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.

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?”

What a Butterfly Boasts In

It is now midnight, I am watching an Autumn Leaf caterpillar in the midst of pupating itself as I write this in my notebook. Maybe it’s the coffee. My husband and kids were already sound asleep and I left my phone in the bedroom. I do not have any picture or video taken of the process so attached here is a video I took from the YouTube.

As I watch the caterpillar attaching itself to a stem; twitching, squeezing and shrinking itself into almost one third its original size some four hours ago, I cannot help but to contemplate on the meaning of its life.

What is the purpose of this little creature’s life? To be a beautiful butterfly. And then what? Be a bird’s prey, or die some 30 days after?

Ah, if only it could talk, the caterpillar would have protested! Why the hassle, why the painful process? For such a pathetic purpose, that cannot be!

But thanks be to GOD, as one watches the caterpillar’s journey from one ugly, creepy thing; molting itself into a pupa, and to finally emerging as a splendid butterfly, one cannot only learn about the life cycle of a biology subject, or contemplate on life’s meaning, without also raising to his lips praises to the magnificent GOD, the Creator of this little caterpillar, and of all living beings.

In fact, it is impossible for one to observe the Nature, and not be awed by its beauty, order and wisdom. And as one stands in awe of the wonder of all these, it is impossible not to acknowledge its Creator and lift up proper praises due Him.

No, I say so not because of an overly religious sentiment. Instead, it is the most making sense response. Just as one should naturally credit the artist behind a masterpiece, and applaud the composer behind a moving music, acknowledging the existence of a brilliant Mastermind behind the very existence of this caterpillar, and give Him glory for the awe-inspiring handiwork that the final beautiful butterfly is, is only the most natural, honest and logical thing to do.

The glorifying of GOD, and His enjoyment – which He graciously shares with man. This, is the purpose of the butterfly-caterpillar’s life. This, is what its gorgeous wings boast of.

Let man observe and take heed, in all their splendor let they give glory to their Maker, to whom all honor, praise and adoration are due. Lest they boast in their foolish arrogance, and end up a prey to worldly vanity and die after a meaningless life of 70 or 80 years.

The caterpillar is still twitching and contracting, but I am done with my notes. So I am turning in, both of us have our own lives to fulfill tomorrow.

Monday, 29 May 2017