Tony and I have been suffering all weekend from hayfever.

While I could blame the lavender pods in Arddun’s room (cheerfully plucked from Mrs Allie’s lavender bush so as to naturally deodorise the nappy bin), or cast aspersions on the prawn curry powder (lovingly bestowed by Auntie Fiji and Arddun’s twin-by-15-hours Leila)… I’m going to go right on and blame the Woolies Check-Out Guy.

After I’d completely lost faith in Coles Gungahlin last weekend, I headed over to Woolies for my shopping on Saturday and ended up in the slowest check-out line in recent history. I had read somewhere that Murphy’s Law does hold true with supermarket check-out queues, as you’re more likely to be caught in the slowest lane than the fastest one because you’re flanked by two lines, and therefore have a 1 in 3 chance of getting served first. Or something like that. I don’t know the actual math but you get the logic.

But anyhoo, Woolies Check-Out Guy was the slowest check-out guy in my recent memory, because Woolies Check-Out Guy had a dastardly cold and was therefore wont to move like a drugged wombat.

In fact, he sneezed so much and lingered so lovingly over my fruit and veg, it took great self control not to squeal, “GAAAAHHHH!” and break open the new – and as yet unpaid – baby anti-bacterial wipes to mop down all my produce AND the Woolies Check-Out Guy. (His supervisor popped her head around midway to hand her sniffly employee a wad of tissues. Not quite the health and safety standards I was hoping for, but thoughtful nonetheless.)

What really gave me the palpitations, however, was his flagrant disregard for my shopping bag system.

Even before the ACT government declared a fatwa on supermarket shopping bags in a tokenistic effort at reducing our carbon footprint, I had a system. At the check-out conveyor belt, I would group my groceries methodically, and then place the appropriate type of shopping bag on top of each group.  All uncooked meats would go into a freezer bag. All fruit and veg would go into two lime-green shopping bags, then non-food items (usually heavy) in the dark-green bags with the short handles, and then finally all dairy and cold meats would go in the second freezer bag.

So I have 5 bags. Sometimes 6. I plan it so that each bag would be easy enough for me to carry, and the cooked and uncooked items remain apart. I have a system.

Woolies Check-Out Guy took one look at my system in his flu-addled state, sniffed at it, and proceeded to squish all my groceries into 3 shopping bags. The only favour he did me was to remember to place the bread on top. He forgot to do the same for the eggs.

And I tried to tell him how the system worked. I suggested, and I guided, and I grunted, and at one point I think this high-pitched eeeeeee escaped the back of my throat despite myself. Each time, the kindly Woolies Check-Out Guy would look up, as if slightly stunned, and offer to unpack everything and start over. And I had a choice. Shopping Bag System in disarray, or evil eyes from the rest of the queue about to fling both me and my $129.90 groceries list back to Coles Gungahlin. I chose to avoid the evil eyes, and had to stop the cardiac arrest about to engulf me while I skulked out of the supermarket with my Three Bags (Very) Full… and a litter of unused ones trailing in my wake.

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I’ve been reading about how the French parent their young (very chic, very cool) and how to groom your child so she learns to play independently. Both roughly touch on the concept of Hyperparenting –  where parents lurk around their child like hovercrafts and provide so much guidance, there’s little wiggle room to stuff up.

It’s micro-management, in corporate speak.

It’s the parent who pulls the child up every time her enthusiastic crayons go over the black outline.

It’s the parent who teaches the child the “proper” way to build a house out of Lego.

It’s the parent who probably has trouble allowing the Woolies Check-out Guy to place the uncooked meats in the green bag with the short handles, instead of the blue freezer bag. I’m guessing.

Here’s the news flash, here’s the grand Uh Oh: Hyperparenting is in my bones. It’s part of being Singaporean. It’s how we speak to one another, how we show love and concern – to our children, to our friend’s children, to grown men and women. No one is exempt. There is this invisible divide, this unwritten age of entry – I’m thinking about 30 – and after you cross it, you are free to first ask your loved ones what they had for dinner, and then proceed to tell them when they should settle down and make lots of babies.

We look at a situation, and immediately see room for improvement. We love by providing advice – almost involuntarily like hiccups – so that our loved ones follow a path imagined in our heads, and don’t stray from it even a little. Perhaps it stems from the top, because our government is paternalistic. Also, Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother? Asian. Not a coincidence.

And yet…

How much of all that is guidance, and how much of that is projection of unfulfilled dreams? How much of that is absolute right and wrong, and how much of that is vague and inconstant opinion? When do we steer the child for her real betterment, and when do we snuff out the fun of exploration? It doesn’t matter if the child is three or threescore. We steer and steer, we suggest, we manipulate. Even though we know that the best lessons – the lessons that stick – are the ones we learn through experience.

I come from a pretty chilled out family, on balance. Was allowed to forge my own way most of the time, except when I went off the rails every now and then. I’m the only child of a single parent, so as much as we are very close and loving, it wasn’t feasible for my mother to be a hyperparent. It also isn’t her style.

But as chilled out and loving as my mother is, she had a couple of absolutes that weren’t really absolutes. One of them was the way laundry ought to be hung out to dry. The hangers, you see, all had to face the right. That way, when it came time for me to take the hangers down from the bamboo pole, I could unhook all of them in the one direction. It was efficient.

It used to drive her nuts how I’d have the hangers facing left AND right in no seeming pattern. They all had to face right. Not left, and certainly not both ways. She’d get on my case whenever she saw how I did the hangers. No alternatives were allowed. It didn’t have to be logical. It just had to be done her way.

What my mother didn’t know – and what I couldn’t articulate at the time – was that I got so bored doing laundry, I kept it interesting by making it as difficult as possible for me to get the clothes down from the bamboo pole using the hook.

Arddun’s going to grow up in a different family, with a different dynamic. She has different parents. (She has two, for starters.) An hour after I’d fumed over Woolies Check-out Guy to Tony, I thought about my crazy fixation with the bag packing and imagined the gazillion other ways I’d potentially drive my daughter batty.

I am a free spirit. And if my daughter turns out to be even remotely creative and interested in the world around her, I pray I’ll not kill her spirit.

And so I ask for wisdom.

To accept the things I don’t really need to change;
Courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

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