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.

Smacking: effective discipline or child abuse?

I don’t think my own mother ever had this conversation with me. Certainly not while I was 8 going on 9 years old, just like Amanda. So to my utter surprise (and we parents get surprised often enough, thank you very much) this morning at breakfast, Amanda asked me, “Is it TRUE that parents are not allowed to smack their children?

I hhhmmm-ed and haww-ed a good couple of minutes, trying to recall the most current piece of information I’d read on the topic of smacking, then when it seemed I could put off answering her no longer, said, “You’re not allowed to hit your children in anger but parents definitely have the right to discipline their children.”

If not, how could we, as parents, be accountable to society for our children’s behaviour?

I know that didn’t answer her question because she then said, “My friends say that parents are NOT allowed to smack their children. So how did grandma belt your sisters?

This was a tough one. “How or why?” I asked.


“You have to understand a few things, Amanda. Smacking is perfectly acceptable in Asia. When I was growing up, it was normal for parents to slap, smack, whack, cane or even belt a child if he or she misbehaved. Grandma may have been heavy-handed with the belt, but she did so because she cared for my sisters.”

“What’s heavy-handed?”

“To use undue force.” And this, I suppose, goes to the heart of the push to make smacking illegal in Australia.

But what is the right amount of force to get your point across? Some, little, or none? This brings to mind the speech a total stranger gave during my baby shower, a few months before Amanda was born. Since I had very few friends in Melbourne at the time, my host, HRH’s childhood friend’s wife, invited a couple of ladies from her church’s “cell-group”.

I distinctly remember this stranger saying, “I’ve always believed that to spare the rod is to spoil the child. I had the one cane which I used to whack my daughter if she misbehaved. After a while, I only had to show her the cane for her to remedy her behaviour. I always told her after I’d whacked her, that it hurt me more to have to do it, then for her to have been whacked.”

Curious to know the long-term effects of this method of discipline, I also remember asking her what became of her daughter. Did the girl turn out well? Does she still listen to her mother now that she’s grown and there is no threat of a caning?

“My daughter’s a neurosurgeon,” said the stranger. “We’re still very close.”

“So did grandma ever hit you?” asked Amanda, returning me to the present.

“Grandma slapped me, once.” Using her knuckles, she rapped me on my forehead a couple of times.


“Because I’d forgotten to bring home my swimsuit after changing out of it.”

I was Amanda’s age. I’d taken it off, put on my dry clothes and just walked off. That swimsuit had red and white stripes with a blue flower on the front; it was from Marks and Spencer and had been passed down from my eldest sister to my second sister to me. I guess it counted as a family heirloom. I never had another as good as it again. For the most part of my childhood, that slap cured me of forgetfulness.

Research may say smacking can lead to depression, anxiety, aggression, antisocial behaviour and substance abuse, but I can tell you that I have experienced or engaged in none of the above. People who know me personally can vouch that it hasn’t lowered my self-esteem or IQ in any way. Neither has it turned my sisters into social or mental retards.

Even HRH received many a hiding from his grandma and as you will know from reading my countless posts on him, he’s turned out just fine. He’s never been depressed, aggressive, antisocial or abused substances. He doesn’t even smoke. As for IQ and self-esteem, you’ve got to be kidding if you have to ask the question. Mind you, our caregivers didn’t just whack us for the sake of whacking us. They whacked us only when we were in the wrong and they made sure we understood what we were being punished for.

When I was growing up, not only did parents physically discipline their children, other adults – grandparents, uncles, aunts – also felt obliged to if they had care of the children. At the very least, they told us off. After all, you’ve heard the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Now we have to suffer the behaviour of little tyrants who run amok or twist our arms if they don’t get their ways. Today I read of a teenager who stabbed her mother 79 times because she didn’t get her way. Would she have turned out this way if her parents had given her a couple of smacks? One report says her mother spoilt her.

“But I’ve never whacked you, have I?” I asked Amanda.

I have smacked her bottom with my hand for repeatedly drifting off into fantasy land in the middle of class. She said the experience was “humiliating.” I told her the definition of humiliation is being bested by people whose abilities are much less than yours.

After that episode, I resorted to withdrawing privileges instead of using my hand: where before she had access to the computer all week long, she can now only use it for 2 hours on the weekends. Violation of this rule or failure to hand homework in on time to her teacher will result in further cuts, cancellation of play dates and – she’s most afraid of this – permanent relocation to Perth. For now we’ll be here for another year. Given a choice between this and a smack, Amanda would gladly take a smack.


Chicken Little and the issue of child safety.

This might as well be a picture of me.

This might as well be a picture of me.

Chicken Little (aka Henny Penny, pictured above) and I are second cousins. Sometimes I suspect our kinship is a lot closer because like Chicken Little, I constantly picture the sky falling. And yes, there is that same compulsion to report on the falling sky to the King – in my case, the resident monarch, HRH.

Fortunately or unfortunately, he too shares my concern about the falling sky. Instead of laughing at me when I told him to follow our then-newborn Amanda from the delivery suite, to make sure she doesn’t get wrongly tagged as someone else’s baby or carted off by strangers visiting the ward or in a hospital that only delivers a handful of Asian babies, smuggled out and sold off to Asia for 10 large – I’m highly adept at analysing the variables, mind you – HRH dutifully stuck to her as she was taken away to be weighed and measured, then brought back to me. In the weeks after that, we took turns guarding her – me in the day, him at night while I caught up on my sleep – in case she’d choke on her own saliva or somehow stop breathing while asleep.

When HRH was no longer able to give me a couple of hours sleep before I came on for the night shift, I took to sleeping with her instead; she was always on my arm and since her birth, I have become an extremely light-sleeper, so there was never any danger of me rolling on to her. Till today, some 8.5 years later, Amanda still sleeps with us and HRH and I are both in agreement that the most comforting sound to our ears is that of her snoring.

You might consider it extreme for an 8.5 year old to be still sharing her parents’ bed, but let me tell you what a friend of mine told me. She doesn’t have 1 but 5 children sleeping with her and her husband in a house that has at least 2 other bedrooms. “If there is a fire, I know where my kids are. He can grab the smaller ones and I can grab one under each arm and run out.”

Since then, I have learnt (mainly from reading the news) of other reasons to always know where your kids are: runaway pythons, nitrous oxide from old decrepit heaters, Ted-Bundy wannabes who go breaking into sorority houses to name but 3.

But I don’t want my kids to live in fear, Estella,” said my new friend Nancy, to me yesterday. “The world is a beautiful place and I want them to discover it.”

“The world is a beautiful place indeed…but there are many bad people in it,” I insisted.

I would have told her about the clown who murdered 33 teenage boys and young men, or the boy who raped, murdered and mutilated his childhood friend or perhaps the origins of my general distrust of everyone but she appeared to have her mind made up.

“Think about 10, maybe 15 years ago (when we were growing up). I want my kids to know what it is like to play in the streets, to go to the park with friends, to be independent,” she said.

Those all sounded like very nice things, but those are things I never experienced as a child because Malaysia was already not that safe even then. When I was born, my parents could get away without having grills on any of the windows or doors for 2 whole months. Now they would not dream of being indoors without the grills pad locked.

I would have told Nancy about the little boy from my childhood who got abducted and had his arms and legs cut off, smuggled out of the country to Thailand and made to beg on the streets there, but I knew she would hear none of it. I would have told her about Ong Tin Tin too, who was taken from a Malaysian school and never seen again or the eight year old who went missing and was later found dead, sodomised and stuffed in a gym bag, but Nancy had a determined look about her.

We live in a civilised country,” she continued to say.

“Have you heard of Daniel Morcombe of Queensland? He went out to buy Christmas presents by himself and was never seen alive again. His twin brother still blames himself for not going with him.”

“Yes, but there are cases like that everywhere,” she said, dismissively.

“But what if this was your kid?”

“These things are fated, Estella.”

I believe in fate, but not when it comes to my kid. “Why expose yourself to such risks? Why endure such pain?”

I was living across from Monash University and often frequented the Australia Post there, when a student went on a rampage with a gun, killing 2 and injuring 5. What I’m trying to say, perhaps ineloquently, is that serious crime doesn’t just happen in America. It does and has happened in a country as safe as Australia too.

Another picture of Chicken Little holding an umbrella to protect from falling acorns.

Another picture of Chicken Little holding an umbrella to protect from falling acorns.

Nancy allows her boys, the same age as my Amanda, to walk 3 blocks to the shops and back on their own. I won’t even allow Amanda, who can cross the road on her own, to walk or ride to school by herself, less than 50 paces away from our home, because in those 50 paces, she can meet anyone and anything can happen.

Except during school hours or on play dates at other people’s homes, which I thoroughly assess beforehand for sources of danger or dubious individuals, I have my eyes on Amanda at all times. At the very least, she is within earshot. In previous years, I volunteered for almost every school outing just to make sure Amanda was safe. Amanda even asked me, ahead of next year’s school camping trip, if I can volunteer for that too, so that she’ll be able to sleep at night.

“The problem with teaching children about stranger danger,” said my friend Lucy, “is that  children are only taught to beware of people they don’t know. In many cases of child rape and molestation, the crime is perpetrated by someone known to the victim.”

For this reason, I’ve already explained to Amanda why she can’t follow anyone home without my expressed permission or take food from them. “I don’t care how well you think you know them. You just can’t.”

Last year, before our move to Perth, Amanda’s bestie’s mum loaned me a book called “Everyone’s got a bottom.” It’s a tool for parents to broach with their kids the testy topic of “self protection.” The book is easy to read and can be shared with children as young as 3. Here’s a list of tips on how to keep your children safe from the Malaysian Edition of The Asian Parent. It touches on the abduction and death of 6 year old William Yau Zhen Zhong.

“But what about when Amanda goes to Uni?” asked Nancy.

“Oh, we’ve thought about that already,” I said smiling.

What I didn’t tell Nancy is that HRH and I plan to buy a house right in front of whichever University Amanda gets admitted into so that we can continue to keep two eyes on her. Either that or I will drive her to and from University, to and from all parties, to and from all shopping malls, or have her drive me everywhere, since she’ll be presumably driving by then.



Educational opportunities in the most unlikely of places.

Over the weekend I had dinner with a former classmate of mine and her gorgeous family. As you do when everyone is friends, you ask what they’ve been up to lately and they ask you the same thing. I confessed to an inexplicable fascination with the Jodi Arias Travis Alexander case, which I discovered when I wandered off-course on the Psychology Today website, after reading various articles on sociopathy.

I know you’re thinking, “Yikes. Sociopaths.”

It follows on from my profound interest in reading people’s ears, but that’s another story. At any rate, I was torn between allowing Amanda, who let’s remember is only 8, to watch the made-for-TV reenactment of the events leading up to Jodi Arias murdering Travis Alexander and the subsequent murder investigation and court case, and telling her a firm No in response to her repeated pestering. Then I thought of American Psycho and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, both of which I allowed her watch with me and the conversations we had about people and morality after that, and I relented.

“It was an educational opportunity too good to pass up on,” I told my classmate’s husband.

“Educational opportunity?” he chuckled.

“Of course,” I smiled. “Everything we come across in life presents an opportunity for us to better our understanding of the world. After watching this Jodi Arias movie with Amanda I told her that no man is worth soiling her hands for. That she should see Jodi Arias before she committed the crime and after 5 years of jail.”

Man, there is a big difference! Once she was this hot, young thing that could even make heterosexual women (this one at least) take a second glance in her direction. Now, with pronounced nasolabial lines, oral commissures and a loss of volume in the cheeks, she looks like a completely different person.

Now why would you do that to yourself?” I asked my classmate’s husband. “Come on. Even if you think nothing about the bastard, think about yourself. They need to revamp moral education in school.”

My classmate’s husband chuckled some more. He must have suspected me to be a recent escapee from a mental institution.

“Yes, now I believe that being moral is being kind to yourself first,” he laughed.

“Exactly! So why give yourself so much trouble by murdering anyone? The problem with moral education (or religious education) is that they expect everyone to have a conscience. Some people (namely Sociopaths, which supposedly account for every 1 in 25 people ), just don’t have one.”

Plus, children are for the most part egocentric; until their teenage years – some beyond, they won’t be able to see anything from another person’s point of view. So all this talk about being good for goodness sake, never gets into their heads! Perhaps when children are older, after they’ve demonstrated a smidgen of empathy, can you preach about the sanctity of life and split hairs over the right and wrong of a situation. Until then, you might as well be trying to teach them Greek!

“But didn’t he (Travis Alexander) hurt her (Jodi Arias)?” Amanda asked me.

“Maybe he did hurt her very badly by playing with her feelings (actually, as a woman, I would think that he did) but who’s stuck in jail now? The thrill of vengeance, especially if it involves murder, is very, very short lived. Better still is to cut your loses and just walk on.”

“Yes, but didn’t he do bad things to her.”

“Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. The point is he’s dead and she’s in jail. No man is worth the trouble she has gone through and is going through right now. If someone plays mind games with you and strings you along, he’s a dumb ass. But if you decide to turn someone into pork sausages, then you’re a bigger ass than he is. I’ll say it once and for all: the best revenge is moving on with your life.”

No doubt, there are many Travis Alexanders out there who see women as either whores or madonnas – the first for having fun with and the second for bringing home to Mama – when women can be both depending on where we are in our menstrual cycle. Be that as it may, it is my fervent hope this Jodi Arias story serves as a cautionary tale to them to avoid trifling with us girls while they get their heads straight.