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Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places

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education

TTT – On becoming Singaporean

1) My daughter, the SingAustralian

Yes! It is official. We’ve received the certificate and the passport, and so our daughter isn’t just OZ-OZ-OZ-oi-oi-oi anymore. She’s also a Singaporean and as such, should now be schooled in

  • singing the other national anthem in both soprano and alto
  • saying the pledge and all its 4-syllable words (“democratic”, “equality”, “prosperity”), with tiny fist across heart and with coordinated stamping of right foot during school morning assembly
  • shopping and eating like there’s no other pastime or way to live
  • squishing eleventeen languages and dialects into a single sentence while butchering the English language
  • outsourcing domestic chores and heavy lifting to foreign talent
  • demonstrating fanatic allegiance to branded school that will last through lifetime, which is related to
  • losing her childhood to extra tutoring, enrichment classes, after-school remedial classes, special papers classes, mock exams, preliminary exams, streaming exams, exams to qualify for after-school tuition classes, and countless “continual assessments”, which also leads to
  • complete smashing of self-esteem till age 19 when she realises that her future isn’t ruined just because she’s not academically inclined towards science or math.

Okay. That all just turned dark and twisty. And perhaps it’s too simplistic a summary of the life that is Singaporean. I love my childhood and my country of origin, its colour and variety and multiculturalism and ever-changing landscape. And don’t get me wrong – Australia can be just as materialistic, worldly and competitive in other ways. But we are determined to give her an environment that doesn’t kill the joy of learning from the moment she steps into her first school uniform. And Singapore, with its clinical worship of academia, ranking and statistics, just doesn’t know how to do that yet.

2) Walking in a winter wonderland

Arddun is officially walking more than she’s crawling, which I suppose means she’s now properly walking. She still staggers about like a drunk munchkin but, thanks to fantastic winter fashion, looks like a very cute drunk munchkin. And that makes all the difference.

3) Flying north for winter

As her first birthday looms, we find ourselves working out birthday bash plans and what better way to celebrate than with family? And so, because Brisbane is the nearer of the two and because Arddun didn’t get to meet a swag of people there from her last trip, we’re flying north for warmer climes in >2 weeks! CANNOT WAIT! And also a leetle nervous as I’ll be flying with Arddun sans her “daddoh” (that’s what she calls him) for the first leg of the trip. Am also secretly looking into those baby leashes that masquerade as cute animal knapsacks because I’d rather look like I’ve turned Arddun into my poodle than lose her in the airport. She be small, but she be wiry. And fast.

Melting point

So I’ve tried baking cookies – twice, and tried baking lemon currant loaves – twice, and made my own pizza dough – twice, and tried making a passionfruit and blueberry slice – once, and none of it bombed, and so I thought, “Hey. I actually don’t suck at this after all. Let’s try and make passionfruit melting moments for tomorrow’s afternoon tea, so I don’t need to run out and buy the ones from Aldi.”

A bridge too far, that. For I bombed spectacularly.

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And while I was initially heartened by a kind friend’s assurance that “a good chef always blames the recipe”, it turns out that the actual quote is “a good chef NEVER blames the recipe”. So I got all geed up to explain to everyone how the butter-flour ratio was totally off in my book, only to realise that just confirms how REALLY bad a chef I am. Poo.

I’m at the stage now where I feel quite comfortable with the whole mother-of-a-baby shindig. Got a lovely routine going, me and my girl get along swell, got a bunch of lovely new mums to swap notes with… And so what do I do? I whip out my list. And try to add to my routine, of all things, an advanced diploma.

Velle BC – Before Child – was convinced that it’d be rather near-sighted to emerge from a year-long maternity leave without accruing at least one new qualification. So she had decided, among other things, to gun for an advanced diploma in program management because hey, it wasn’t enough that she delivered two major projects ahead of schedule while heavily pregnant. And while she didn’t quite promise herself that she’d go through with it, she had her heart set on finishing off the diploma before the year’s end.

Until she gave birth.

Velle AD – After Daughter – is starting to realise three important truths.

ONE – she wasn’t going to accrue one new skill or qualification after maternity leave. She was going to get six. At least. The learning curve of a new mother is steep as, and includes the study of physiology, psychology, diet and nutrition, and the ability to Facebook, cook, watch BBC bonnet drama re-runs, do the laundry, organise Mother’s Group, AND answer the door to get the mail (online shopping!), all while breastfeeding.

TWO – there is an opportunity cost to finishing that list. In exchange for quals that might pretty my CV if people actually cared to read it, I might have to give up precious time playing with my chica. At the risk of sounding like a sop, I love watching this crazy creature grow and change right before my eyes. She is such great company. It seems a rather obvious thing to say, but I’m not lonely when I’m with her. Hanging out with my baby is turning out to be my favourite spectator sport – just watching her figure out the world around her. Who would have thunk.

THREE – all the mothers that laughed their heads off when they first read my good-intentions list? They were right. I wouldn’t be able to get through it. Not because I lack the time – although the days are flying so quickly it scares me. But chiefly because I lack the will.

 

I have changed. When I wrote that list, I didn’t realise how much I would change. And I have. I am BAKING, for crying out loud. And my house is neater. And I am fatter. And I am happy. Cerebrally, I know there’s going to be another switch some time down the road, where I might suddenly wish to be back at work again. Where I’ll be ready and say, “Enough. Let’s pay the mortgage.” Where I’ll want my body back. Where I’ll crave the opportunity to create in a world where grown-ups live.

Here’s the catch, though – would I have evolved into another creature by then? Wanting to accomplish different things? Part of why I’m mulling over this is how I tried this evening to summon the enthusiasm to do my assignment – which is based on the two major projects completed this year. And a large part of me is seriously bored with it. It’s been done – rehashing the details of an old project feels like I’ve stayed back a year at school. This material has been covered. It is FINISHED. Why are we still talking about it? Next better thing, please.

Or is it all excuses?

 

<3 Today

My eyes are actually aching from exhaustion, but I couldn’t go to sleep without piecing together some coherent thought on this heartbreaking article I just read.

Mothers of dying children… There’s a large part of me now that flinches when I know there’s news about death, dying and pain involving babies. I want to run far, faaar away because the mere whiff of what that pain could be like if it were MY child already taps into some black, dark, suffocating place that scares the bejeezus out of me. I don’t want to remember that babies can and do die – some slowly and painfully. And personally knowing parents who are suffocating now… who actually live with a dying child, who know that his or her life will be cut very short, fills me – a mother of a living, healthy baby – with much gratitude and crazy, crazy guilt.

It was Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day on Saturday. And as if life didn’t present enough cruel ironies, I had spent much of Sunday and yesterday lining up a stack of enrichment classes and play dates and schools and childcare options for Arddun, instead of living in Today. Schools. She’s 4 months old, but in typical Singaporean/Canberran fashion, I was filling in a small stack of application forms for pre-school and enrichment classes that would take her up to college. Such an optimist. I have to remind myself that I do not believe in karma. That God is not vengeful, and that even if I seem to be building up barns for tomorrow ala Luke 12:18, I pray that He’ll forgive my arrogance and give me time with Arddun anyway. Years. Decades.  Please.

I spend so much time trying to master parenting – but Emily Rapp hit home when she told all of us that parenting is about loving my child today. ElilyMommy gave a great quote on Facebook the other week: When in doubt, love. I am filled with so much doubt constantly –

Is she sleeping enough?  Is she napping too little?

Is her brain given every opportunity to develop properly?

Is she drinking good, fatty milk? Is her poo the right colour?

When should I start baby sign-language? Am I reading enough books to her…

If you were to infer my parenting philosophy through my example, it seems to say “When in doubt, google”.

I think I need to remember that Arddun is not, ultimately, mine. That she is, like I am, on borrowed time. That the big stuff isn’t always as big as I think it should be. That dwelling on the past can be as unhealthy as living too much in the future. When Arddun and I have Today.

Kiasuism for Kids

I love how different languages and cultures can birth unique words or phrases to distill the very essence of complex human behaviour and motivation. That a certain je ne sais quoi of one country can have an entire lexicon of its own in another, replete with well-known examples and long-established machinations.

Kiasuism is one such word and phenomena in Singapore/Malaysia, so much so that it’s finally made it to the Oxford dictionary, would you believe. For my non-Singaporean friends, it describes the attitude that governs the Oh Crap What If  part of the hippocampus – and sometimes manifests itself in rather madcap behaviour such as:

  • the hiding of research books in the National Library of Australia so that you – and only you – can locate them and use them for your 2,500 essay due in 3 months
  • the driving like a demon and the risking of oncoming traffic so you can overtake a person travelling at the speed limit to get a whole car length ahead
  • the queuing overnight for the latest Apple gadget (oh yes)
  • the Bonk and Book.

The Bonk and Book is the rather nerve-wrecking state of schooling affairs in Canberra, a result perhaps of the shortage of childcare facilities in general, a high incidence of dual-income Canberran families in particular, and the greater attentiveness of highly-educated parents to their child’s brain development.

In short, we’re a microcosm of the Singapore Schooling Spirit. Or at least, we’re heading that way.

The first thing my general practitioner told us when we announced we were pregnant was to stand our ground and ignore the breastfeeding nazis if it all got too silly.

The second thing he told us was to think seriously about enrolling our then water flea-like foetus in childcare facilities and/or schools. El pronto.

Barely seconds after grasping that I am a skinny, breathing human incubator, I had to think seriously about my views on public and private school education. I still haven’t gotten out of the habit of referring to High School here as Secondary School and Junior College.

And yet, here we are – me, swollen with Blobette and absolutely clueless about the educational system here, and Tony – a fine product of Brisbane’s private and public school education… except Australia decentralises its educational system and leaves it in the hands of each state/territory, doesn’t she.

So both of us are flying a little blind here.

The thing is, I was educated in a branded school. Actually, I hail from two branded schools in Singapore and no one cares here. And yet, thanks to my hardwiring and 20+ years of academic indoctrination Singapore-style, I feel a little anxious about the idea of sending Blobette to a no-name school. Actually, I quite loathe it.

MommyShorts, whose blog I heart and whose talent I secretly want to zap with a sonic screwdriver, is the queen of funny charts. But one chart in particular made me cringe-laugh so much, I almost shot juice out my nose:

Getting them off to the right start

I am trying so hard not to be that parent already, but oh lordy – I HAVEN’T ENROLLED HER ANYWHERE! I AM A CRAP PARENT! AND ALL BECAUSE I’M NAIVE ENOUGH TO ‘WAIT TILL SHE’S BORN, AT THE VERY LEAST’! WAAAAAAAHHHH!!!

<end scene>

Why Chinese mothers are superior

Not that I believe they are, but it’s a catchy title, huh. Read this rather controversial article today with the same title, and had to really think about it before I decided to publicly “like” it on Facebook.

It wasn’t an easy read. It wasn’t even all that familiar in bits, because my mother had never been that crazy – thank you God! But the article scored gold stars with me for the following reasons.

  • The author displayed absolute guts in presenting a single version of Asian values in a very Western publication with – no doubt – a highly opinionated target audience poised to pounce and protect their way of life.
  • The author practically glorified the crazy competitive nature that seems dyed in Asian wool – and gave it a name, a face, an explanation that wasn’t centred around saving face or sadism.
  • While she sounded rather abusive and nuts in places, the author wasn’t that off the mark. She had some valid points. She wasn’t completely bonkers.

I’ve survived the Singapore educational system. It’s nothing to sneeze at and as much as I look back on some of the years and shudder, I am strangely proud to be a product of its rigour. I had my most difficult school years in Singapore. By the time I got to Uni in Australia, it was a breeze. And while I really didn’t enjoy aspects of my school life in Singapore, I learnt this much at least.

  • Life doesn’t slow down to wait for you to catch up.
    Sometimes, you just have to force yourself to learn. When it comes to learning about do-or-die, I think I’d rather learn it early over a math book, than later in a job that pays my mortgage.
  • Keen competition with others is good.
    It tells you never to be complacent. It instills humility because you know there’s always someone better, brighter, faster, more diligent. It teaches you to get over yourself after your 5 seconds of glory.
  • Everything requires hard work and perseverance.
    Even subjects you think you’re good at. The whole concept of reaching your full potential is very much the pulse of Asian upbringing. And the drum beats even stronger in Asian churches. Do your very best for God. Be a testament for Him. Laziness is sin.
  • Self-esteem and job satisfaction comes from doing it proper.
    Praise for every single non-event is empty indeed. Praise earned for a job truly well done is a prize far greater and worth striving for.

There are heinous stereotypes about Eastern and Western parenting styles in the article that the author was quick to acknowledge from the start. I’m not saying I agree with all she said. But a part of me read it, and felt proud because yeah… the work ethic that Asian families instill in their young is so invaluable. I see so many wimpy, aimless, idle, ungrateful teens today that I want to shake – hard! And give them a dose of REAL school homework and school activities so hectic, they stay out of mischief. Simplistic, but a girl’s gotta dream.

And yet, I wished the Singapore school system – in my time – didn’t force us all to be bilingual. Wasn’t so terribly pragmatic that it forced us to be doctors, accountants, engineers all. Didn’t make our local exams so difficult that MENSA students couldn’t even answer a Primary 6 math question easily. Didn’t pigeon hole us before we barely reached puberty. Didn’t litter our holidays with private tuition and extra classes. Didn’t ostracise us for wanting to attend a church camp instead of choir practice for the national finals.

But still, I look back largely with fondness. Because it was a rite of passage. And it was tough. And I survived by the grace of God and extra tuition. And made tremendous friendships. And got equipped with invaluable life skills.

I know I’m not a parent yet, and I’m still relatively new to my borrowed and Western country of residence. I don’t profess to have all the answers. But I had a chat with Tony today, and we know we want to find a happy medium between our two educational cultures for our children.

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