are far beyond his years. Such a talent. However talent is only the start. Without adequate training…” Ivy says. “I am sure Jun will agree with me, right?”

“Oh, Ivy, I know Tony is in good hands when I send him here. He is such an observant boy. The other day he says to me, ‘Mommy, dragons have jaws, claws, and no flaws.'”Arju says.

“Is that called alliteration? I mean how it rhymes. What a poet? Arju, he will be like an Asian American Robert Frost. We have a poetry class in 2022 and your Tony will be a star. Please do not deprive us the privilege of having him here in our class. We’ll be honored to have Tony. And how can you let his talent slip away like this? You will be really an irresponsible mother if you do that. Tony’s talent need to be developed, sharpened, and…” Ivy says.

“Oh, Ivy. Of course I can’t let it slip away. Thank you so much for warning me like this. I will definitely… How much does it cost?” Arju says.

“You know I don’t care about the money. I only care about helping kids. And it’s going to be $800 for a year, but I can give you a discount as you are our most valuable customer. $750 is the price.” Ivy says.

“Well… I am still doing the budget for 2022. You know. I don’t have the budget for this, but Tony’s father can cancel the ESPN and her sister Niki can cancel her field trip. If Tony has a talent, we all want to help him.” Arju says. “Don’t you worry about the money. If Tony has a potential to be explored, I will come up with the money.”

“And we also have a new art class. It looks like Tony likes dinosaurs, right? I mean dragons are one kind of dinosaurs, aren’t they? He should take our art class for sure, don’t you think? Tony, do you like dinosaurs?” Ivy says.

Tony just finishes his math class in the training school and comes to stand by his mother. He’s a smart boy and has no need for extra after-school classes, but her mother wants him to learn more advanced math in ITC so that he can always easily ace his school exams.

“I like dinosaurs of course and here is my new dinosaur app I just downloaded on my cell.” Tony says.

“You like to draw them, paint them, make dinosaur models in our art class?” Ivy asks, with her biggest smile on her face.

“Cool. I want dinosaur. I want dinosaur.” The little boy behaves exactly like what Ivy wishes.

“Is it going to be another $800?” The anxious mother asks.

“That will be $1100 since it includes extra fees for art material, but as usual, I can give you a discount. And it will be $950.” Ivy says.

“Let me see. I think Tony’s father can probably take a second job. I hope I can convince him to do that. Or we can cancel our vacation. Don’t worry. We’ll manage. I will let you know.” Arju says and says goodbye to everybody. The mother and son turn and leave.

After they’ve been gone for a minute, Ivy says, “I expected you two to back me up, but you have been silent. Do you know how hard it is to make a sale? In this economy? With this inflation? Do you think my job is easy? Next time when I ask you to back me up, you really need to say something to help the sale.” Ivy scolds Lulan and Jun.

Jun says, “I was trying to say something, but your exaggerations just make me…” Jun puts her hand on her throat and starts to make a sign of vomiting. Lulan mimics Jun’s gesture and movement–the two end up laughing loudly.

5 thoughts on “Insufficient Praise (Flash Fiction #91)

    1. Haha, Ivy has been working hard on the over anxious mothers for decades. She knows how to praise them. It is very strange that an onlooker may cringe at such a praise but the worrying mothers will lap it up as if it is nutrition.

      Liked by 1 person

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