They Know

“Why did you spank me that hard?”
“No. I know that it was not too hard.”
“But you were angry and that was not the right way of doing it! And you didn’t really like me when you hugged me afterwards!”

Her words sent a chill down my spine. She knew.

When we had our Bible discussions with fellow parents about “how to properly discipline our children,” she had been listening. When I spouted out all the doctrinal truths which I ought to have adhered to, she had been taking note. When I disciplined her without yelling, yet without love, she felt the absence. When the reconciliation hug was just a mere going through the motions, she knew. And, especially as an Asian, if I spank her to “save my face” and not for her restoration, she will know. She always knows.

I like to tell my children that I know them best and what is best for them, but what I didn’t really realize was that they, too, know me best. My day to day attitude, my response to things, my emotions, speech and deeds; my life is always at full display before them. I can write, say or show others what I want others to think about who I am but it’s my closest ones who know who I really am. Or more profoundly, they know whether what I write, say or show to others is what I really am.

Such realization is a constant cause for both trembling and joy. Trembling, because I will inevitably leak out to my closest ones the ugliest side of my sinful-self, and how I am so full of potential to lead them away from the faith I profess. My greatest fear is to have my children see me as a hypocrite and by hypocrisy subject them to condemnation.

But thanks be to God who is faithful and promises victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ. He has not only designed for us parents to be His authoritative representation to our children, but has also set family as a place where gospel is continually portrayed. We are fellow sinners to our children, who constantly offend them in our sins and must constantly repent and seek their forgiveness. I thank God for He made little children very forgiving, they do not hold grudge and they forgive freely. To be forgiven and be genuinely loved despite my failures is a joy unspeakable. It is the gospel.

I wish nothing more than to have my God and my children find me faithful and truthful. May God help!

Homekeeping Freedom

The first thing that came to my mind after a good sweating of scrubbing the kitchen top and the cooking hob was “How wonderfully clean things will stay if only no more cooking should ever be done here!”

The next thing, of course, was to realize how foolish could that idea be. What’s the point of having the kitchen there if there’s no cooking to do?

I see now, I was doing the cleaning with the intention of freeing myself from the cleaning itself. It’s of little wonder why I get disappointed and discouraged by the mere thought of having a mess to clean again soon from the next cooking, or meal, or play. I see now why, especially after a thorough house cleaning, I get easily irritated just by having living beings living in the house.

My housekeeping serves no one but myself. I think that summarizes why. The irony of it all is, the freedom that I am chasing is an elusive one, and is in fact not a freedom. Instead, it binds me and my family away from living freely in our own home. Because every act of living we do will inevitably violate the cleanness and tidyness of the house. And that is absurdly funny, is it not? Having a house that you can’t live in?

I see now the real freedom housekeeping affords me is the freedom to serve my loved ones again and again. And the real reason why there is a need for my housekeeping is because my loved ones are fed, clothed, and taken care of in this house. As the proverb goes, “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.” In my current season of life, mess is the mark of productivity, and cleaning is the means to continuity.

As sure as there is pleasure in doing others good, so it turns out, the true pleasure that homekeeping gives is the repeated pleasure of providing hospitality, joy and happiness for others (often, the dearest ones). The satisfaction felt in seeing a sparkling clean and tidy house after a good sweating out is then a ‘bonus’.

While They Are Illiterate

Making, and sticking to, the decision to not vigorously enforce reading and spelling during our children’s preschool years are definitely not easy. We have sometimes been a little bit anxious for our eldest, who turned four this year and does not know how to read yet, and write, for that matter. We have often second guessed ourselves and our decision in regards to her preschool years education. And we have gone back and forth between wanting to take things easy and slowly until the age of seven when children’s brains are deemed ready for reading, and responding to the pressure of the modern extra-young age literacy (in this part of the world we are living).

We agree that the ability to read and write is a wonderful skill, in fact it is the skill unique to human which sees to our species’ super fast advancement. But how early should this powerful skill be mastered by our little ones, scientists and education policy makers haven’t seemed to come to the same conclusion.

As my husband and I addressed our concerns over our daughter’s illiteracy at the moment, we eventually decided to pursue literacy less by enforcing the alphabet and phonics lessons, and more by reading to and cultivating appetite for good reads in her. There are two things which we consider as basic and important as we assess our approach to teaching a child to read: the purpose for literacy and the method to achieve that purpose.

It is a sad thing to hear fellow parents lamenting their preschoolers’ increasing lack of playtime as they need to go for their phonics lessons or English and writing classes. It is all the more saddening when the reasons for that are “so as to not be left behind in the primary school level” and “to be able to understand the questions asked in homeworks and tests when they go to Primary One.” The privilege of enlightenment is becoming a kindergarteners’ race and a banal requirement for first grader education system.

We believe the purpose of literacy is to enable one to understand other’s thoughts (this includes knowledges from informations to opinions), to express one’s own thoughts, and ultimately as people of faith, to understand the Scripture as God’s revelation and to share the Truth with others. As for the method, we are not convinced that it is more useful to train a child to read at the age of four than at a later age, say of seven, when studies suggest that children’s brains are more ready for literacy training. In his own words, the author of Math for Little Ones Alexander K. Zvonkin wrote, “Premature instruction is no more beneficial than premature birth.”

While waiting for the neurons to establish their pathways, we believe we can prepare the child for a lifetime love for reading – good reading, that is. It can be done by establishing a culture of reading in the family, where the parents read themselves and read to the child regularly. And just as is the case with putting a child into the habit of healthy eating, we should also ‘feed’ the child with good and worthy reads. As the famous writer C.S. Lewis said, “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty.”

It is also beneficial to exercise a child’s memory, especially during the preschool years when it is at its strongest. Children are able to memorize stories read to them, word for word, and they do it quite effortlessly to our astonishment. Fill their memory banks then, with good books, poems and stories of excellent virtues, and with the sacred verses of the Scripture. The vast vocabularies, writing styles and the taste of literatures they have committed unto their memory will without a doubt bring them far when they can finally decode and compose strings of letters by themselves.

While the ability to read and write things down tend to excuse us from exercising our memory, we see this illiterate time window as an opportunity to train our daughter’s memory. Because she cannot read her story books, she memorizes them. Likewise, this time window affords us the control over what kind of reads is poured into the minds of our children and at the same time the opportunity to bond as we read to them. Few are things that a child cherishes more than to sit on her parent’s lap with a good book being read to her. We know it is one we will miss so dearly too, because soon she will be reading on her own.

Cherishing their illiterate moment.

Work Early

My late paternal grandma used to say, “Do not fear of having to work, fear when you have nothing for work, because then you will have nothing to eat.” She directed the admonition at me and my cousin sister as we were quietly grumbling at the sink full of dishes from our weekly big family dinner. My father seemed to inherit just the same philosophy, for every morning during school holidays, we would jump off our bed from his shouting from the shop downstairs.

“Get down here now! Time to work!” was his line which we hated so much. We would then be ordered around to write down the customers’ shopping lists, weigh the sugar or oil or coffee powder, carry packs of bee hoon and also bundle up a dozen bottled drinks into a neat 2-3-4-3 formation, among many other works common in a traditional ‘kedai kelontong’. Such a holiday spoiler.

But of course, now we will tell anyone what our senior generation ‘forced’ on us was the right and good thing. Even as kids, behind the murmurs and complaints, we knew it was for our good. And I shall not fail to mention about how good it felt to complete one customer’s shopping all by my own, or, my favorite, to bundle up bottled drinks all nice and tight! (It’s a skill that I’m proud of till today.)

I guess, it’s the same feeling when I managed to tidy up my toys cabinet, whip up a meal, or complete a project. It matters not whether it’s in my childhood, my professional years, or my current stay-at-home moments. The joy of doing meaningful work and the rewarding satisfaction are universal.

To quote Matthew B. Crawford, author of Shop Class as Soulcraft, the knowledge and experience of doing, making or fixing things with our hands not only affords us joys but also is essential to our well-being, to our flourishing. I can testify that one of my husband’s most joyful expressions is obviously seen when he is baking bread. Those who know him know how flat his default poker face is.

So, we are doing the same thing to our own children, and we start early; insisting that they dispose of their used diapers to the bin, make their beds and tidy up toys, help out with vegetables rinsing and cutting, help make the pizza, et cetera. Yes, the kids don’t always like it or do as told. Yes, we are hearing murmurs, protests and whines, and will still do for quite many years. But there are times when the littlest will clap having tossed her used diaper into the bin, and when the eldest will say with pride “Daddy, that veggies you are eating, I cut them this morning.”

That’s what it’s all about, passing down the gift of joy and satisfaction of doing meaningful work, and being useful and helpful in tangible ways to others around, as early as possible. As my father used to say very often, “If you don’t learn to work in your youth, what good will you be in your adulthood?”

We See the Present Clearly But God Sees the First and Last

Rev. Dr. Stephen Tong once noted that God’s brilliant wisdom is manifested in His creation. I think it is a claim that begets the loudest “Amen” from two groups of people: the scientists and the parents. The latter being the group that I am in.

One should not be overwhelmed by the challenges that parenthood brings without at the same time being awed by the revelation of God’s nature. In entrusting infants and little children to adult humans, God is showing more of Himself.

The above line which I use as the title of this post, is taken from the song “Trust His Heart” by Babbie Mason. As I sang this song during the worship last Sunday, this particular line caught my heart. And my mind immediately went to my own kids, a 4 year-old and a 21 month-old. That was just the perfect line to describe what our relationship is like.

Young children are people with underdeveloped brains. The reason to why our toddlers stuff the whole bag of cookies into their tiny mouths at unbelievable speed, and why our preschoolers keep asking when we tell them “WAIT,” is this: they have a prefrontal cortexes that are barely developed. Which means, they have little (if any) ability to ponder the future, or to put it simply, they are always living in the present, in the forever right now.

Do not expect these little ones to appreciate the fact that the broccoli we set before them now will send them into the right track of healthy eating lifestyle in the future, or that the scary jabs we now put them through will protect them from catastrophic illnesses for years to come, or that the disciplines we insist on them presently will mould them into responsible and civilized adults.

It makes no sense, because biologically they can only see the present. But it makes full sense, because we see what they can not see. So we keep telling them, “Trust Mommy, Mommy knows best.”

God, as a Father Himself, has designed parenthood to display His own relationship with His children. We see the present clearly but He sees the first and the last. So when we can’t trace His hand, trust His heart.