My mother believed you could be anything you wanted to be in America. America was where all my mother’s hopes lay. She had come here in 1949 after losing everything in China. But she never looked back with regret. There were so many ways for things to get better.
“Of course you can be a prodigy, too,” my mother told me when I was nine. “You can be best at anything.” We didn’t immediately pick the right kind of prodigy. At first my mother thought I could be a Chinese Shirley Temple. We’d watch Shirley’s old movies on TV as though they were training films. My mother would poke my arm and say, “Ni kan” — You watch. And I would see Shirley tapping her feet, or singing a sailor song, or pursing her lips into a very round O while saying, “Oh my goodness.”
Soon after my mother got this idea about Shirley Temple, she took me to a beauty training school and put me in the hands of a student who could barely hold the scissors without shaking. Instead of getting big fat curls, I emerged with an uneven mass of crinkly black fuzz. My mother dragged me off to the bathroom and tried to wet down my hair.
“You look like Negro Chinese,” she lamented, as if I had done this on purpose.In fact, in the beginning, I was just as excited as my mother, maybe even more so. I pictured this prodigy part of me as many different images, trying each one on for size. I was a dainty ballerina girl standing by the curtains, waiting to hear the right music that would send me floating on my tiptoes. I was Cinderella stepping from her pumpkin carriage with sparkly cartoon music filling the air.
In all of my imaginings, I was filled with a sense that I would soon become perfect. My mother and father would adore me. I would be beyond reproach. I would never feel the need to sulk for anything.
But sometimes the prodigy in me became impatient. “If you don’t hurry up and get me out of here, I’m disappearing for good,” it warned. “And then you’ll always be nothing.”Every night after dinner, my mother and I would sit at the Formica kitchen table. She would present new tests, taking her examples from stories of amazing children she had read and a dozen other magazines she kept in a pile in our bathroom. My mother got these magazines from people whose houses she cleaned. She would look through them all, searching for stories about remarkable children.
The first night she brought out a story about a three-year-old boy who knew the capitals of all the states and even most of the European countries. A teacher was quoted as saying the little boy could also pronounce the names of the foreign cities correctly.
“What’s the capital of Finland?” my mother asked me, looking at the magazine story.
All I knew was the capital of California, because Sacramento was the name of the street we lived on in Chinatown. “Nairobi!” I guessed, saying the most foreign word I could think of. She checked to see if that was possibly one way to pronounce “Helsinki” before showing me the answer.
The tests got harder—multiplying numbers in my head, finding the queen of hearts in a deck of cards, trying to stand on my head without using my hands, predicting the daily temperatures in Los Angeles, New York, and London.
And after seeing my mother’s disappointed face once again, something inside of me began to die. I hated the tests, the raised hopes and failed expectations. Before going to bed that night, I looked in the mirror and when I saw only my face staring back—and that it would always be this ordinary face—I began to cry. Such a sad, ugly girl! I made high pitched noises like a crazed animal, trying to scratch out the face in the mirror.
And then I saw what seemed to be the prodigy side of me—because I had never seen that face before. I looked at my reflection, blinking so I could see more clearly. The girl staring back at me was angry, powerful. This girl and I were the same. I had new thoughts, willful thoughts, or rather thoughts filled with lots of won’ts. I won’t let her change me, I promised myself. I won’t be what I’m not.
1.The underlined word “prodigy” in Paragraph 2 is closest in meaning to ________.
2.Why did the mother and the girl watch Shirley’s old movies on TV?
A.Because the mother was a fan of Shirley Temple.
B.Because Shirley Temple’s hairstyle was very popular among children.
C.Because the girl resembled Shirley Temple in appearance.
D.Because the mother wanted her daughter to be a Chinese Shirley Temple.
3.How did the girl feel about the tests she did every night?
A.She felt confident and finished it smoothly.
B.She got through the tests painfully.
C.She failed the tests and began to lose confidence.
D.She eventually sadly found herself ordinary and ugly.