Thursday, December 31, 2009

Good tidings for 2010

Here we are on 31 December, at the turn of yet another year. Every year, I marvel at how quickly time has flown by and this year is no exception. If you're like me, this is probably the day you do some reflection over what you have achieved, cringe a little over the mistakes you've made and hope that the clean slate for the following year brings something better.

As we ring in 2010, I pondered over what I would wish my readers and I came up with two.

For parents, I wish you wisdom. Wisdom to:
  • know when to reign in and when to let go
  • discern the difference between sufficient and excess
  • know that the measure of a child is character, not exam scores
  • realise that perfection is as bland (and fake) as a Stepford wife
  • differentiate between your child's glory and your own glory
  • see all things in perspective, and if not, friends who can show you the light
For children, I wish you a genuine heart. A heart that:
  • is compassionate towards others and kind to self
  • understands the value of diligence
  • is upright without being uptight
  • covets little and is grateful for much
  • values the wisdom of parents... and overlooks the slips
    A very happy New Year to all of you and may your cup of blessings runneth over in 2010!

    Saturday, December 26, 2009

    We're on the pages of Young Parents magazine!

    Hope everyone had an enjoyable Christmas! I know we did... and it's over again all too soon.

    We did have a special Christmas present this year, in the form of Young Parents magazine. You see, I was interviewed a couple of months ago for an article on mums who blog about education. Yup, Of Kids and Education made it to the newstands, how about that!

    Lilian asked me to scan the article and post it here but several problems presented themselves, the biggest one was that I do not own a scanner. Secondly, even if I did, I don't think I would know how to post it here, the tech novice that I am.

    So, if you want to read the article, do get a copy of Young Parents magazine, January 2010 issue. The article is on pages 50-54. The writer Tracy was really nice and accommodating, and I'm very grateful to her for writing about my blog in such a positive way.

    Instead of blogging about the article, I'm going to chat about our experience. The interview was quite straightforward and uneventful, the highlight for my kids was definitely the photo shoot. It was a full studio shoot where wardrobe and makeup were provided.

    The wardrobe was the tricky bit. While they were spot on with my kids' styles (gorgeous Gap tops and jeans), they were completely off the mark with me. It was completely my fault, I made it a point to tell them in advance not to put Lesley-Anne in a dress or anything with frills so that she wouldn't be uncomfortable, and forgot all about myself. So when they showed me a green sleeveless dress that I was to wear, I'm sure my expression must have been priceless. I'm not fussy but there were three things wrong with that outfit for me - Green. Sleeveless. And dress. Apparently it was a mistake not to have mentioned to them that I am almost exclusively a jeans and t-shirt gal, and that I can't remember the last time I wore a dress.

    After some feeble protests, the wardrobe folks very obligingly agreed to change my outfit. It was another dress with a striking spiderweb print. It's still totally not me but at least it's not sleeveless and it's not green (one of the sure colours to make me look like I'm on my deathbed, apart from beige). So, not wanting to appear like a prima donna, I agreed.

    Then the next surprise - they presented me with a pair of three-inch heels. My kids had hysterics - I'm sure my startled expression is permanently seared into their memories. Andre gallantly offered me his arm and asked with a straight face, "Can you stand up, Mummy? Here, take my arm." As I wobbled to take my place in front of the camera, I kept thinking, "Thank God it's a still photo."

    And here we are. Let it be recorded that I also had false eyelashes on. Ah well, we should all be glamorised at least once in our lives!

    The photos taken are property of SPH and so we were not able to receive copies, which is a pity. The photographer generously offered to take this pic of us using my handphone so we could at least have something to remember the session by.

    After the group session, the photographer was so taken by Andre's typical animated self that she requested to take a few solo shots of him for her portfolio. Needless to say, Andre LOVED the attention - everything from the makeup and waxed hair to the Gap outfit. He posed, he hammed it up, he basked in the limelight.

    Here are some shots I took on my crummy phone. Too bad we couldn't have copies of the actual photos, some of them were really nice.

    He loved the checked shirt so much I bought a similar one for him for Chinese New Year. If by some miracle, he ever makes it as a model, let it be known that he got his start here!

    Thursday, December 24, 2009

    Reporting day

    23rd December 2009 - a momentous day. Bright and early, Lesley-Anne joined hundreds of other students in a variety of uniforms, to report to her secondary school.

    As we sat with other parents in the hall, watching our young 'uns with pride, it seemed like there was an invisible thread binding us together in our shared circumstances. Lilian wrote about feeling a great sense of school spirit when she was with Brian at his secondary school and I totally understand what she meant.

    Everything was hustle and bustle today, the school had obviously gotten the system down pat through years of experience. Registration was efficient and orderly, followed by the massive rush to buy uniforms, books and stationery. The stiff crispness of unworn fabric and the woody scent of new books - they all added to the excitement in the air. Eager faces unjaded by familiarity, a brand new campus waiting to be discovered and fresh routines to be carved out. I'd forgotten how exhilarating it was to embark on a new chapter in school.

    What wondrous adventures lie ahead? Nobody knows... but we can't wait.

    Monday, December 21, 2009

    An evening in December

    We love Christmas parties but this one held at our place is always one that is extra special to us and our kids. We started holding a Christmas party for a few close friends to celebrate together even before we had kids, and since then, it has become somewhat of a tradition. Some years, the guests vary, depending on whether friends are away and last year, we skipped the annual celebration since we made a last-minute trip to Beijing.

    So our kids were doubly excited this year, even more so because for the first time since 2005, we managed to get the core group of friends back together again. I must say it's really wonderful to be close to families and see the children grow up together. I didn't quite realise this until I was browsing through old Christmas party photos - this fellowship brings not just us adult friends close together but also our kids, which is pretty special.

    Although the kids haven't met each other for at least a year, they were so at ease with each other and got along like a house on fire in no time. Here are a few "see how they've grown!" comparison photos:





    Daenia, my friend Hooi Ming's elder daughter, and Lesley-Anne have always been great pals. Christmas 2006 (left) and 2009 (right)




    Typical of boys, Andre and my friend Lim Nah's son Martin, bonded over trucks and Lego. Some things don't change even with time. Christmas 2005 (left) and 2009 (right)

    Here I am with my dear girl friends. No comparison pics. We don't like to be reminded of how young we used to look, thank you.



    And of course, no food, no party! Christmas parties at my place is always Christmas fare - that's half the fun of celebrating the season!

    Appetizers courtesy of David and Hooi Ming. A super duper cheese and pate platter, with dips, apricots and walnuts. These were wolfed down so quickly the adults had to physically restrain their kids with unheeded cautions of "Leave some room for dinner!"

    Dinner was roast turkey, crispy roast pork, shepherd's pie, mashed potatoes and salad contributed by Lim Nah and Remy. Before you assume that I'm Jamie Oliver in disguise, let me confess outright that the roast items were ordered from NTUC's festive menu. So all I can lay claim to is that I'm adept at heating up food, which is a whole lot less glamorous.

    Here's Martin (who incidentally is an aspiring chef) tossing his mum's famous salad. I say famous because Lim Nah's salad, a recipe passed down from her mum and improved through the years, is a much requested dish in our circle. This is coming from a family which generally looks unfavourably on greens.

    The salad filled two of those gigantic green salad bowls and by the end of the meal, there was NONE left.

    Don't let the quiet demeanors of the kids feasting fool you. They were like bottomless pits. We were taken by surprise when we found that there were hardly any leftovers, even though we had provided about the same amount of food as previous years. We then realised that we now had to cater for pre-teen appetites, which is waaaaay different from feeding little kids.

    After dinner, we had a little musical session. This is also a tradition in our parties. Kids who play the piano are invited to play something. It's an initiative to give the kids a mini platform for performance, something that's very lacking in Singapore, unlike in the US where music students often have the opportunity to play at recitals.

    Lesley-Anne, Andre and Martin did the honours and it was very enjoyable. I took videos of the performances but the sound quality didn't turn out to be great. So instead, here's a video of an earlier session I took of Lesley-Anne and Andre practising the piece they performed. It's a jazzed up version of O Come All Ye Faithful. The score was provided by Andre's teacher, Uncle Peter. I thought it was a terrific idea of his to make them play a duet. Christmas lah - time for peace, even among siblings!

    video

    Followed by dessert! Log cake thanks to Molly.

    And home-made Christmas cookies by Hooi Ming. Nigella Lawson recipe some more, don't pray pray. Lovely touch with the decoration. As you can see, the jar was already half empty by the time I remembered to take the picture!


    Then the kids' absolute favourite part - getting presents!

    Only noticed this when I was going through the pictures... the blue jeans brigade.

    A time to remember, to celebrate friendship.

    Saturday, December 19, 2009

    Message from Santa

    A quick post for those with young kids.

    Here is a link where you can create a personalised video message for your little one from Santa Claus and it's pretty neat. I did it for Andre and he sure got a kick out of it!

    The only kink is that if you click "Other country" in the form, the video seems to hang for some people, so just choose "Australia", "New Zealand" or "United Kingdom" if that happens.

    Actually, it's not just fun for kids but for adults too (the sender as well as the receiver!) You can send it to your friends - I know a friend (who shall remain nameless) who spent the past two days in the office customising the video for her colleagues. I created one for Lilian and was chuckling away while keying in the options.

    Ho ho ho!

    Wednesday, December 16, 2009

    Conversational Malay

    I know I've been rather slack in blogging. It's the holidays lah, I've got the festive bug - the one that causes my brain cells to seize up and go into hibernation, probably in preparation for the coming year.

    There was one incident just before the school vacation started, one of those Doh! moments which I thought I'd write about.

    According to a school flyer, Andre had been undergoing a Conversational Malay enrichment programme in class throughout the year. This course is by the Ministry of Education to reinforce the multi-racial environment in Singapore. So Chinese and Indian pupils have to learn Mandarin while Chinese kids learn Malay.

    Honestly, I didn't pay much attention to it until the end of the school year when I was clearing old flyers and realised that he had completed the beginners module of 20 hours. My assumption was that after 20 hours, you should have garnered some basic Malay. Afterall, Malay isn't that hard, right?

    Me: So what have you learnt from the class?

    Andre: Err...

    Me: You had so many sessions, you must have learnt something!

    Andre: I can say 'My name is Andre'.

    Me: How?

    Andre (slowly): Nama saya Andre.

    Me: Ok, what else? Can you count to 10?

    Andre (looks blank): Umm...

    Me: Aiyoh...

    Andre (protesting): It's not my fault! I didn't have the textbook.

    Me: Huh? What textbook? (reads flyer carefully again... urrrggh, he's right, they were supposed to buy a textbook. Why didn't they print that part in bold??) Aiyah, you could have asked me for the money right, you mean you went one whole year without the textbook and didn't say anything?


    Andre: The teacher said those who don't have can share...

    Me: Ok, but 20 sessions, surely you must have learnt something.

    Andre (thinks hard): I can say 'Good morning teacher'.

    Me: That doesn't count! You use that all the time to greet your Malay teachers. I want to know what you learnt from the class.

    Andre (brightens up): I know what is 'class' in Malay.

    Me: What?

    Andre: Kelas.

    All I can say is, thank goodness Conversational Malay is not an examinable course.

    Sunday, December 13, 2009

    Let the celebrations begin!

    It's the Christmas season and our partying has started!

    We had our first Christmas dinner this year when our good friends Isabelle, Joon and baby Maxime came over for dinner last night.

    Lesley-Anne drew a picture for Isabelle just for the occasion. Isabelle is an avid fan of sting ray collectibles, hence the water theme.

    The last time we saw Maxime was probably about five months ago, now he's walking on his own and cute as a button. He speaks his own Maxime language, gives smiles and high-fives all around - he's the darling of the infant care centre he goes to and I'm sure you can see why:

    Awwwww!! He has the perfect blend of his father's Asian eyes and his mummy's European colouring. This one is going to be a total heartbreaker when he grows up, mark my words!

    Dinner was Christmas champagne ham with apple sauce, quiche and an apple salad. A quick note on the apple salad: we're not big on greens so this salad sits well with us. I learned the recipe from my sister - basically, it's two apples diced, 1 can of garbanzo beans, 1 can of sweet corn kernels, 1 head of butterhead lettuce. You can also add some cashew nuts if you like. Squeeze a lemon over the combi, toss and you have a tasty salad that even kids will eat.

    You can find the quiche recipe here.

    And to show you how seriously Maxime takes his food, his devoted parents even towed his high chair along! (What's a feast if you can't share it with baby, right?)

    Isabelle and Joon contributed a fab French red wine and apple strudel, which ended the meal on a sweet note.

    Wonderful dinner, wonderful company, as always.

    Wednesday, December 9, 2009

    PSLE results and the great thanksgiving

    Ok, I'm all done with my holiday posting and as promised, I'm going to share Lesley-Anne's PSLE results.

    This is one of those posts where I had to think long and hard about how to write it because it's such a personal matter. I pondered over whether it was necessary to advertise my daughter's results to all and sundry on a public blog. At the same time, many parents have been faithfully following Lesley-Anne's education journey on this blog over a year and cheering her on. For this reason, I felt a sense of obligation to my readers, to provide a proper closing to this chapter in her life.

    As I reflected on it further, I became convinced that I should share her results, the reason which will be revealed at the end.

    That Friday before the results, Lesley-Anne's piano teacher told her, "All the best! But no matter what you get, give thanks." That was clue no.1.

    In the school hall before they released the results, the teacher in charge led in the singing of two hymns, one of them was "Give thanks." Clue no.2.

    The principal exhorted parents to accept whatever results their kids got as God gives everything purposefully. Clue no.3.

    The atmosphere was so tense I could practically feel the anxiety of both the parents and the students. Finally, Lesley-Anne got her results - 252 for her T-score, 3 A* (English, Maths, Science) and 1 A (Chinese).

    When she first showed it to me, my mind was a jumble of mixed emotions. On one hand, I was truly pleased with the 3 A*, I honestly didn't expect her to get A* for Maths and Science. On the other hand, 252 sounded like a lower score than what GEP kids would typically get.

    So there I was trying to digest the news, not really sure how to react. Then I saw Lesley-Anne among some of her friends who'd scored 260+ and 270+ - she was genuinely happy for them without any tinge of envy, and more importantly, she was happy with her own score. And the thought flashed across my mind, "if she's not comparing with others, why am I?"

    That night when she was saying her prayers, she said "Thank you God for my results" with such honest and simple gratitude that I was moved. I don't want to be overly dramatic and say that I had an epiphany there and then, but I think I finally understood what true thanksgiving was all about. On hindsight, the three clues were probably God's prompting for me.

    Too often, we give thanks with conditions attached - only when God gives us exactly what we want. But we are told to give thanks in ALL circumstances. How do we do this? By understanding and acknowledging that God gives us everything for a reason, there is no accidental gift. Every gift is designed to build us, mould us or serve a larger purpose.

    This is not rationalisation, as some cynics might believe. As I reflected on how far Lesley-Anne has come, I realised that we were seeing God's long-term plan for her in action. Back when she was just 9 years old, He led her into the GEP which provided the kind of education she needed. Through the GEP, she was led towards applying for DSA to the secondary school that she loves - one that we didn't even consider a year ago.

    During her time in GEP, Lesley-Anne had never been among the top rung of high achieving students. While some GEP kids cruised their way through the programme, she has always had to work extra hard just to keep up. What she lacked in pure brilliance, she made up with hard work. Throughout this year, I have seen Lesley-Anne dedicate immense effort, initiating extra revision time on top of what the teachers doled out. From seeing the effort she put in, I know this was the best score she could manage, and therefore, there was nothing to be sorry for and everything to be proud of.

    And once again, God had everything in place - since she has already been successful in her DSA, her PSLE score is in fact, inconsequential.

    So to cut a long story short, I decided to share Lesley-Anne's results not simply to satisfy the curiosity of readers. Truth be told, the T-score is just a number, a child is so much more than that. But what I have gained as a result of this whole exercise is a lesson in the true spirit of thanksgiving. It is something that Lesley-Anne understood better than I did, and it's a message I feel compelled to share, especially in the light of the Christmas season.

    We are richly blessed, and by giving thanks, we know this more.

    "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails." - Proverbs 19:21

    Thursday, December 3, 2009

    An explanatory note

    Dear friends and readers,

    I am back from my far-too-short holiday.

    I realise that before I left, I may have inadvertently left some of you hanging at the edge of your seats - those who have been following Lesley-Anne's PSLE journey faithfully, and when the day of PSLE results came and left with nary a word from me (except to say I'm going on vacation), may have asked in bewilderment, "So? How did she do??"

    Phew. That was a long sentence.

    I imagine you must feel like Andre does when he's watching a suspenseful episode of Teen Titans and sees the three dreaded words: "To be continued".

    Well, I'm going to be mean and prolong the suspense further. The reason is not that I have a bloodthirsty streak, it's just that I need to blog about my holiday first, otherwise when time passes, I might very well become less motivated. Plus the post on Lesley-Anne's results warrants some thought as I want it to be more meaningful than a "She got xxx".

    So over the next week or so, I'll be posting about our family vacation on my travel blog. The first post is already up. Please do check it out!

    And when I'm done with that, I'll get around to posting about Lesley-Anne's results. Scout's honour!

    Thursday, November 26, 2009

    Advent calendar version 2

    Last year, I wrote about the Advent calendar I made for my kids. If you are wondering what an Advent calendar is and how it works, do read that post so I don't have to repeat it here. I'm not doing one for my kids this year, it's a lot of effort and I think they've outgrown the novelty anyway.

    But for those who might be interested in making one (and I do encourage it as it's loads of fun for the kids), I thought I'd share the one I did for 2008. Again, feel to copy the rhymes but you'll need to change the ones that are specific to my family, like references to Ben 10 which Andre was crazy about last year.

    Last year, I didn't use all Christmas related words (this was my third year doing it so I was running out of ideas!) Plus Lesley-Anne was older and the rhymes were getting too simple for her. So I turned some of them into riddles instead.

    Once again, the first letter of the answer to the rhyme spells out a sentence, in this case "May love and peace be with you". To give it added difficulty, I didn't give out the clues in the order listed here, they were jumbled up with no. 22 actually given out on the last day of Advent (24 Dec). So after the kids got all the clues, they had to rearrange the letters to form the correct sentence.

    I'm just listing the letters in the correct sequence here so you can see the final sentence. Hope that explanation isn't too confusing!

    1. Maths

    It gives you many headaches
    When you can’t work it out
    But when you finally solve them
    There’s much to shout about!

    2. Asterix

    A funny little sign
    A funny little man
    He has many wild adventures
    Stop laughing if you can!

    3. Yelsel

    Button a as bright
    She is ballerina a
    Thing right the does always
    We are her of proud

    4. Leprechaun

    A little green creature
    Found in Ireland I’m told
    He looks for ends of rainbows
    To hide his pots of gold

    5. Open Sesame

    Ali said this
    So did Daffy
    When they said this
    They got plenty

    6. Verb

    It’s not a singer but it sings
    It’s not a telephone but it rings
    It does a lot of actions
    But it is not a thing

    7. Exams

    These things are such a nuisance
    These things you really detest
    But when they’re all over
    You’ll be glad you tried your best

    8. Andre

    Zip-a-dee-do-dah
    Zip-a-dee-ay
    A cute and clever dragon
    Please always stay that way

    9. Nikko

    We really loved this place
    Even though it was freezing
    The udon warmed us up
    It was really very pleasing

    10. Daddy (this is a repeat of the one I shared last year, the actual D word I used refers to a specific person so I prefer not to share it here. Just create your own!)

    Sometimes he’s smiley
    Sometimes he’s not
    But whether he is or isn’t
    He sure loves you a lot

    11. Pie

    It comes in many flavours
    Like chicken and apple crumble
    But the one that tastes bad
    Is the one that’s called humble

    12. Egg

    Hard or soft
    Fried is best
    Yummy whichever way
    Just don’t get it for your test

    13. Angels

    We never see them
    But we know they’re there
    God sent them to protect us
    To show how much He cares

    14. Cannonbolt

    He rolls up like a ball
    I made him dance some Russian
    If he hits some big monster
    The monster gets a concussion

    15. Emotions

    It can turn your eyes green
    And make you red, white or blue
    You can’t see or touch it
    But it’s very colourful

    16. Beijing

    A land rich in history
    With a very winding wall
    We were recently there
    And we really had a ball

    17. Email

    You used to use a pen
    Now you use your fingers
    The goal is still the same
    It’s to send out messages

    18. Wise Men

    There were three of them
    They travelled afar
    To look for Christ
    They followed a star

    19. In

    You’ll see it in something
    It’s there in everything
    It appears in thin air
    Yet it’s found in nothing

    20. Tin Tin

    A clever Belgian boy
    With a helpful little dog
    There are a couple of twins
    Who’re always in the fog

    21. Hammy

    Very, very active
    When she bites, ouch!
    You give her lots of food
    And she stores them in her pouch

    22. Yes

    I see it in your eyes
    It started yesterday
    Knowing Christmas is near
    This you want to say!

    23. Omnitrix

    It makes you look real funny
    And gets you in danger
    Yet every boy wants one
    Have you seen anything stranger?

    24. Unicorn

    A mythical beast
    Somewhat lopsided up there
    It only has one
    While others have a pair


    Happy Advent! Meanwhile, we'll be going on a short vacation from the weekend to end of next week. So I'm taking a break from blogging but I hope to see y'all when I return.... hopefully refreshed! Adieu!

    Monday, November 23, 2009

    Andre's 2009 report card

    Another school year has ended. I would rate Andre's academic performance as fair. His final exam this year showed me quite distinctly where his strengths and weaknesses are. While I don't want to put any labels on him, it's apparent that he needs help in his languages - both English and Chinese. For both, his spoken language is better than his written language.

    Andre's science is ok but I still find that his strange perspective sometimes gets him into trouble. For instance, there was this question in the science paper:

    Mr Ting brought a mystery animal to class and asked this pupils to guess what it was. The clues are listed below.
    • This animal is covered with fur.
    • This animal eats meat and bone.
    • This animal can run and jump on land.
    • This animal can swim in water.
    • This animal can be kept as a pet.

    Name the mystery animal.

    I mean, it's quite obviously a dog, right? This is what Andre wrote: "The mystery animal is a platypus."

    I went in despair, "how on earth can it be a platypus??"

    "I didn't know a dog could swim!"

    "It's a pet! How can a platypus be a pet?"

    "I thought you could keep it in a tank."

    Maths was the only subject he achieved a Band 1 and it was probably this that saved him. He managed to get into a reasonable class next year and I'm thankful for that. His results are not spectacular but I know they could have been worse. Moving ahead, we will need to put in more effort into his languages to build on his foundation and make sure he doesn't slip further.

    Meanwhile, this was what his teacher wrote in his report book:

    "Andre is a diligent and responsible student who shows a positive attitude towards his work. He readily accepts feedback on his weaknesses and works towards improvement. This can be seen from his enthusiastic nature in class over the semester. A warm, cheerful and caring boy, he takes initiative to extend his generous assistance to his peers and this makes him a well-liked student amongst his classmates."

    Andre was very encouraged by what she wrote - I think it's great of her to focus on his attitude instead of solely on his grades. I'm praying that he will be blessed with an equally enlightened teacher next year and be motivated to keep learning.

    Friday, November 20, 2009

    To my school

    Last day of school and it's a bittersweet moment for Lesley-Anne. Today, she leaves the school that has shaped her character and laid her academic foundation for the past six years. As a parent, I believe the teachers have done a terrific job. For the most part, Lesley-Anne has enjoyed her time here and I know she will remember it fondly.

    So here's a little something I wrote to mark her rite of passage.

    To My School

    When I first came here
    I felt so very small
    Many confusing walkways
    And a massive hall.

    At times it was tough
    I really didn't like school
    The teachers were too strict
    Kids could be cruel.

    But as time passed
    I became familiar with these walls
    Faces and places
    I grew fond of them all.

    Six years I've spent here
    Many friends I have made
    Day in and day out
    We've studied and played.

    Wasn't it just yesterday
    They were my new classmates?
    Now we're all great pals
    Ready to graduate

    Older and wiser
    A teen I'll soon be
    So very different from
    The little girl that was me.

    And now I only remember
    The good times I've had
    Knowing I'm leaving this place
    Makes me kind of sad

    My new journey's beginning
    Something I'm looking forward to
    But no matter where I go
    I will always remember you.

    Wednesday, November 18, 2009

    The best gift

    All you observant folks out there may have realised, "Hey, Andre is in p3... wasn't the GEP tests a few weeks ago?"

    The answer is yes, the GEP screening and selection tests are over, and no, he didn't get in, to those who might be wondering.

    While I'm not losing any sleep over this result, I was rather concerned before the tests as Andre was showing signs of anxiety that he would not get into the programme. This came as a surprise to me as he had always seemed rather indifferent to GEP and we as parents have always been conscious not to compare him with Lesley-Anne. I kept reassuring him that it didn't matter whether he got into GEP or not, and trying to instil the message that everyone has different talents.

    Despite this, he persisted in asking, "What if I don't get in?" until I said in consternation, "It really doesn't matter! I don't care if you don't get in! Why do you care so much?" Then the truth emerged - he wanted it because it was the best. Plus his sister was in it. It was about winning.

    Have you ever seen pre-schoolers at play? When one child decides to play with a particular toy, all the other kids will clammer to play with that same toy and a fight will ensue. And when a child finally decides that another toy is preferable, all the other kids will instantly want that toy NOW. It doesn't matter if there are heaps of other equally interesting toys in the room.

    It's the same with adults. Nothing is seen as more valuable than the item that is most coveted by others. In the Singapore education landscape, GEP falls under this category. The GEP is regarded as the most desirable "toy" and this mindset is cascaded down to the kids. I can keep spouting that GEP is designed and suitable only for intellectually gifted kids but that doesn't stop my hit rate from rocketing just before the GEP screening and selection tests, from parents searching "GEP coaching" to reach my blog. (Yes, I can actually verify this).

    Being able to get into the GEP becomes a trophy of the highest level and this mindset has somehow seeped into Andre's psyche from school and his classmates. Although he only had a faint inkling of what GEP was, in his mind, it was the "best toy". Naturally then, when he heard the news that he didn't make the grade, he was terribly downcast.

    I'm sure you're all familiar with the phrase: "When God closes a door, He opens a window." I'm rather ambivalent about this statement because it suggests that God sometimes gives us something that's second rate or as a consolation prize (afterall, it's so much easier to walk out the door than climb through the window!) I don't think that's true. I think God wants to give us the best all the time, just that what He knows is best for us (the operative words being "for us") is sometimes not what we may consider the best.

    Andre experienced this first hand. Even as he was still smarting over not getting into GEP, God's "window" opened. Within the same week at his usual badminton coaching session, he was given a letter by the academy inviting him to join a special coaching class, where about ten kids from the academy are handpicked to be given extra attention and put under more intensive training. These are supposedly the kids with potential and in what I thought was a very generous gesture, the academy will even sponsor their apparel and equipment, including rackets, t-shirts, shorts and bags, among other things. Basically, these kids will be the poster children of the academy.

    I just had to marvel at God's timing. It rammed home the message that God gives only what's best for you, something I'd tried explaining many times to Andre but he didn't quite grasp until that moment. It was quite clear to me that God closed the door to GEP for Andre because it doesn't play to his strengths. But the badminton special class does.

    It's not about winning - it's about growing as a human being, it's about the journey of life and what makes us better people. We don't know yet where this will head, but right now, we're just accepting all gifts with open arms and with gratitude.

    Monday, November 16, 2009

    In honour of Lesley-Anne's braces

    Came across this poem by Shel Silverstein from A Light in the Attic. Made us giggle, what with Lesley-Anne in braces and all.

    Tusk, Tusk

    The Walrus got braces,
    And that's why his face is
    A tangle of wires and steel.
    He'll sit and he'll wait
    Till his tusks are both straight -
    And then think how happy he'll feel!
    (But meanwhile, they're ruining his meal.)

    Friday, November 13, 2009

    Totto-Chan - in Chinese, no less

    I've mentioned before that we don't read enough Chinese books in this household. I'm always mindful that the habit needs to be instilled but you know, we just never get to it.

    Part of the problem is picking the books. When we're at the library trying to sort through the ineligible (for me) shelves of books with Chinese squiggles, it's always "too hard", "too simple", "got hanyu pinyin", "too boring", "too history book", "too moralistic" or something else.

    So when the Chinese tutor lent Lesley-Anne this Chinese book to read over the holidays, it was a welcome gesture.

    It's actually the Chinese version of the famous Japanese children's book, Totto-Chan: The Little Girl at the Window. For the uninitiated, the book is a memoir by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, a Japanese UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, who wrote about her unconventional education during World War II at Tomoe Gakuen, a Tokyo elementary school. The protaganist Totto-Chan was expelled from a regular school for disuptive behaviour but was recognised by Mr Kobayashi, the principal of Tomoe Gakuen, as an imaginative and curious child with a thirst for life's wonders. From her eyes, the reader sees the how Mr Kobayashi harnesses his unusual outlook towards learning and children to help his wards enjoy a happy childhood and appreciate the simple things in life despite the war.

    Originally published in 1981, the book has been translated into numerous languages and remains the best selling book in Japanese history.

    I've read the English version (in fact, I'm sure I have it somewhere but can't seem to locate it) and while it's a charming and heart-warming story, my frank opinion is that the style of writing is a little boring. I attribute this purely to the translated text - I'm pretty sure it's much more engaging in its original language.

    The Chinese version holds more promise, probably because the Japanese and Chinese languages have more in common in terms of sentence structure and form than Japanese and English. Lesley-Anne is enjoying the Chinese version. To her, many Chinese books focus too much on the description of settings which is uninteresting whereas this book tells the story with much dialogue and in a more narrative manner.

    So this is one of my rare recommendations for Chinese books. It's a fun story, though it's probably more suitable for girls. If you need some Chinese reading material for your kids, you might like to look this one up at the library.

    Wednesday, November 11, 2009

    Andre's room - please knock!

    Ever since we told the kids they would be getting their own rooms, Andre had been super psyched about it. At one point, he was telling me several times a day, "I can't wait till I have my own room!" until I was so sick of hearing about it and snapped, "If you don't stop saying that, I'm going to take it back!"

    The instance his room was set up, he pasted this sign on the door:

    It reads: 'If you want to come in, knock on the door! Andre's Room'. He took this notice very seriously. On the first day, I'd walked into the room unannounced and he looked rather miffed.

    "Mummy, you didn't knock."

    "The door was open! Anyway, you don't knock when you come into MY room."

    "That's because you didn't put up a sign!"

    Ok, so the rules are, you have to knock if you want to enter his room. He will ask, "Who is it?" and you have to answer before he will permit you to go in. Even if he can actually see you standing in the doorway. Heck, it doesn't even matter whether he's in the room or not. He was in the living room and when he saw Lesley-Anne march straight into his room, he yelled across the hallway, "YOU DIDN'T KNOCK!"

    This is what his new room (originally my office) looks like. The desk and chair are new, the others are existing furniture. The row of bookshelves and the piano (not shown) are part of the original setup. They have to remain in his room due to lack of space elsewhere but he says he doesn't mind. He actually gets a kick out of having piano lessons in his own room.

    There's a little corner by the window and it has turned out to be Andre's absolute favourite spot.

    He reads and plays with his toys there. I think he relishes the fact that he's completely out of sight there, if anyone looks into the room. It's his own little space within a space. Oh, there's probably another reason and it's there on the right wall. When Andre found out he was getting his own room, he didn't ask for anything... except, would you believe it, a mirror. That's right, the vain pot was not interested in desks or shelves or cupboards, as long as he could admire himself in the looking glass.

    Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the vainest of them all?

    Monday, November 9, 2009

    A room to call my own

    One of the more exciting milestones for the kids this year was that they finally each had their own room. Up until last Tuesday, they had shared a room and this was what it looked like (from two different angles):

    With Lesley-Anne at the brink of adolescence and differences in interests and opinions becoming more disparate between the two siblings, tempers were flaring much more often. It was clear that they each needed their own space.

    We live in a three-bedroom apartment but one bedroom was being used as my study cum office, so guess who had to make the sacrifice *sniff*. We didn't do anything extravagant, we kept most of the existing furniture and just added a few new pieces. The kids were content to have their own rooms and didn't make any demands.

    The original shared room became Lesley-Anne's room. Andre, ever suspicious that he might be getting the shorter end of the stick, asked why his che che could have the larger room. She immediately retorted, "Because I had to wait longer for my own room." Can't argue with logic like that.

    After the furniture musical chairs was done and the dust had settled, this was Lesley-Anne's new domain. The barang is still slowly being unpacked, hence the piles and bags.

    This is the view from the other side of the room.

    I think it's a great space for a growing girl and she has all she needs for now. At least I hope so! I couldn't believe how much stuff she had until we had to sort through them, it's like a rolling snowball - it gathers more mass along the way. Wherever there was an available table top or unused chair anywhere in the house, she would mark the territory with a pile of her belongings. Without realising it, I've raised a hoarder. I'm crossing my fingers that she will now contain the mountain heaps within her own room.

    Will post about Andre's room separately.

    Friday, November 6, 2009

    The rights of the child

    The other day, Andre brought home this booklet from school:

    It's a full colour booklet produced by MCYS and each page depicts an article stating a right of the child, according to the United Nations Convention, like this one below:

    It's very well done and simple to understand but I scratched my head over the objective of distributing the book to students. Was it meant for the kids? The parents? I mean, even if the kids were made aware of their rights, would they be able to take any action if they had tyrannical parents? And the parents, if they were like the father in the picture above, I'm pretty sure wouldn't give 2 hoots about what this booklet said.

    Anyway, I was flipping through the booklet and came across this picture:

    Wait just a doggone minute! A burger?? I know they're actually referring to food but I can just picture kids going to their parents, saying "Mummy, it says here I have a right to a burger. Can I have one now?"

    A little illustration is a dangerous thing.

    Wednesday, November 4, 2009

    Braces for Lesley-Anne

    Lesley-Anne has commenced her journey on braces. It was one that she faced with great trepidation but I'd insisted on it as she has quite a few crooked teeth and one tooth in particular that grew behind another. I have crooked teeth myself and always wished that I'd gotten braces when I was young. Having a great smile makes such a difference to one's features.

    We visited our family dentist/orthodontist right after Lesley-Anne's PSLE. We figured that it would be a good time to start since she had time on her hands to adjust. Upon examination, the dentist said that Lesley-Anne's overlapping tooth meant that her bite was wrong and she wasn't able to grind her teeth sideways. If this was not corrected, it would affect her jaw growth and she might end up with what he called a "banana jaw".

    So what started out with cosmetic intent became a necessary procedure for developmental reasons. Before this, I was hazy about the process for braces - it was very educational for me too, so I'm going to share what we learnt so far from Lesley-Anne's experience, for the benefit of others who might be considering this step.

    We'd heard that many people had to have extractions when they did their braces and this was a major fear factor for Lesley-Anne. I'll try and explain what the dentist said: Often, the reason for crooked teeth is that there's simply not enough space - either the teeth are too large or the jaw too small or both. When that occurs, the teeth start growing in whatever space they can find, in whichever direction. In such instances, it's usually necessary to remove some teeth to make space for the remaining ones. 9 out of 10 people who have braces require extractions. The catch is that if this is deemed necessary, you'll need to remove a total of 4 teeth - 2 from the bottom and 2 from the top, for an even set of pearly whites. If you hate extracting one tooth, imagine extracting 4.

    Lesley-Anne was extremely fortunate in this respect. According to the dentist, she only lacked half a tooth space, ie only one tooth was half overlapping. If he was to perform the extractions, she would have too much space to fill, meaning that when her teeth were all straightened out, they would collapse inwards too much, creating a much smaller arc. Conversely, if she were to keep all her teeth, they would make a slightly larger arc than currently, to compensate for the missing half a space. In other words, she'll just have a fuller, toothier smile. Think Julia Roberts.

    The choice was obvious and it was the dentist's recommendation anyway. I could see Lesley-Anne relax her grip on the armrests once she heard that she wouldn't need extractions!

    So this was the timeline: The first step was putting in the separators, which are to create a space in between the molars. A week later, she had molar bands fitted and metal brackets (to hold the wires) stuck onto each individual tooth. I never realised that these were simply glued on! Lesley-Anne said it felt strange having so much metal in her mouth. The next day (last Saturday), she had the wires put in. Braces now come in a variety of colours and she chose a dark blue.

    This is the part where the discomfort sets in. Because the wires have hooks, they sometimes catch onto her lips and ulcers can set in. Chewing food that's too hard can hurt too, so she's surviving on a soft food diet at the moment. She's braving it like a trooper though, I think it will get less uncomfortable with time. We've told her that everytime she feels discomfort, just think: "No extractions!"

    From now on, it's back to the dentist once every few weeks to tighten the wires. The discomfort will always be felt most when the wires are newly tightened. This process will continue for two to three years, depending on the individual. According to the dentist, don't be too happy if you're able to remove your braces very quickly because it means your teeth are very loose, which isn't a good sign.

    The braces will set us back by $3,850. But perfectly straight teeth and a healthy jaw? Priceless.

    Sunday, November 1, 2009

    Try your best? Scratch that

    These two weeks are Andre's SA2 exams and frankly, I'm exhausted. The PSLE has taken the wind out of my sails and I find myself suffering from a serious case of exam overdose. So what has happened is that revisions with Andre had been left even later than the usual last minute preparations, which is getting everyone at home hot and bothered (except Lesley-Anne who's still basking in post-PSLE bliss).

    Amidst the fluster however, I'm finding a silver lining. For some reason, Andre has suddenly decided to put his best foot forward and appears very motivated to do well in these exams. When I was going through some of his math assessment books and just thinking out loud that he wouldn't have time to complete some of the papers, he actually suggested, to my utter astonishment, that he do two in a day so he could finish them.

    The week before his composition exam, he was even more out of character. When I asked him to do an English paper, he offered to write a composition instead. My jaw literally dropped. If you've been following my blog, you will know that he dislikes writing compositions more than anything. For the past week, he has been doing 2 or more pieces of extra work for me everyday (on top of school, tuition and piano lesson), without whining or complaining.

    I'm not sure what caused the change of heart. I want to believe that he's slowly growing up and realising that his studies are important, although I suspect a big part of it is due simply to his competitive nature spurring him to perform well. I do know he was very gratified to read all the positive comments about his composition that I posted, so maybe that's the impetus.

    But here's the rub: I don't know if he will get the results he wants and it's getting harder to gauge what is a "good" result. I hear this cliche all the time: "Just try your best! As long as you've tried your best, doesn't matter what your result is." I'm guilty of using it too.

    Over time, I've realised that this statement is superfluous and I think kids get tired of hearing it. What exactly is your best? People say it all the time but they don't really think about it. It's impossible to quantify what someone's "best" is. Does not working consistently throughout the year mean it's not your best? Does having one careless mistake too many mean you didn't try your best? The fact is nobody puts in their 100% effort 100% of the time, everyday of the year (just ask yourself how many times you had an extended lunch hour at work).

    What happens is that parents start to equate "best" with results. They spout maxims like "as long as they try your best", but when the child comes home with a 70/100 paper, they immediately conclude that the child has NOT tried her best. So essentially, some of these parents who say "just try your best!" are exactly the same as the parents who say "you must get Band 1!" At least the latter are more upfront about it.

    I've come to terms to reality. I've stopped asking my kids to try their ambiguous best and instead, focus on whether they are applying a reasonable amount of effort in their studies. The fact that Andre has shown an inclination to work for his exams is cause for celebration in itself, I'm trying not to confuse the matter by tying it to his actual grades. I want to look longer term and enourage him to remain motivated and enjoy learning. When we say it's the effort that matters, not the result, let's really mean it.

    Thursday, October 29, 2009

    Chinese composition part1

    I'm going to do something very brave, go where I've not gone before... I'm going to post a Chinese composition!

    I thought it was time, considering I've posted so many English compos and zero Chinese ones. The reason I've neglected doing so for so long is that Chinese doesn't come naturally in our household, even to Kenneth, who studied in a SAP school for 10 years. The best analogy I can give is that for us, using the Chinese language is like a very right-handed person attempting to write with his left hand. (For me, it's like using my left foot). My kids are definitely more adept at it than I am (which isn't saying much) but still, it requires lots of painstaking work and effort even to maintain a basic standard of efficacy.

    It's a pity - the Chinese language is so rich in culture, I think we're losing a big chunk of our heritage due to our ineptness. So we try to encourage our kids to take an interest and hope that in time, they can see beyond the challenges of learning the language to appreciate its beauty.

    Unfortunately, while I am adamant against memorising good phrases as a technique to teach English composition, both my kids do this for Chinese composition. The schools teach it this way and the Chinese language is such that so many of the nuances are so complex that they need to be learnt straight off. I suppose it's possible to develop your own style but my kids don't have strong enough a command of the language to do so effectively.

    In p6, Lesley-Anne usually scored between 26/40 and 29/40, which is in the moderate range. For the composition below, she scored 32/40 which was her highest this year. The Chinese standard in her school isn't too hot, so probably pales in comparison with other schools, especially the SAP schools. Anyway, I'm just posting it here as a record of her work.

    This is the picture:

    Here's what she wrote (sorry, unable to type out - would take me a year):

    Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...