“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.

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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.

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

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’.