Unsupervised Childhood

“I stay home with my kids, but sometimes I still feel guilty for not spending enough time with them,” confessed one of my good friends.

I could fully relate with her. When I first quit my job to stay home with my baby, I too had thought that it was my new job to be always with my child, to fully engage her and to always be in tune with her needs. And of course, I wanted to excel in my new career, as all moms do.

It took me a while to realize that my baby had outgrown her newborn phase and as she grew, my constant presence and supervision were no longer as required. In fact, it would not do her good if I kept hovering over her and deprived her of age-appropriate autonomy.

Big Nona climbs the tree.

I remember my own parents were always busy at the shop, as all the adults that I knew in my childhood were. Instead of expecting our parents to keep us entertained, we would find the neighborhood kids to play with. It was an everyday thing for us to run around the alley or to play at one another’s house.

“Auntie, is so and so at home?” The parents usually didn’t bother with what the neighborhood kids did. We’d play upstairs, or outside, unsupervised. I guess, it was just the way things were in the olden days. The particularly good old days with fond memories for me.

I was definitely not the kid with the best behavior in town. Besides getting into fights, I did many funny things I am sure my parents wouldn’t be proud of. I remember leading a few neighborhood kids to knock hard at a neighbor’s door before running away to hide. We would giggle among ourselves as we observed the auntie coming out cursing and swearing. Yeah, I don’t think I will ever let my own kids do the same (who’s the sane parent that would?).

The Nonas putting on lipstick without Mommy knowing.

On other occasions I was messing with my uncle’s pet animals. My cousins and I used to stay at our late grandma’s place after school until my dad fetched us home in the evening, so we had plenty of free time in between. My uncle kept some caged birds in my late grandma’s house. These cages were hanging down from the ceiling. Once, we (okay, I was the one suggesting it) poked at the bottom of those cages because we wanted the birds to flap their wings instead of just perching still in there. They did and it was fun, until I poked too hard and one of the cages dropped on me. Not only the cage but the whole bird’s droppings too! Thank God they were dry! The floor was an entire mess but I was glad the bird didn’t escape or that would have been the death of me. We managed to put everything back up and had the mess cleaned up without getting caught.

I was not always that lucky though. Besides birds, my uncle had pet fishes too. They were kept in two separated aquariums, one at the second floor and the other at the third floor. The smart me assumed that nobody would ever know if I swapped those fishes, they all looked the same to me anyway. So I went ahead and netted out some fishes from one aquarium, went up the stairs and put them into the other, and vice versa. When my uncle came back that evening, I watched as he went up and heard my name yelled out shortly afterwards. How could he have known? Not so smart of me, apparently.

Those were probably some of the less than desirable deeds resulting from my boredom. Other times we would be scouring the ditches for interesting finds, or jumping over wide ‘longkangs’ to see who could or could not make it – my brother once failed and fell; spending pocket money on doughnuts and young coconut water while watching some snake-handler putting up a show was also one of our favorite pastimes.

Doing kungfu while singing Wong Fei Hung’s song.

Despite the many hours of unsupervised childhood, I didn’t grow up as a delinquent, I don’t abuse animals, and at least am a decent citizen who pays her tax; the same can be said of the rest of our peers. My own parents, especially my dad, had very strict and high standard for their children’s behavior, as most Chinese typically were. So I think it kind of balanced out the whole thing. I couldn’t imagine, if he had been supervising me 24/7, we would probably have driven each other mad.

Now that we are in the modern age of parenting, leaving children unsupervised even for a short time is seen as a risky and dangerous idea. In fact, in some countries it’s considered as case of abuse where the parents may be sent to jail and the child(ren) to foster care under the charge of parental neglect. We are told that it’s in our full responsibility, or that we are totally in charge of what our children will become in their adulthood. And that’s just a hairline away from assuming that parents can fully control how their children will grow up to be. This in turn, has become an immensely heavy burden on the parents’ shoulders. We even have the term “helicopter parenting” coined. Can this play a part in making our modern parenting so stressful for both parents and children?

Time has indeed changed, but perhaps it would make parenthood more enjoyable for me and childhood more memorable for my children if I could more often just look away and say nothing and let the kids be kids as they do what children do, as if unsupervised.

Little Nonas eating dirt. Just kidding! :p

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Gender Equality, Social Constructionism and Leveling the Differences

On the surface, the clip portrayed itself to be rallying for noble cause: Gender Equality and Inclusiveness. The message here is that babies are not supposed to be influenced by any external norms (social construct) based on their genders, instead they must be allowed to grow as they genuinely are, to be their real selves, regardless of their genders, free from any pressure of the society.

I totally support that all women and men in any part of the globe must be treated equally in their rights as humans. No women should be denied education, or the rights to be involved politically, and no women should ever be subjected to any kind of abuse just because they are women. Likewise, while the gender based injustice towards men are not so readily perceived, no men should be discriminated against just because they are not women.

Yet, when such a zeal towards the betterment of humanity is reduced to leveling gender differences and a perceived freedom defined negatively as immunity from any social norms, expectations and pressures, we should carefully question ourselves if we are treading down the right path.

Social construct is not without errors, and the many injustices victimizing both genders can be the direct product of corrupt social norms. But social construct does not create the genders. Babies born male or female are inherently different by design, at least biologically. A good social construct acknowledges and maximizes the potential of this difference for mankind’s flourishing.

As Professor Esolen has pointed out in his book “Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child,” it is an easy task to raise up adult males and adult females. “…whether boys and girls like it or not, their bodies will grow to adulthood eventually. Whether they become men and women is a different matter.” (p.195) Babies do not grow up to be men and women being left to themselves without any coaching from other real men and women in their lives any more likely than athletes becoming successful if left to their own will without pressures and moulding from the coaches and rigorous training.

Yes, we absolutely need a world where real men and women are treated equal in their worth, dignity and rights, as they inherently are. What we don’t need are adult males and females who have been so used to choosing their own views over the society since their babyhoods. The former have always been and will always be contributing positively to mankind’s civilization and society, I doubt the latter ever will.

As for the tagline #NoMoreBoysAndGirls, there’s no need for equality and inclusiveness when we are all just the same. It’s not equality, it’s uniformity in the name of embracing diversity. And that is such an irony.

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.

Children Are Struggling Sinners Too

02 April 2017

Through the past week, we have had discipline issue with the 4 year old which has been escalating rapidly. At the peak of my frustration and hers today, she screamed,

“I want to obey but I still cannot obey even though I want to obey! Why?”

This, I did not expect. She had accurately pointed out that her core problem is sin, and only then did it truly dawn on me, it is not a problem that even the best parenting or discipline can fix.

Later on we talked about Jesus, His atonement of sin and the true liberation from such sin-crippled disability which He, and He alone can give. And we prayed together for help to obey God Himself, in which I added, even more fervently than ever:

Lord, have mercy on this daughter of mine. Have mercy on us, O Lord!

Kana Is Four

This is the thought that should be uppermost on your mind in all that you do for your children. In every step you take about them, in every plan, and scheme, and arrangement that concerns them, do not leave out that mighty question, “How will this affect their souls?” – J. C. Ryle

She was feverish from viral infection the week before her second birthday. On her third, she struggled to down anything through her throat in the peak of her HFMD symptoms. And she had just recovered from a really bad food poisoning two weeks prior to turning four today. The Lord spared us her first birthday.

Blessed birthday! Every year to celebrate is blessed indeed!

For somewhere past the labour ward and that first cry, we are just so bound to take life and growth for granted. We forget that with birth, comes also the journey to grave. That the first beat of that tiny heart has also begun counting down to its stopping. Everyday we unknowingly sedate ourselves – “My child will live tomorrow still,” so unconscious we can hardly tell it’s a myth.

So suffering comes knocking some sense. Lest we be merry without being wary. The little soul has started for the eternity, blessed or damned. We cannot afford to be negligent.

Another year, O sovereign Lord,
With faith and prayers, love and rod
We shall fill the jar with water still
Until wine it be in Thy perfect will

Kana’s 4th birthday,
31 March 2017

No Such Thing As Wasted Education

My husband sent me a link to this excellently written article about how stay-at-home moms actually don’t waste their education, to encourage me. A secretly sweet man he is. 😉

As I read through the article, I had a flash back to one truly memorable event. It was during my parents visit in Chinese New Year 2016, when I finally, and rather awkwardly, popped the question.

“Pa, Ma, aren’t you actually disappointed with my decision to put a halt on my career and stay at home, not generating any significant cash, to care for the kids?”

My three years of education in a private university cost them half a kilogram of gold worth of money of the time, and my living cost in an expensive Singapore would have easily incurred at least another half of the amount mentioned above. The total sum is definitely not an amount I can generate back with mere three years in workforce post graduation. And truth be told, that question had been plaguing my conscience ever since I decided to quit my job and be full time for my family.

“Does your decision make you feel inferior yourself that you ask this?” My father asked back.

“I am concerned about what people would say about and to you back in hometown,” I replied.

In a culture with Chinese-influenced gender-based hierarchy, my parents would have been seen as ‘putting their eggs in the wrong basket.’ Why throw such a huge amount of money for a female child who finally ends up choosing making meals in the kitchen and not dollars in the workforce? And I have two younger male siblings!

“Surely, you have heard something like ‘Aiyoh, isn’t it so wasted to have spent so much money, earned a university degree abroad, and now stay at home taking care of children, things we leave for the maids to do here?’ or something like ‘Jauh-jauh sekolah ke Singapur, ujung-ujungnya masuk dapur‘?” I continued.

“Well, actually Mama did have doubts initially, there were friends asking, or commenting, too. But slowly, Mama has come to see the value of what you are doing. Sometimes, monetary investments do not give you a return in monetary form, but something priceless, it’s a gain all the same, if not more,” said my mother.

To which my father added, “There is no need to feel inferior. Papa’s duty as parent is to support Papa’s children’s education as far as you want to pursue, while we are still able. This is a principle. Whatever you decide to do afterwards becomes your own responsibility. You must remember, there is no such thing as wasted education.”

Both of my parents barely tasted the privilege of formal education. They had to work in their early youth so their siblings could go to school. Yet they understand the values of things often unseen in dollars, and have an accurate view of the purpose of education.

How tremendously liberating and empowering has this short conversation been to me! As a daughter. As a mother to my children. As a woman.

There is no such thing as wasted education. After years of learning and wisdom that made me the person that I am, in whatever I decide to do, in any time and stage of life, I seek to do them proud.

Just as they have done me very, very proud.

Happy grandparents and happy grandkids. Blessed me. ❤

The Mirror That Parenting Is

siblings

“Be kind to your sister, you don’t have to yell at her!”
“What she did was wrong!”
“I know, but you can tell her nicely, can’t you?”
And I was reminded of the countless times I yelled at her wrong doings. I could have told her nicely, couldn’t I?

“I am busy! Go away!”
“Jie jie! Be kind to her, help her draw the cats please.”
“But I am busy drawing my bride, Mommy. I have no time for her right now!”
And I was reminded of the countless times I shoo-ed her away with her paper and pencil from the kitchen because I was busy cooking.

“Be patient with mei mei, she is still a baby.”
And I was reminded of the countless times I lost my patience, she is barely four.

They say the modern parenting has become a narcissistic undertaking.
At its core, parenting is forever a humbling mirror.