The new REWARDS plan.

Ha. I know the word REWARDS was bound to grab your attention. It has the same effect on my 9-almost-10 year old; her eyes light up like a lit Christmas tree whenever I mouth the word. Let me breathe it out slowly…rewards. Ah…

Yes, who doesn’t like them? We have loyalty card programmes, frequent flyer points accumulation programmes, buy 1 get 1 free member incentives…but these are rewards of a different kind. I call this the Mama – Baby (Amanda still thinks of herself as a baby) Rewards Scheme or MBRS for short. A stroke of genius if I may say so myself, it has taken Amanda from daydreaming average student to driven and focused, top of her class, solid performer (of course, we also have Ms Amy of the Dalkeith Kumon Centre to thank); I only wish I had implemented it sooner.

Before I proceed, you’re probably wondering, will this work for my child? My question to you is: do you know your child well enough to know what he or she would consider a reward? It’s NOT what you consider a reward, it is what he or she really desires but has to get your co-operation or at least approval for.

Having allowed Amanda all the latitude in the world to learn through play up until 8 years of age (you’re probably wondering how that has worked for me or if you’ve been following this blog religiously you already know), I’ve come to realise that what constitutes a reward for her are the following:

* playdates

* having her bestie sleepover

* attending birthday parties

* going for tea somewhere nice

* getting new art supplies

* going clothes shopping or to the movies

* extra computer time

Okay. So it’s pretty obvious that Amanda is a regular girl. Some kids are not motivated by material things; in fact, many would be pleased to just have you show them some attention. But REWARDS are extra special. I give Amanda my full-attention 80% of the time so it is not a reward but a basic requirement in her book.

So how can she “redeem” these wonderful rewards I used to give her freely when we lived in Brisbane? To turn them into real rewards, I first took them away. Yes, I know this part is a pain but I took them all away: I cancelled every play date, every “fun” excursion…I wiped the slate clean and we focused only on work. We did this for 1 whole year and a bit. 

You’re probably going, “Yikes, this is hardcore!”

Whenever Amanda said she wanted to quit Kumon etc…I said her father and I would ship her to Singapore if need be to get her grey cells (aka brains) into shape.

Brains are muscles,” I told her. “Yours are currently mush. They need to pump some iron.” I’d lift invisible weights with my hands for emphasis and flex my equally mushy arms.

“Ya, but I don’t like math,” she used to tell me.

“That’s because you’re no good at it,” I said. She was then average or perhaps slightly above average in that department. “Trust me, the moment you get good you’re gonna love it.”

She’s now the best in her class. Her Kumon instructor Ms Amy says it is to be expected. Amanda now finishes tasks with time to spare, in some cases enough to help another 7 of her floundering classmates one by one.

I love how Ms Amy ripped up Amanda’s work when her handwriting was bad too. Amanda now has beautiful handwriting.

I’ve been told I am a Tiger Mum. I don’t think so but if I am, it’s only because I want the best for my kid. It’s like the Dulux slogan: Worth doing, worth Dulux. Mine is: Worth doing, do it well the first time for God’s sake!

Now, for Amanda to “redeem” a reward, she  has to successfully complete another level of Kumon or make an A or High Distinction. Extra rewards will also be given for school awards recognising achievement or participation in outside (ICAS for example) tests that lead to “demonstrable achievement.”

I even give Amanda permission to daydream. Where? In the toilet, in the shower, in bed, while waiting for her father in the car…But when she’s in class or at Kumon or doing homework, she has to be mentally present and ready to make neurological Carl Lewis sprints.

We went back to Brisbane for a fly-by trip recently (Sorry, if I didn’t call on you. It was only 2 days and I had too much to do) and we met up with Amanda’s bestie Lily and her mum, Melissa. All have been informed of this new REWARDS plan, MBRS. Now you have been too. Try it. It works a treat. Just be prepared for some major sulking before that.

If farmer Joe can want his kids to inherit the farm, why can’t HRH want his kids to do medicine?

Pretend you don’t know me and answer me truthfully: If farmer Joe can want his kids to inherit the farm, why can’t HRH want his kids to do medicine?

My closest white-y mate F and I had this heated debate yesterday. It arose when I said I’d only cough out AUD25k for Amanda to attend a private school if she could be assured of an OP1. To those of you unfamiliar with the Queensland education system, OP stands for Overall Position and 1 represents the top 1% of students who sit for their Year 12 exams annually.

“But you can’t buy an OP1, Estella!” F said.

I wasn’t talking about “buying” anything other than the tuition and attention to make this possible. This is where white-y and Asians differ: they believe in “inherent potential” getting a child where the child wants to go while Asians believe in taking that potential and guiding it where we, parents, want it to. After all, we oldies have eaten more salt than those young ‘uns have eaten rice. It isn’t just about ego: we do want what’s best for them and what’s best is having them take care of themselves in adulthood, as opposed to mooching off us as 50 year olds.

Regardless, what’s wrong with a doctor’s children following in dad (or mum’s) footsteps when lawyers can aspire for their kids to inherit the firm or builders the building business? Even the late Croc hunter, Steve Irwin, would have hoped for his kids to carry on Australia Zoo for him and here in Oz, fourth generation farmers and butchers are lauded all the time. So is it just tall-poppy syndrome in disguise or are the children of doctors somehow different? Here in Oz, you can say you want your children to be AFL players but God-forbid you want anything that shows off the size of the walnut between their ears. That will just invite criticism about you having plebeian Asian aspirations and “being another crazy Asian who refuses to assimilate.”

Related to this, but on an entirely different note: what is the point of assimilation if one gives up being what they ethnically are altogether, along with the quirks associated with such ethnicity? It is also interesting to note that among Asians, 3 generations of doctors in a family is very common, whereas among whites, it is very rare. If my children were to do medicine, my Asian friends would pat me on the back for having “raised the kids right and maintained their father’s legacy” while white-ys will say I “robbed them of the chance to be their own person.” Never mind that I’ll be sparing my fellow taxpayers the cost of having to feed, support or subsidise 2 other people.

I don’t mean to rant but one would think that the children of doctors are better equipped for the profession because their view of it is informed by their relationship and proximity to their doctor parent, instead of SCRUBS and ER. For the non-TV watching public, one’s a sitcom and the other a TV drama. Neither however, captures the long hours of the profession adequately or the personal sacrifices attendant to it, or if they do, it’s incredibly entertaining, which life isn’t always. Life also doesn’t come in half hour instalments with ad breaks in between.

Back to the issue of private school: why would I want to send Amanda there if an OP1 is not on the cards? Come on, I can buy myself loads of clothes with AUD25k a year.

“You do it for the contacts, Estella,” reasoned F. “Stop thinking like a poor Asian migrant. These contacts are what’s going to get your kid jobs in the future.”

Then I might as well move back to Asia where I have loads of contacts and none involve me having to spend AUD25k pa – AUD30k if you want Grammar. Here, people make contacts in private school. In Asia today, children go to private school because the parents believe the quality of education is better. When I was growing up, one only went to a private school if one was scholastically weak. The strong had no use for molly cuddling. Contacts were and are, still largely established, fostered and maintained through family ties.

And if anyone’s asking, I still have strong friendships with many of my secondary school mates and university mates, all of whom went to PUBLIC school and many of whom are successful, unlike moi. My success, one should note, is of a different kind.

So what’s your take on this? Why is it wrong for me to want my children to follow in their father’s footsteps when it is perfectly fine for the children of farmers, butchers, builders, croc-hunters to follow in theirs?

P.S. I have a lot of love for F and she is STILL my closest white-y mate even though we don’t see eye to eye on some things.

P.P.S. I would move back or to some part of Asia if it were in the best interest of my children.

 

 

Back to Brisvegas!

It’s still some months away but it’s pretty much confirmed we’ll be moving back to Brisbane aka Brisvegas aka Home of Happy Hippies. The last one is my personal take on the place. Yay! Perth has been a great ride but we’re longing to put down roots and Brisbane is where HRH’s work is and where the next chapter of our lives await us.

It goes without saying I feel a mixture of emotions: it’s never easy leaving a place one calls home, knows the locals on a first name basis and has made loads of new friends. But move we must and move we shall, back east to Brisbane, this time by plane. If you want to relive my yet unedited (I don’t have the time with the baby) 9-day trip across Australia’s backyard moving from Brisbane to Perth click here.

To coordinate our move back to Brisvegas I have mental lists and paper lists and lists I’ve misplaced somewhere around the house for all the things that need doing. And for that question everyone seems to be asking: are you going back to West End?

Yes, by the grace of God we will. Amen. We will be moving back to live in the 4101. It’s home. I told HRH that for me Brisbane = West End. It’s the only equation I know even though nothing else about the future adds up at this moment. We travel to other parts of Brisbane for food all the time – it’s our family’s “collective hobby” – but 4101 is where it’s at for me. 4101 is home. I’m a WALKER who delights in all the wonders of the area that I can’t imagine wanting to live anywhere else. Even and especially with a baby, I’d still move back to live in an 85m2 apartment. Why? There are a number of reasons but chief of which is Amanda’s education.

In 2 years time Amanda will be off to high school. Living in our area we have the option of sending her to Brisbane State High, the best PUBLIC high school in Brisbane, possibly the best high school, sharing the podium with Grammar, which costs $30k pa. From the value-for-money-education angle, there’s no arguing it makes sense but of course since my mind almost never shuts off, what with the baby waking me 10 times a night (sometimes literally), I’ve had some reservations about this, namely: what if my child is NOT Brisbane State High material? I’m just throwing it out there. She has the highest LEXILE score for her grade (almost double the average grade 4 student) and is doing long division of many numbers and long multiplication of many numbers and will be at least 1 year ahead of the NATIONAL school syllabus by the time we go back to Brisbane (thanks to our wonderful Kumon instructor Ms Amy Lee-Smith of the Dalkeith Kumon Centre which we have been attending since December of 2013) BUT is she good enough to tango with Brisbane’s best? Can she foxtrot and samba her way to a decent OP there?

I laid it straight to her. “Amanda, Brisbane State High is a very big school.”

I showed her the latest edition of Kumon magazine with a grade 4 boy doing the level of math she should be at in 2 to 3 months time. That article got me worried.

HRH chimed in, “It takes students zoned to the area and those who get in on merit. Do you know what that means?”

She nodded. “It’s a big school.”

How big? 4000 students at last count with more on the way. In Malaysia that would be a regular size secondary school but in Oz, 4000 is a humongous number.

HRH said, “Those that get in on merit will be really very, very good.”

It was my turn to butt in, “So do you want to be one of those kids who are in the school just because your parents can afford a house in the zone or do you want to be one of those who deserve to be there?”

Right here is my mountain of a concern: Brisbane, unlike Melbourne that has Macrobertson and Melbourne High, doesn’t have a purely selective school that admits kids into high school from grade 9 onwards based on an entry exam. While I understand the desire for parents to want to send their kids to a local school the BSHS model means that there will be very scholastically capable children and those that will flounder and possibly drown under the weight of such competition. Which will my child be?

They say a mother knows best but this mother is at a loss as to how to proceed. Some friends with kids have said I should put her name down for a private school, just in case she needs that extra attention a public school can’t give her. I am considering that but am I already too late when others have registered before their kids can walk?

Regardless, living within the 4101 will give us the option of sending her there. Perhaps tonnes of others think like me because in my absence I’ve acquired only a thousand new neighbours, in the form of new apartment blocks all around mine. With the new addition to our family, I want to get into a house or something from which my now-crawling baby won’t decide to try his “superman” skills while I am in the toilet. Alas, that will require some serious financial re-jigging which even the thought of gives me migraines.

So in the interest of my sanity the 4 of us (2 adults, 1 child and 1 baby) will move back into our 85 m2 (that includes the balconies) for now. At first the impossibility of “squeezing in comfortably” (an oxymoron in my book) depressed me but then my friend L said, “Remember how you were going on and on about taking Amanda to Museums, art galleries etc? You can make it work! I know you can!”

You’d have to agree good friends make the best cheerleaders. All right. We’ll give it our best shot. I’ve been binging on posts from apartment therapy and www.dwell.com to see just how I might achieve the impossible – taking a leaf or ten out of the books of New Yorkers who have done just that since the advent of skyscrapers. Yes. I will do it. I will “squeeze comfortably” into my tiny pad and make it work. Wish me luck.

Girls are sheep and Boys are sheep-dogs?

My son just hours old.

My son just hours old.

Same face different baby. A picture of Ethan and Amanda at the same age.

Same face different baby. A picture of Ethan and Amanda at the same age.

Why the tears? Amanda has yet to come to terms with having a sibling.

Why the tears? Amanda has yet to come to terms with having a sibling.

But look at Amanda now? She's the proud big sister!

But look at Amanda now? She’s the proud big sister!

My sleep-deprived brain quite forgets how this random conversation transpired but it was back when I was some months pregnant.

Stranger: Oh, I see you’re pregnant. (Duh! Stating the obvious when you see a humpback whale.) Is it a girl or a boy? (I suppose it’s a polite-thing to ask.)

Me: It’s a boy. Oh, you have one too. (Equally polite to show that you’ve noticed.)

Stranger: Yes, indeed I have. Girls and boys aren’t quite the same thing, apart from the obvious hardware differences.

Ah, now, courtesy of some randomly-firing synaps I remember fragments of this encounter. The stranger was a dad, standing in line next to me to enter the school hall to see our children performing. He has 3 girls and a boy.

Me: And what would the difference be?

Stranger: Girls, they sit there quietly and play their games. I remember giving my daughters a toy plane and they wanted to put a blanket on it and put it to bed. They petted it and gave it names. Boys, they make the vroom-vroom noises and spin it through the air even before they know what a plane does.

His wife comes up to us at this point and chimes in: Girls are like sheep, Estella. Boys are like sheep-dog. You’ll have him running rings around the girls and ruining their games and girls sitting in the middle looking cross!

And so it has come to pass that I’ve been the proud owner (I mean mother) of both a sheep and sheep-dog for the past 4.5 months. How has it been you ask? I’m so exhausted I’m practically sleeping with my eyes open. The speed with which I’ve lost the baby pounds (17 kilos and counting) through a combination of full-breastfeeding and this non-human sleep-deprivation – although most wonderful, don’t get me wrong, I love being able to fit back into my pre-baby jeans – beggars belief. I now constantly marvel at my body’s ability to keep going; unlike after I had Amanda, I’ve been able to get by on regular serves of food. I also have very few cravings which I put down to a more wholesome and nutritious diet.

Amanda has gone from quiet resentment at the new little person taking all her mother’s time and energy to open adoration of her little brother. Ethan, her brother, is a boy’s boy. He was born rolling and tummy-crawling. He’s a little adventurer that eats, poos and pees his weight every day. He’ll grow to be as big as his old man, perhaps bigger. Other parents have promised me that he will scale my fridge at the first opportunity once he is able to do so. I’m locating a padlock just in case.

I hope this finds you well.  Enjoy the happy snaps from my “new baby” adventure!

 

Going from 1 to 2: the long awaited BABY news.

Good people of the world, I have a very important announcement to make: after what seems like a lifetime in child-rearing years (9 precisely, next Australia Day) I’m going to give my singleton, Amanda, a sibling. Yes, you read right. I’ve got a bun in the oven that’s due this Christmas. It’s a boy. And yes, I’ve been teased about hogging all the public holidays – as though one can time these things.

I shared the news with my facebook friends this Monday and everyone was extremely congratulatory. After all, 9 years in anyone’s book is a long, long, Rapunzel-please-let-down-golden-hair long time. The question hovering on everyone’s lips, but which none were rude enough to ask, at least not openly, is “Is this baby the result of an accident“?

I can emphatically say No. This is very much a planned baby, one whose journey into being has been marked by way more concerns than Amanda’s (it has a lot to do with me being much older), whose very arrival has been anticipated by HRH’s clan (yes, I don’t mean family) for roughly 2 decades. HRH, who you might remember me saying is Chinese-school-educated, is a second son of a second son whose clan adhere to the tradition of giving all males a “generation name” from a typically 40 character “family poem”; a once flourishing practise that today is followed only by the most traditional of Chinese families. With HRH’s brother and male cousins all having resisted marriage, this boy is his paternal great grandfather’s only male descendant to go forth into the future, a living symbol of the clan’s continuity.

Although his English name Ethan Alexander was chosen by HRH, his Chinese name Tzetan (pronounced “Certain”) was picked out at the time of HRH’s mother’s death from bowel cancer, some 18 years ago, etched on her tombstone as a promise to perpetuate her lineage, since dying without descendants is very bad for a Chinese person. Amanda’s Chinese name is there too, but as we are a sexist, ageist and dare I say, racist, people (that’s just being honest), use of her name was optional whereas this boy’s is not. There is one other male name there but I’ve already informed HRH I’m shutting down the baby factory after this. In more ways than one, this has been a difficult pregnancy for me and even HRH agrees that my body might not be able to cope with another.

In the first 4 months, I had horrible “night sickness” and was constantly fatigued. For a meat-eater, I couldn’t stand the smell, much less taste of meat, and had terrible sleep, which left me even more run down than what I already was. At the 12 week mark, I went for the obligatory blood test and ultrasound to determine the health and development of the baby. I walked in to the doctors’ rooms with roughly a 1:300 chance of having a baby with down syndrome, I left with 1:83. I was told that this put me in the high-risk category.

Even though I knew that in no way had I contributed to those odds, I was distraught and devastated all the same. I opted to have my blood extracted (from my arm) at a cost of AUD1250 (with zero subsidy or reimbursement from my medical insurer or the government) and flown to the US for the Verifi Prenatal test that’s just been recently offered to expectant mums in Australia.

A close friend of mine on being told the news commented that, “It’s good to have money.”

I replied, “Money doesn’t change the outcome of the test. All I’m buying is information.”

I would have much rather not gone through the angst of being told my high-risk as I walked around with lead balls in the pit of my stomach for the next 3 weeks – it ended when I received a call from my doctor with results from the test. 99.9% accurate, I was told the baby is healthy, normal and well, a boy. I was so rapt at the news I quite forgot HRH’s and my desire for another girl. Yes, we are strange Chinese. Most people would think we’d want a boy but he and I actually wanted a second daughter because we are so enamoured by our first.

Throughout this pregnancy, we’ve consistently said to Amanda, “The only reason we want another child is because you’re fabulous. You’ve made us very happy just by being yourself and we want to give you someone for when we are dead and gone.”

Amanda had the mother of all melt-downs when she was first told. I was so upset by her reaction that I had to leave the room while HRH placated her. With weeks to go until D-Day, Amanda has not only come around to having a sibling, she’s actually looking forward to it. She’s already talking about the games she’ll play with her brother when he is old enough.

In my second trimester, the nausea subsided and my energy returned, but so too did my appetite with a vengeance. At this point I could out-eat even HRH who is 6ft 1 inches tall. Where he ate just the 1 Vietnamese roll, I had 3. Suddenly Australia portions were just the right size. I could wolf down a typical main meal and still have space leftover for desert. Predictably I gained weight at an alarming rate of 1 kg a week. My back began to kill me and I had to see a physiotherapist at the hospital, who kindly undid the knots in my back, kitted me out with tubi grip and taught me some exercises.

Around 26 weeks, I went for a Glucose Tolerance Test. I didn’t expect to have any problems since I guzzled 5 litres of Ribena a day while carrying Amanda and was perfectly fine. That, on top of the requisite Boston Bun for breakfast. This time around, apart from the vast quantities of food I was consuming, my diet was a lot better. The midwives I was now seeing told me that under new guidelines, I had gestational diabetes. One of the hospital’s dieticians rang me and we went over my diet. Without my realising it, I was eating enough carbs for the whole Australian army.

At 28 weeks, I looked like I was 32 weeks along. At 32 weeks, I looked like I was due. Thankfully on my new “diabetes-friendly diet” my weight, 20 kg more than when I fell pregnant, has stalled. Another mother from school, also due about the same time and in the same “no-sugar boat” as myself, and I started to go for walks after school drop off.  We formed ourselves a “Diabetes Club”, the purpose of which serves to spur us on to eat within the recommended guidelines while still allowing us to enjoy the foods we love. In the weeks since, we’ve both controlled our blood sugar while partaking in such delicious meals as Seafood TomYam soup, Kerabu Tanghoon (Peranakan Green Bean Noodle Salad), Soto Ayam ( Indonesian Chicken Soup),  Tekwan (Palembang Fish Ball Soup), Yam Woon Sen (Thai Glass Noodle Salad) and so on and so forth.

A picture of me 35 weeks pregnant.

A picture of me 35 weeks pregnant.

Now in my third trimester, my water-retention is so bad that my toes resemble sausages and my neck has all but disappeared into my puffy face and shoulders. The skin feels tight and somedays, I can’t bend any of the fingers in my right hand, which, along with the left, has been afflicted by carpal tunnel syndrome. Sleep is sort of a hit and miss affair, with me no longer needing PJs since I am 5 or more degrees warmer than everyone else. I have been sleeping on my side since 25 weeks as on my back, I simply can’t breathe. The fatigue has returned and with it, pain in the pelvis and knees.

So there we are, folks. Soon enough my parents will be here to help me through the period post-birth. Like with Amanda, I will be observing the traditional Chinese practise of “confinement”, which lasts for a whole month. During this time I will be fed a special diet, mostly consisting of copious amounts of ginger with protein, and won’t be allowed to bathe or go out of the house. Don’t fear for me: I’ve already bought myself 2 cans of Klorane dry shampoo to manage.

So if you don’t hear from me for the next couple of months, you know what I’m up to. If this is to be my last post for the year, I wish you a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year! May we meet again in 2014!

 

 

 

 

Things you do when you have just one child.

A friend of mine recently postulated the reason behind my very-involved style of parenting. In case you haven’t noticed, almost every third or fourth post is about something I do or have done with Amanda. In fact, if you were to stay a week in my house – not that I’m suggesting you do for I make a bad, bad, host – you’d notice that the idiot box, inordinately small in this age of super-size everything, is relegated to a quiet section of my bedroom where it is gathering dust as I type this. That’s because with Amanda singing, dancing and trading on the inherent cuteness of her jiggly bits every night (kept nicely plump by a steady diet of gourmet cheeses, macaroons and Ben Jerry’s Cookie Dough ice cream), I have no need for, much less attention left to give, a TV.

So what does one really do with just the one child? And can it ever equal the work of having as many children as Old Mother Hubbard? Have a read and you tell me.

1) Starting in babyhood, you give her two dozen names – in place of the other children you will not be having. She has so many names, ranging from “delicious” to “sweet and sour” (you can tell I’m constantly thinking of food), that when the Maternal Child Health Nurse asks,  “Does your child know her name?” you blink and ask, “What name?”

2) You know all your child’s measurements, starting with her APGAR score, so when that same Maternal Child Health Nurse tells you your baby has grown 1 kilo consistently since birth and is a good 68 cm and 9.5 kilos at 6 months, you decide a massive banquet is in order. Your spouse arrives home to find his wife – who usually feigns any excuse not to cook – has made enough food to feed the entire village.

3) Top of the Pops is replaced with more child-friendly tunes, composed entirely by you, looking at your baby.

4) Your spouse overhears you spouting sweet nothings and sees you staring at the baby.

5) Your spouse gets jealous of the baby. Most spouses do, but yours has put the baby on the table and suggested she be added to the dish of roast pork.

6) Because your bundle of joy (and cause for prolonged sleep-deprivation) was born on a Wednesday, you decide hereafter that all Wednesdays (if only for a whole year) will be “picture-taking day.” The following year, you decide to go one further by recording DAILY the evolution of bub’s speech. By year’s end, you not only have firm proof that she has the vocabulary of a child a year older, or 10 times a child her age, very clear speech at that, but can pose and answer questions. And yes, you still think she’s the best thing since sliced bread.

7) By 2.5 years of age, you’ve read to her so much (try 3 hours a day) that she can recite the contents of 100 books, word-for-precious-word back to you. Just for good measure, you decide to record her using your over-used camera. The sound isn’t great but at least you have something for posterity, along with 1000 photos from the first year, many of them featuring her in various states of undress.

8) Unlike other children for whom toilet-training is a breeze, yours resists every trick in the book. She even resists sitting on the toilet so pooing and peeing becomes an hour-long whole family affair with Papa holding the thrashing toddler in place and Mama reading (yet again) or singing the “Shee-shee Poo Poo” song.

9) Your baby, who’s no longer a baby, agrees to use the toilet if she can go to school. FYI, this hard-fought agreement only comes about after the principal tells her (or her back since she steadfastly avoids any discussion of her toilet habits) that only “Big girls (meaning toilet trained ones) can come to school.” Within a month of this, your baby is completely out of nappies. Hallelujah! You could kiss the ground!

10) Now that she is in kindy, your days are spent trying to get pen marks off your beloved red leather sofa and that WIP she has next to the throne – it’s a picture of a birthday cake on which she’s stuck another picture of a birthday cake.

11) One morning, all 3 bunches of car keys go missing.  Your spouse asks the toddler if she’s seen the keys but she wears an expression that says, “I no speak Englishee.” You then spend the next 45 minutes helping him turn the house upside down for said keys only to find them – wait for it, wait for it – on the shoe shelf, behind her shoes.

12) When she goes to Prep, you arrive to find her on the mat with all the other kiddies awaiting collection, but unlike them, she’s reapplying her lip gloss in anticipation of your arrival.

13) She has so many play dates that you have a diary dedicated to whose house you’ll be visiting next. Because you only live 3 or 4 blocks from Southbank, your weekends are filled with trips to the Queensland Museum, Gallery of Modern Art, Queensland Art Gallery, State Lending Library and the adjacent fake beach. By the time she’s 6, your baby, now a baby only to you, has seen all manner of earthly creatures, dinosaur bones, mummies (neither of them alive), and cost you hundreds of dollars in exhibition-entry fees.

14) You can scarcely finish celebrating one birthday when she asks what is she going to have for the next one. It’s either that or she’s pestering you to go shopping for another birthday she’s been invited to.

15) When you’re not buying presents or helping her with “Show and Tell” or cleaning up the mess from her latest experiment (they are learning Science at school), you’re taking her countless questions on everything ranging from Boy-Girl-Relationships (I told her no boyfriends until at least 30) to life after death (she’s afraid of you dying, even though you’ve told her you have no plans to for a long, long time).

16) Even when you’ve been freed of all of the above, you still have to protect her from everyone and everything. That’s because you’re now a 24/7 bodyguard. This year you’ve had to deal with death threats in the playground, stalkerama issues, other girls being mean to her…You even have to accompany her to the toilet at home and wait outside the door, in case the “monsters” in her imagination come to get her.

** Meanwhile, 8.5 years on, you still have to defend yourself against accusations of “neglect” or “inappropriate mothering” from people who a) are not mothers b) are mothers but never raised their children c) are mothers but never breast-fed or co-slept with their children d) mothers who just have a different idea of mothering to you. Oh yes, and meanwhile, you keep receiving “sweetheart letters” from total strangers the world over. Go figure that one out.

17) The baby, who is no longer a baby, now complains you are “forever tired.” It seems that you are tired almost from the moment you open your eyes in the morning until you close them at night; or in some instances at midday, when you have the house all to yourself. But since another full-day beckons, you dutifully down your vitamins, breakfast and a bottle of Chicken Essence. “Until the weekend,” you mutter to yourself. “Until the weekend.”

So do I ever worry I’ll be raising a very self-centred Little Miss? No. Quite the contrary. If you’ve ever met Amanda, you’ll know she’s a very giving sort of person; so much so that sometimes I think a bit of self-centredness would do her good. Because she’s never had to fight with siblings for her slice of the pie, she thinks that all children are as unconcerned about their possessions as she is. She doesn’t understand agenda or the games little girls play to manipulate each other. And for that reason, many of her playmates are male.

She knows she is lucky to have her father and I as parents, as we are very open-minded people. She knows we have afforded her many opportunities and spend a lot of time helping her make sense of what she sees around her. People with more than 1 child can do the same too, but obviously it will take more time, more stamina and more resources. For a long time I wasn’t convinced that I had more of any to give, that’s why I stopped at 1. That may change in the very near future. Do watch this space.

To tell or not to tell.

Intrinsic to the Australian education system is the weekly performance by children of an item known fondly as “Show and Tell.” Depending on the age of children and class size, most are rostered to stand in front of their peers for something like 5 minutes. When Amanda was in kindy, aged 4, her weekly “Show and Tell” had no designated topic; the purpose then was simply for children to get used to standing before an audience and opening their traps. As you may expect, being my child, Amanda had no difficulty doing this. Her first “public performance” was at the age of 2, unprompted, on a wooden dias of a Japanese restaurant, to which our fellow diners clapped afterwards.

As Amanda got to grade 1 and then 2, “Show and Tell” became a more structured activity. We parents were given hand-outs of topics our children had to prepare for in advance. We were to help them, if they needed help, which was almost every time. I began to suspect this “Show and Tell” to be an means by which parent-involvement in the upbringing of a child is gauged, if not why else was I – by no means an enthusiastic cook – spending the better part of a morning making Chinese pork jerky for 25 seven year olds, just so Amanda could talk about “Malaysian Food” for 5 minutes? You can click on this link to have a look at the recipe I used.

When Amanda, aged 8, entered grade 3 at the beginning of this year, “Show and Tell” became “The News”; but the basic premise remained the same – the child still had to present something to his or her classmates in the allotted time. In this new school of hers, children are free to choose what they want to talk about. This week Amanda wanted to regale her classmates with her new purchase from the newsagent across from our street, her favourite store.

“BOOOOOORRRRIIING!” I called out with a yawn.

As Amanda’s mother, I have to be honest with her. People showing off their new crap, as they do on facebook day in and day out – ball gowns, kiddy clothes, new cars etc – bore the hell out of me. I have worked in TV before and trust me kiddo, unless it is a very slow day, “Cat rescued by fireman” – honourable though it may be of the fireman to save a distressed cat – does not make it on to the evening news. We want action, drama, a pulling of the ol’ heart-strings to make the audience to ditch their day-dreaming over stale milk.

“But I don’t have anything else to present!” Amanda said.

“Who said so?” I countered. “You could tell your classmates about tempe, a staple food of Indonesian people, which you tried last night. Since I showed you the video, you can tell them how it is made, what it tastes like. You can mention how it has kept the poor of Indonesia well-nourished. Or how about that video (of Indonesia’s poor) eating KFC from the rubbish dump? Surely that will pique everyone’s interest? Or what “Children For Sale” in India?”

Here are some of the videos I showed Amanda over dinner two nights ago. The reason tempe came up was because I had scored a fresh piece from an Indo friend; a real treat because the ones sold in stores have a bitter aftertaste that like people, comes with age.

My Indo friend tells me that the poor eating KFC from bins is a fact, not fiction.

“Yes, but that’s what you want me to present. I don’t think children are interested in any of this,” said Amanda.

And they are interested in 235 piece boxed-set of art supplies you bought from Newspower?” I said, sarcasm-toned down specially for her age. “I’m not carrying that box home once you’ve finished your presentation, you know? I’m not gonna be responsible if someone nixes it or ruins it either.”

“Fine. Fine,” she said, sounding like what most women do when forced to do something they don’t like.

When we arrived at school, I chirpily informed her Thursday and Friday teacher, Mrs D, in front of the assembled class that I had saved them all from a presentation on arts supplies.

“Instead, you will be hearing about ‘Children For Sale in India’,” I said, rubbing my now-chubby paws (due to water-retention, causing carpal tunnel syndrome) with glee.

Amanda returned from school later in the day and said, “Mrs D requests that in future we only present ‘child-friendly’ topics.”

“What was wrong with your presentation?” I asked. I thought it was better than the same-old, same-old “This is what so and so bought me”, “These are the sausages I ate on the weekend”…inane topics one and all.

She said that “Children for Sale” scared the children.”

“And it should. This is what happens to children in India, Brazil, Nepal…all the poor places in the world. They get sold into slavery and prostitution. How about eating KFC from dustbins? Didn’t they feel so lucky to not have to eat from bins?”

“I told them to imagine a bin of chicken in our classroom. No one said they’d touch it. Mrs D said we are very lucky to live in a country where we have fresh food that hasn’t been consumed by someone else. But the talk may have offended Sophie (her classmate)?”

“Why is that?”

“Sophie was born in Indonesia.”

“Then Sophie is a wuss. A big fat tofu. She may be born in Indonesia but she doesn’t know the first thing about being Indonesian; she can’t speak the language, doesn’t know the culture, much less the socio-economic situation. It’s like you being offended because someone in Melbourne (Amanda was born in Melbourne) murdered someone else. Does that make you a murderer? What’s it got to do with you?”

“I think my classmates would have preferred to hear about the arts supplies.”

“Ahhh…all big fat tofus,” I said, despondently.

Somehow I have the feeling Amanda won’t be asking me to suggest topics for “Show and Tell” from now on; which is just as well. I don’t want to be making more Chinese pork jerky.

Teaching children about money: wages, taxes, debt and repayment.

Except for a very privileged few, household chores are part and parcel of growing up; it’s how mums and dads lighten the workload around the home and for some kids, provide that first taste of things to come many years hence in the adult workforce. So much is it a “rite of passage” that most of us can even name that first chore: mine was folding clean laundry and helping either of my sisters to wipe the dishes as they were placed on the wiring rack to dry – I started this shortly after I turned 8. HRH’s was to rub his uncle’s sore back now and again, which he never saw as a chore. He’s still rather good at giving back rubs, by the way.  At any rate, neither of us were paid for our labour and had we asked for payment, our caregivers would have most definitely have pointed to all the food we consume, as Chinese are apt to do.

Nevertheless, since we’re now living in 2013, and in the west at that – where children are all remunerated for their labour, however modestly – it seemed only right to offer Amanda money for the work she asked to do around the house in order to afford a second batch of books from the Scholastic Book Club, a programme through which schools raise funds. While HRH and I encourage reading, neither of us were particularly keen on spending another $125 on books she’d read just the once. Furthermore, there is such a thing a public library; we’ve been meaning to bring Amanda to the one in our neighbourhood but something always crops up on our weekend agenda. Be that as it may, the one in her school allows kids to return and borrow new books outside of “library day.” So as far as we parents were concerned, there was no need to buy anything, much less stuff we’d have to get rid off when we move again.

I settled on what I thought was fair pay given her age and lack of experience, a means by which to afford the Scholastic Book Club order, but not so much that it’d make her consider a long-term career in cleaning. You can laugh but I once heard of this university-aged boy who got so caught up in the money he was earning from a Western restaurant ($16 per hour excluding tips, 8 years ago) that he failed his studies 2 years in a row, necessitating his mother, who works at a fish market in Hong Kong, to go around begging for soft loans to fund yet another year’s international student school fees.

HRH, who is more “China” of the two of us, would not even entertain the idea of paying Amanda. He said, “She should help to clean for free!”

But I said, “We want her to learn about earning money. So how is she going to do that if we don’t pay her for her efforts?” Moreover, she’d treasure more the things she’s bought through her own sweat – or at least I’d hope so.

So he said to her, “Fine. For every $5 you earn, you must give me $1.”

I raised an eyebrow. So early paying “father maintenance” already? 

“Why must I give you my money?” protested Amanda, quite loudly I must add.

It’s called paying tax. Papa has to pay the Australian government tax for money earned, so you also have to pay tax to me, the Australian government in the house, for money you earn. Because you aren’t earning very much, I will only collect $1 out of every $5 from you or 20%.”

“But that’s not fair! How will I be able to afford my book club order if I have to pay tax? I have to work for that money!” she shrieked.

“You can be lazy and not work and not earn anything. Or you can work and pay some tax. Your choice. The tax you pay will go towards other things you need.”

Things like the sticks of glue she has me buy (she’s now on to her 4th stick for the year), or coloured paper for her school projects (costing $1 per piece) or the workbooks we practise Maths and English with ($8 per book). HRH and I are not calculative, especially not with Amanda, but we want her to learn about money – how hard it is to earn and why she has to manage hers. She went away harrumphing like a camel and I thought that would be the end of that, but she returned minutes later asking when she can start work.

Because I’d let go my regular cleaner a month ago, who wanted a raise after I was already paying her DOUBLE the award rate (and a good $7 more than what people pay per hour for a dwelling like mine) allowing her to come late and leave early (trust me, there’s a story in there yet to be told), there was more than enough work for Amanda to earn what she needed for the  Scholastic Book Club. She needed a couple of pointers to get the downstairs vacuumed and the bathroom and toilet cleaned, but did both jobs in under two hours, for which I paid her $10 in total. At the end of it, she was less-than-happy to give her father the $2, but she did anyway. After which she asked me for more work.

“But why?” I asked her. “Isn’t that enough for your order?”

She grabbed her dog-earred catalogue and started totalling up her order.

“How much more do you need?” I asked.

“My order comes to $65. I have a $5 voucher from the last time and $25 before I started. Now I have $33. I’m short of $32 but 2 books are what you agreed to buy for me (those are Maths and English grammar books. I refuse to pay for story books)…”

I grabbed the catalogue from her. “My order is only $19. I will use the $5 voucher towards it (because I paid the last time) so I will throw in another $14. So how much more do you need to complete your order?”

She came up with the right answer and so I said, “I’ll give you a loan for the balance. But a loan means you have to repay me.”

It’s not big money but I wanted to teach Amanda that she has to be responsible for money she borrows. Otherwise she’ll turn into one of those adults who run around scratching their heads, wondering how they can be declared bankrupt over a couple of paltry thousands.

The next day we went to submit her order. A red “NO CASH” sign greeted us on the collection box; this meant I had to place her order over the internet with a credit card and fill in the receipt number on the form instead. Since I carry a card few vendors accept (thank you hubby!), I had to borrow HRH’s Mastercard to put the order through. Understandably, when Amanda returned from school to see the money still on the table, there was some confusion on her part.

“Can I take the money back since Papa has already paid?” she asked.

“Not so fast,” I said. “Mama paid for your books using Papa’s card so that money has to be given to Papa.”

“But then now I owe 2 people!”

“No, you only owe me for the money you borrowed.”

“But I have to work for you to repay the money and I have to give this money to Papa.”

“You have to give this money to Papa because he paid for the order with his credit card so now he owes the credit card company. If not, how is he going to pay for the order?”

It’d have been so easy for me to just say, “You can have the money back as Papa has already paid for your order.” It’s after all, peanut-money to us. But I wanted her to understand the flow of debt, to not get into debt unnecessarily. 

“So I earn the money to give to you to give to Papa to give to the credit card company? But I still owe you?”

“That’s right. Because you didn’t have enough for the order in the first place. So you don’t owe Papa or the credit company, but you still owe me for the balance on that order.”

While it’s going to take plenty of concerted effort on our part for Amanda to be “financially literate”, we cannot afford for her to be blind to the consequences of rampant consumerism, which is the accumulation of debt for non-income producing assets. Put simply, if we don’t teach children to think twice about their purchases or how it is to be funded, then we run the risks of allowing them to be slaves to debt accumulated for goods long since passed their usefulness. That’s like paying for a bag of Twisties you ate a decade ago. Nonsensical, isn’t it? But that’s exactly what’s going to happen unless children are taught how to manage money.

 

Inhabitants of border-town: caught between generation X and Y.

Before I went to Melbourne, I came across this article call Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy. Even without reading it, I knew the reasons why Generation Y Yuppies are unhappy: they’re spoon-fed softies who expect to have the wealth and fame of…name whoever you want…minus the years of toil that person has endured to be who he or she is. After reading Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy, I was even more convinced that this is the case. The only question I had, as a 78 baby, was whether I was Generation Y Yuppy (in which case, I retract my less than flattering earlier statement about Generation Y Yuppies) or a Generation X Yuppy (which no one writes about because we are generally well-adjusted, if not particularly exciting, members of society).

Let’s face it: no one is going to dedicate virtual or real pages to you if you pay your taxes, stay within the defined limits of the law, produce the national average of children and have a retirement plan in place. Lawmakers, sociologists, journalists, even your fellow bloggers, are only interested if you are creating a ruckus about essentially nothing, spending your inheritance to sustain the entire economy, and not keeping up your end of the national repopulation plan. Hence the endless yarns about Generation Y Yuppies.

So being born on the border between X and Y, where do I fall? Many of my friends – coincidentally all border-town inhabitants – have asked themselves the same thing.

“But I’ve always been responsible,” insisted one. “I took the first job that came along.”

“I’ve never thought of unicorns,” said I, in reference to how unrealistic some Generation Y Yuppy aspirations are; although there was a time when I harboured a desire for Pegasus-type achievements. That’s the border-line influence I suppose.

Then of course came reality, followed by a crash down to earth. I can’t say that I dream of anything more than a overflowing bank account anymore. The Generation X Yuppy in me has come to a begrudging acceptance that bills are paid with money and not unrealised potential or good feelings inspired by something that may or may not materialise with plenty of hard slog. Unlike most Generation X-ers, I’m not waiting for Boomers to shove off so I can take their place. I can’t speak for the other X-ers, but I certainly have nothing to gain from them vacating their perch at the top of the resource tree: I have not asked or taken a dime from my parents since graduation and leave it to their discretion to do what they want with what they have. It’s after all their money. Thus my own advice and concerns for my daughter, a Millennium Yuppie.

“You can sing, paint and collage all you want but just make sure you have a proper day job,” I often tell her. “Mama and Papa are not going to give you anything more than love and a good education.” That’s also to keep away the would-be gold-diggers – there’s too many of those around.

The mistake Boomers made with their Generation Y offspring is they imbued them with this sense that they can achieve anything when in reality, they can achieve anything with untold amounts of luck (which is God-given), talent (also God-given), plenty of blood, sweat and tears. Boomers also neglected to teach their Generation Y offspring anything about money.

If my Beijing friend is to believed, Generation X and Generation Y yuppies are the same the world over. You can tell what generation a person belongs to simply by observing his or her spending.

Those born in the 70s are used to saving a large part of their wagesThose born in the 80s, like my sister, don’t save anything,” she said. “Those born in the 90s are worse. They take out loans for trifling things like mobile phones. Can you imagine taking out a loan for a mobile phone?” she asked.

With just a trace of Generation Y Yuppie about me, I might have seen the value of  buying by instalment in my younger days, but I have since become the 35 year old that prefers cash purchases, recalling the frequent exhortations of parents to refrain from buying one’s way into debt. Moreover, I was taught that the fastest way to lose a friend is to ask for a loan, which would inevitably happen if I were to stay on the spending path. Then there are also reasons besides lost of friendship and financial insolvency for not doing so.

I remember reading about this boy in China who sold his kidneys to buy an Ipad and an Iphone,” I said to my Beijing friend. “He probably now realises that fancy electronics are a poor exchange for 2 good kidneys.”

“That’s sad but the desire for nice things is driving young people to do all sorts of things.”

That’s not to say I don’t admire the boundless self-belief Generation Y Yuppies have for themselves. While the rest of us are stuck in some less-than-ideal version of ourselves, Generation Y Yuppies morph Machiavellian-like into whatever suits their purposes. Being a border-town inhabitant, with a strong leaning towards the X, I see more hurdles to the transformation than benefits to be gained from such a soul-altering undertaking. Accordingly, even the grandest of my aspirations are pygmies beside that of the typical Generation Y Yuppy. Even then, they aren’t things I go about declaring to the whole wide world. I have that Generation X tendency of playing it safe by saying nothing – that way, whether I succeed or fail, no one is to know. There is of course, another reason for this:

When I was in my early 20s, a colleague further up the Generation X tree than I am, said, “Don’t ever tell people what you want to achieve. If you do, they’ll try to stop you.”

Over the years, I’ve encountered the people I was warned of so I can fully appreciate the reasoning behind that former colleague’s advice. Meanwhile Generation Y Yuppies, perhaps luckier than I’ll ever be, have that loveable naivety that everyone is on their side and thus set about broadcasting their plans to anyone who will listen.

 

20 Golden Rules I Live By (Well, they work for me).

You probably already cottoned on that I’m a pretty opinionated old bird. And while I’m no repository of worldly wisdom, here are a couple of rules that I live by that seem to make living easier:

1) Life is fair. I know many people who’d contend otherwise, but from my observation, no one really has everything. It might seem like they do, but you don’t know their story.

2) Nothing is ever completely black or white. Except for premeditated, cold-blooded murder, which is definitely wrong, almost everything is else is situation-dependent. Always ask yourself, “What is the situation here? What am I missing?”

3) Don’t fight with idiots. Firstly, they’re too dumb to see reason and even if you do win, they’d be no thrill in having bested them.

4) You need to quell the urge to think up a suitable reply to hear what the other person is saying. Make allowances for the fact that they may not be as articulate as you.

5) Notwithstanding number 4, don’t agree just to be agreeable. Have an opinion, take a stand, state your convictions in the clearest, least offensive possible manner.

6) Know when to walk away. This relates to number 3.

7) But if you must fight, argue or brawl, make sure you can win. If not, why bother?

8) Every encounter, good or bad, presents an opportunity to improve your knowledge of the world and the people in it. It’s up to you to seize that opportunity and grow from it.

9) Have a reasonable, though not overly high opinion of your own intelligence, experience and abilities. What blinds most people is usually not the tricks played by others, but their own egos. Keep a good distance away from yours.

10) Because of number 9, you should steer clear of sycophants. We all want to buy into the legend of our own greatness. With them around, it’d be just too easy to do that.

11) Cultivate real friendships with real people. Know the difference between being friends and being friendly then you won’t over-invest in relationships that go no where.

12) That’s because your time is limited and no one person will meet all your needs.

13) Accept others for who they are. Don’t waste time expecting them to turn into what you’d like them to be. If you can’t do that then just stay away from them.

14) Notwithstanding number 13, don’t make excuses for people. People make enough excuses for themselves.

15) Regardless of your religious beliefs, there is such a thing called Karma. Like a savings account, deposits and redrawals do add up over time. Unlike a real savings account though, you won’t know your actual balance until you try to call in a couple of “special favours.”

16) Having potential is not the same as realising it. The best way to realise yours is to forget everything you’ve ever heard about what you have.

17) You don’t have to know everything. It’d be nice if you did, but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t because nobody does.

18) See the funny in every bad situation. If you’re going to go through shit, then you might as well get a couple of laughs out of it.

19) Remember that life goes in cycles. When you are down, live for the up. When you are up, prepare for the down. The first makes hardship more tolerable, the second helps you to stay humble. The key to happiness is to find equilibrium in perpetual motion.

20) Feel free to add to this list.