Our First Year with Classical Conversations

We had always been entertaining the idea of homeschooling our children, but only last year did we seriously ponder over it.

On one side, there was our extrovert four-year-old who constantly craved for friends to play with, yet unfortunately more and more peers of hers could no longer be found at the playgrounds as they were getting busier with schools and homeworks. On the other side, we wanted her preschool years to be filled with plenty of play and free time instead of academic schooling – as is healthy for a four-year-old, but the preschools that shared our philosophy were just beyond expensive. And then, there were also the reasonable inquiries from the grandparents if their eldest granddaughter would be starting any formal education soon.

The carefree and playful preschool years.

Considering all the above, we concluded that if we were to continue with our education philosophy for our eldest daughter, we would need to find a community of people to do this homeschooling thing together. This we hoped would provide healthy peer interactions for her and also assure our own parents that we were not queerly doing this alone, that we had a community that supported us and a community we were accountable to.

That was how we decided to join a Classical Conversations (CC) community, a Christian homeschooling community that pursues a Christian classical model of education. If I could summarize it simply, classical education is a philosophy of education in which the goal is the cultivation of wisdom and virtue in its students, using the greatest ideas and thinkings of the wise men past as its main resources, learned by its students through three major stages called the Trivium:

1. Grammar stage (where students train their minds to hold huge amount of information by memorization);
2. Dialectic stage (where students learn to make connections between what they have memorized, to build understanding of what they have learned, and to critically question what they learn); and
3. Rhetoric stage (where students learn to synthesize ideas based on what they have learned and present their case in the most persuasive way possible). 

I like to think of these three steps as the steps I take in making a meal: get the ingredients, cook, present. And I think, in essence, almost everything naturally goes through the trivium process, like how my preschooler and toddler memorize my vocabularies, internalize them, and spit them out back at me to their advantage, can you relate? 😒 Anyway, if you’d like to find out more about classical education, you can start here.

So, back to the community, we were really blessed to have found a CC community nearby (with a toddler in tow, I could only do minimum traveling). We met once a week with several families from 9 AM to 12 PM. Our community day always started with prayer, scripture memorization, and national pledge, after which a tutor (CC engages one mother of the families as tutor) would guide the class through:

1. A set of new grammars to memorize (consisting of History timeline, a particular History sentence, Science, Math, Geography, English, and Latin);
2. Fine arts;
3. Presentation;
4. Science experiment;
5. Review of the previous 6 weeks’ grammars.

With so many things going on and so many facts to memorize, it seems rather hefty, doesn’t it? Thankfully, it was not as intimidating as it seemed to be. Points 2 to 5 involved a lot of moving around, games and hands-on moments so they were engaging. Now, for the new grammars memory work, although we used many creative ways to aid the memorization process, I have to admit that the amount of informations needed soaking up were not few. However, we were really impressed with how the children did it quite effortlessly! It’s not mere hear-say, children truly have amazing minds and memorizing comes naturally to them. (Think how our toddlers just copy whatever they hear from their surroundings.) And I was not less surprised to find that old brains like ours – the parents’, could keep up too when re-trained!

Singing and dancing while memorizing the world’s history timeline.

Hands-on science experiment.

One of the Fine Arts sessions – Andrew Wyeth (copying the great master’s painting style).

Science project – Anatomy.

Presentation, a show and tell session for the younger ones.

A CC year spans across 24 weeks, usually with a break every 6 weeks, following the U.S. school year it starts in September and ends in April before the summer break. We have just finished one cycle last April and are loving the long break, but we also miss the weekly meet-ups, especially the fellowship over lunch and the playground time afterwards.

For now, we are keeping the academic side of the learning light for our eldest, and we intend to keep it that way throughout her preschool years (after all, it’s called pre-school for a reason). To us, most importantly her needs for meaningful and extended interactions with peers were met through the CC community. When asked what she liked most about CC, she replied “My friends, of course!” And we are glad for her.

“My Friends”

As for me, I am thankful for a community of very supportive and gracious Christian families. Homeschooling can be a lonely journey, it is tough and is often full of doubts. Having a group of committed people to journey together is truly a blessing.

Looking back, we thank God for a blessed and fruitful year. Looking forward, we can’t wait for September to come!

Learn more about Classical Conversations here.
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“You Are Not My Friend!”

She will say, fold her arms and pout her lips. Other similar phrases she may hurl at me are “I don’t like Mommy!”, “You don’t love me!” and, my favorite, “You are not my favorite person!” The reason? Sometimes, because I do not agree to giving her what she wants, often, because I need to discipline her over a particular offense.

I like this anecdote about parents my generation (those born in the ’80s and ’90s): we are the last generation who listened to their parents and the first generation who has to listen to their children. While it is so relatable it’s hilarious, I do wonder what happened in between. My parents never bothered themselves with whether or not their kids would put them on the top list for their best friends and I am glad they didn’t. Because they were, after all, my parents. They knew that and were secure in that knowledge.

“It’s easy for me to make you like Mommy,” I always say, “I just let you do as you wish and I’ll instantly be your favorite person, your BFF.” And she will look at me with a “then why don’t you do just that?” look. To which both she and I already know the answer.

“I am your mother. My biggest care is not whether you would like me, my biggest concern is whether you know and are doing what’s right.” Of course it’s never pleasant to play the bad cop, of course all moms would love to please their children. But as her mother, I need to do what a mother should do and that is not something that a friend can do for her. “If I let you do as you wish just because I want you to like me now, that is not love,” I add, at the same time horrified by the thought of such parenting with its inevitable consequence, “then you will grow up hating me.”

There will come the day when children will mature (God help us) into the responsible and sensible adults they need to be. There will come the day these children will be capable of a loving and meaningful friendship with their parents. Until then, we need to be their parents. Precisely because of that prospect, we must be the parents who know their role and carry out their duty faithfully. The duty to love and also to discipline, to nurture yet never neglect to train.

I am not your friend, daughter. I am your mother. In due time, I pray you will see that I love you. And when you know what it means to be a true human, one with wisdom and virtues, I pray for your friendship.

Raising Happy Eaters

First of all, I am not writing this as a trained nutritionist, nor am I any expert in pediatrics. I am certainly not the know-it-all parent. Children’s eating habit is a HUGE concern for almost all modern parents, one that leaves them (me included) scratching their heads and pulling their hair. Despite being told multiple times “Wow, your kids eat so well!” I have had my share of pleading, bribing, threatening, and shoveling food down their throats, trust me.

So, back to the title. I am sharing a compilation of what I think have worked for our family in our attempt to raise the girls into happy eaters who enjoy mealtime around the table. All of these are wisdom from the past generations (the seniors we consulted with) and cultural observations documented in books.

1. Food is relational, it is not merely nutritional.

The table has a special place in community. It is general knowledge that food is associated with fellowship in any culture. A shared mealtime is when people come together sharing not only food but also their time and lives. There is a reason to why it is said “Food tastes better when shared” and “Family that eats together stays together.” Some of my fondest memories are those that happened during shared mealtimes with families and loved ones, I believe this is not singular to my experience. Make effort to create that wonderful association. Eat together as a family.

2. Food is a blessing, eat with gratitude.

I spent a big chunk of my childhood eating with my late paternal grandma whom I dearly called Ah Po. Being a tough woman who had single-handedly raised eight children through the hard times, she would make sure we all understood how privileged we were to have food to eat. Not a single grain of rice was to waste. The same expectation was enforced by my father, and so it was the kind of tables we grew up with. How, you may ask, did they instill such attitude in the children? They guarded against the sense of entitlement. The mantra was always “Ai ciak ciak, mai ciak suak.” A Hokkien remark for “eat if you want and starve if you won’t.” And so they never hesitated to let us go hungry.

When the kids refuse to eat 😛

3. There must be a time for play/work, and a time for meal.

Common sense has it that when one is hungry, one will eat. And a reasonable and good way of how that maxim operates is seen in a healthy cycle of energy exertion and energy re-fuelling. In our home this is translated into a routine of starting the day with breakfast, letting the children play and exert their energy, eating again only at lunchtime, napping for the youngest and quiet activities for the eldest, followed by snack time in the afternoon, outdoor playtime, and finally dinnertime. We do not snack around the clock nor eat apart from the four appointed mealtimes. This way, the children are hungry when they do eat. They will not not eat.

4. Food is pleasure, enjoy it.

I had the other big chunk of my childhood spent around the table of my late maternal grandma whom I dearly called Ah Ma. The opposite of my Ah Po, she doted on her grandchildren very much, to the point of indulging them. I cannot recall any memory of her raising her voice at us. She would cook our favorite foods all the time, always whipping up whatever dish we asked of her. She did not make much fuss on nutritions, and from her kitchen we learned that food is pleasurable. Indulge your children sometimes, whip up tasty meals if you could. Also, a dash of MSG and an occasional plate of deep fried processed food will not kill them. Let them taste that food IS delicious.

5. Food is nutrition, eat healthily.

When it comes to food, nutritional value is normally what parents are most concerned about, and rightly so. After all, who wouldn’t want their children to grow up healthy? Our parents believed that there needs to be a wide variety of food served for meals. There were always rice, 2 meat dishes, 1 leafy vegetable dish, and 1 soup dish for lunch and dinner. This, they believed, provides a balance and complete nutrition for the body. The rule was, “You don’t have to eat much of all but you must try all.” In the words of my father, eat more of those you like and less of those you dislike. It is unsurprising to find that the Japanese and the South Koreans, the two cultures with non-picky eating population that boast the lowest obesity rate in the world – at 4 percent (Christine Gross-Loh, “Parenting Without Borders” p. 62), share the same meal philosophy, both in their emphasis on dish variety and their insistence that children should try at least one bite of all the dishes served. Now, I am not saying we must prepare 4 different dishes for every mealtime, I can’t. But we can encourage the children to try out a wide variety of different foods. Children love what they know. And they can know only what they try.

And finally, I have to acknowledge that we Asians often associate a chubby child with a good eater. The logic is a child that eats well must eat a lot and therefore must be chubby. This. Is. Not. True.

Many moms have endured the unnecessary pressure to pump-feed their kids in an attempt to fatten them up and felt like a failure when their kids stay lean. We don’t have to, we should not. The goal is not to produce the most plump little Michelin’s mascots. If they are healthy, are thankful for and enjoy their food, and have a warm table fellowship, they will be happy eaters. And you’ve done well, Momma! 🙂

The God Who Cares

Today five years ago, I was heavily pregnant with our first daughter and my due date was 2 days away. Like any first time mom-to-be, I dreaded the labor process and child-birth pain the most. I had read and heard much about the experience, but with every story, it just didn’t get any less frightening. I told God my worries and fear, and He answered me.

The message was delivered to my inbox that morning,

This morning listen to the voice of the Lord Jesus speak, “I will help you. It is a small thing for me, your God to help you. Consider what I have already done. What! Not help you! I died for you. Since I have done the greater, will I not do less? Your requests are nothing compared with what I am willing to give. You need much, but it is nothing for me to grant your needs. Help you? Fear not! I will help you.” – Spurgeon

I read His reassuring words at 9 in the morning and my labor started that afternoon at 1. It was a very long labor but things went well and our daughter was born at 3:23 a.m. Both mom and baby were healthy.

That was not the only occasion when God demonstrated His care for me, for He had always been helping me before.

When we knew that we were going to have a baby, we knew we needed a home here in Singapore, something that was financially beyond our means. But God provided through the seemingly unrelated previous financial decisions.

Then, there was the due date. We needed to move into that home in time before the baby was out, but we had no idea that purchasing a flat in Singapore actually took months (it’s not like in Indonesia where you pay today and move in as and when you like), so we did not factor in the time when looking for a flat. By the time we started looking, the timing was already very tight. But God caused us to find a flat in time through what seemed like a coincidence. I literally moved into our new home right from the hospital bed with our new baby. With all the renovation and furnitures deliveries going on, one day early would have been greatly inconvenient.

God’s generous help did not end then, I can go on and on for His care stretches far ahead. To venture to write all of them would be attempting the impossible.

Whenever I think about it; He answered me! He helped me! Could you imagine that?

An all-powerful God who flung galaxies into existence, the Intelligent Designer behind every chain of DNAs, would bother Himself with the trivialities of human? That the Maker of Heaven and earth, the Creator of every law of physics and chemistry does care personally for me is something I can never fully wrap my mind around, not five years after, not in all eternity.

That is not all, there’s one more truth that is truly mind-boggling: the same Almighty who spoke the universe into reality, whose voice the storms obeyed, had once come down to earth, had lived as a man among men, had died a cursed death on a tree, in order that whichever human believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

None is like God in His greatness, and none has ever cared like He does. Help you? He gave His life for you! Of course He will help you! Trust Him today with your soul, trust Him with your life, trust Him also with your daily cares big and small.

6 Years

I first met my husband 10 years ago, on January 9, 2008 to be exact. While I cannot remember the entire conversation we had on that day (mostly trivial exchanges like where we studied and what major we were taking), I remember he asked my name at the end of the conversation; nothing unlike any other exchanges I had with people I newly encountered at church.

A few weeks later however, after one youth session, I got locked in the ladies’ restroom. The door’s knob decided to go out of order just after the last lady had left and there I was, violently turning the knob while imagining the worst and panicking for what if no one even realized I was locked in the restroom. (At this point you might think that my now-husband came to my rescue like a knight in the shining armor, but no he did not.)

Before I started shouting for help, another lady came to use the restroom and upon finding the door locked, she said, “Hello! Why do you lock the door? Open up please!” Thankfully, I replied, “Hello! I got locked in here, please help me out!”

The security guard was called and one of the brothers eventually broke the door open by force and saved me! Nope, that brother was not my now-husband either. In fact, while others went to join the hoohah, he was eating his dinner at the youth-receptionist table, just 10 meters away from said restroom.

Now that I was back to the youth group, everyone was asking whether I was alright, and was saying that it was a glad thing someone found me and got me out. But there was this one guy who, half way into his dinner, asked,

“Didn’t you have your phone with you?”

“I left it in my bag.”

“And where was your bag? You left it on the chair here in this room.”

“You know, it’s inconvenient for girls to bring their phones around with them all the time lah.” Thanks to one of the sisters who came to my defense.

“I know, the problem with girls and their phones.”

The problem with girls and their phones! In my entire life, there had been only two men who had ever talked to me in that manner over my not keeping my phone with me. The first was my father, this guy was the second. Both were known for their unfriendly faces and no-nonsense style of speech.

I was quite dumbfounded that a man could actually talk like that to a girl he barely knew. “Very well,” I thought to myself,  “Tough guy huh? I’d very much like to see what will become of him when he gets smitten with a girl – if a man like he would ever be, that is.

And the rest is history.

Six years into our marriage and I still leave my phone out sometimes, and he is still the man who makes sure I have my phone in my bag AND my bag with me all the time. He doesn’t pull that stunt in the photo anymore though, it’s not friendly to his back. … fine, I do gain some weight, but mainly because it’s just not too good for anyone’s back.

Truly I thank God for the past 10 years of knowing each other, 6 of which as husband and wife. To have a beloved to share those years with is a good gift, and “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

May the gracious Lord grant us many more years together. ❤

New Year Resolution

It was “Wake Up at 0600 Everyday” for 2016 and “Learn Latin” for 2017. And three weeks ago I purchased a digital piano and was determined to master the instrument in the next 12 months. Yet, as many can testify, most new year resolutions don’t survive long. At the best, they start on the Western New Year and end on the Chinese New Year, hence the name. This is extra-specially true for moms with very young children, it may not even last a month! Because, plans and children don’t mix. (Parents, let me hear Amen!)

The eldest was still wide awake, the alarm was set to go off in 7 hours, and if she didn’t sleep you didn’t sleep, and the baby was going to wake up intermittently throughout the night, and when you did manage to get up at 6 there was a very high chance your preschooler would too, and if she was up everyone was up and woohoo! the party started early with everyone lacking sleep and cranky by midday. “Wake Up at 0600 Everyday”

60 minutes, was how long the kids took their nap, it was also the maximum amount of time you got to do your stuff without interruption. You have heard the anecdote of how people without kids thought it was blatant lie when their friends with (very young) kids said they had no time for virtually anything. Very truly, they live in two different time dimensions. Without kids, daily housechores take 30 minutes, meal preparation takes 1 hour. Add kids into the equation: You say, “I am going to mop the floor” and you spend the next one hour picking up toys from said floor, settling childish squabbles, cleaning the kids because they poop, and two hours later you are done with the floor looking not much different from before you started that you half-suspect if you have not indeed mopped it. So, 12 months later and I was still at page 10. “Learn Latin”

What do you think children do when they see you sitting before the piano? Right, they climb up to your lap and run their little fingers all over it. When they are finally bored of the piano, they climb onto your back. Every. Single. Time.

It may be hilarious to read, we have all laughed sympathetically as parents worldwide shared how their world is turned upside down by their kids. But I can tell you that at the real time, to our own horror, we have secretly wished that these kids were non-existent. We have decided that they are a nuisance, a burden, they get in our ways to success. No, we will not say it out, but we have believed that they are out to ruin our plans, to scrap our resolutions, to hinder us from fulfilling our potentials. We think they are the reasons we cannot be our best. We bark at them as we see their intrusive coming, we blame them for our failure to achieve the previous year’s resolutions and name them the reason to our hesitation for the new year’s ones.

Alas! How could they be deemed with such apprehension when the Bible has esteemed them to be a blessing from the Lord? Oh they say, time has changed too much from when the Bible was written, the society has changed, children are no longer needed to labor for the family’s finance, modern women have the rights to maximize their skills, hence children – or the absence of children, has become the kind of blessing that is subject to individuals’ interpretation.

Has it? Or can it be that I miss the whole point? What if living better is not mainly about waking up earliest and being productive with my time, what if it is not about acquiring new languages, what if it is not about learning new skills, upgrading my resume? What if to be a better person is all about being more patient and kind; about freedom from envying others’ accomplishments and from searching for reasons to boast in pride; about not insisting that my time must not be interrupted at all costs; and not being irritable or resentful when it does get interrupted; about repenting from wrong doings and rejoicing with the truth; about bearing the little ones in constant hope and trust in God? What if to be a better me means being more like the Love Himself?

That must be it! For how else do children bless us but by presenting us, in their sincere and very forgiving nature, numerous opportunities to be more and more loving everyday, every year? For in God’s wisest providence, they have been put in our lives to mold us into our very best – into the likeness of His Son, Jesus Christ.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” – Romans 8:28-29 ESV

Don’t Follow Your Heart

“Mommy, Mulan says ‘My duty is to my heart’ and ‘Follow your heart.’ What does she mean?”

Firstly, it was not really the heroine Hua Mulan of the Ballad of Mulan (木蘭辭) whom my daughter was quoting above. It was the Disney rendition of a Mulan who disapproved of the culture of arranged marriages of her time, produced as a sequel to the splendid animation of the heroic tale of the Disney’s 1998 Mulan.

Viewed in such context, what this Mulan was trying to say was “Go marry the one your heart really loves.” Freedom, be true to self; the value which was very much American during my childhood years, and one that is widely and readily embraced today.

Yet, appealing as it sounds, I have to tell my daughter that to follow our own hearts is to tread down the path of dangers. How true, or rather, how misguided our hearts can be, surely we can all attest to ourselves.

How many of us whose hearts have justified losing the first ‘love’ in our spouses yet finding it in someone new? How many of us whose hearts, in the name of being true to self, have led our loved ones into utter ruin and anguish? How many lives have been broken by those who claim the right of doing things as their hearts please? And to bring the matter closer to the one asking the question, what would have happened had a four-year-old decided to go about her day following her own heart?

“Our hearts are sick, it cannot tell us what we must and must not do. But there is a Person whose Word can tell us what we must and must not do, and that Person can heal our sick hearts. He is the One we should follow.”

“I know! That Person is God!”

“Indeed.”

Indeed, as was the prayer we had been reciting at the end of our family devotion weeks ago:

“My heart is deceitful above all things
and desperately sick.
Heal me, O LORD,
and I shall be healed;
save me and I shall be saved,
for you are the one I praise.”
– Jeremiah 17:9,14

Heal our hearts, O LORD.