Thursday, 16 May 2019

A Mother's Day Letter from my 6-year old

My teens have been writing me lovely heartful letters on Mother's Day. I can't quite recall when the childish drawings evolved to long letters and elaborate handmade gifts, but it must have been around the age of 12 or later.

For the past week, Kate has been showering me with her little doodly Mother's Day cards, gifts bought from her school bookshop, and cut flowers beautifully arranged in vases. But what surprised me on Mother's Day itself was a letter of gratitude.

Dear Mom,

Thank you for: putting me to sleep.

Thank you for: making me dinner.

Thank you for: trying to earn more money to go on a holiday just for me.

Thank you for: playing with me.

Thank you for: staying at home and making me lunch.

Thank you for: paying a lot of attention to me when I was a baby.

Thank you for: being my mom from a baby until now.

And have a Happy Mother's day!!!

I'm surprised that it comes so naturally for Kate to be aware and able to articulate the things she is grateful for at such a young age. 

Years ago, when one of my older girls finished her O levels, they wrote a letter of gratitude to their parents which was presented on graduation day.

My daughter was going through a rebellious phase then, and she found the whole exercise extremely superficial because they were given a template to follow and she felt 'forced' to write it and had to hand in the letters to the teachers to be checked before they were given out.

I remember that it was awkward for her to write that letter, and it took her a long time to reflect on what she was grateful for.

Another one of Kate's letters read:

Dear mom,

Thank you for being my mom. I know it's hard to be a mother for 5 children and me. And trying hard to earn money.

Have a Happy Mother's Day!

At the age of 6, she is able to see another person's perspective and acknowledge how tough it must be for me. Wow!

I gave her a gigantic hug, thanked her for her cards and letters and told her that no matter how hard being a mum is, it is all so worth it.


~ www.mummyweeblog -  A blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Sunday, 14 April 2019

Our helper has gone home

Jane has been with us since Kate was born and it was time for her to return to her own 2 children. Our family was sad to see her go, and the girls made gifts for her and drew beautiful pictures in a keepsake book telling her how much they appreciated all that she has done for us.
Handmade necklace
5 weeks before our new helper arrives, and we have survived 2 weeks! It was pretty fun the first couple of days, with everyone chipping in and being enthusiastic about doing the dishes, laundry and throwing out the trash. Kate even invited some church friends over and she made lunch - her signature quesadillas.
Little chef at work

#2 has been such a darling and knowing that I have so much on my plate, she volunteered to wake Kate up in the mornings to fix her breakfast and wave her up the bus. She did that for the first week, but as she finishes her cafe shift at 10.30pm it was tiring to wake up at 5.30 when she only gets to bed at 1am. So now I do 3 mornings and she does 2.

Because everyone is on a different schedule, with one at work, one in Uni, one in poly and 3 in school, we have a tag team going, depending on who is home at what time. Someone will load the washing machine at 6am, another will hang it to dry at 8am and one will bring in the dry clothes in the afternoon.

Lunch and dinner duty is split between me and 2 of the older girls. One evening, #3 realised that it was only Kate who was having lunch the next day after school. She tried her luck:

#3: Kate, you love watermelon right? How about watermelon for lunch?
Kate: No thanks.
#3: Hmm.. then what should I make for your lunch?
Kate: Oh, Auntie Merz said that if I don't have lunch, I can go next door for lunch.
#3: Ha that's settled! You go over for lunch tomorrow.

But to be fair, for dinner duty, she did make an effort to do a good meatball pasta, and customized it for those who didn't want cheese toppings.

One evening, I returned home from work and was busy preparing dinner and ensuring that there were clean uniforms for the 3 younger ones. Kate said, "I can help to do the ironing."

I thought that was too dangerous, and re-directed her to other chores. She finished folding the clothes, sweeping the garden, tidying the shoes in a row and helped to wash the dishes left in the sink. She saw the pile of clothes and kept repeating that she can do the ironing.

Finally I thought to myself, is it really possible for a 6-year old to do ironing? As an occupational therapist, we assess people on their activities of daily living (ADLs) and we guide them towards independence. I thought, ok, I'm going to assess how she does it, without turning the iron on.

I was surprised at her motor skills, and she ironed like a pro, knowing how to turn the clothes over and doing each section bit by bit. "Where did you learn to iron like that?"

Kate: I didn't learn. I just watch auntie Jane everyday.

My oh my. In our society where we have helpers and it is easier for us to get things done ourselves, much quicker and cleaner, we have stopped giving our children the opportunities to pick up so many life skills. We tend to be over-protective and shield them from all potential dangers when this is the age where they naturally want to help out. She finished ironing all her siblings' clothes and uniforms and even her daddy's pants.

I explained the dangers of the hot iron and that she had to be extremely careful when using it. I also told her that she is not to use the iron when I am not around, and she can only do ironing under my watchful supervision. (and no, we did not run out of clothes and have to wear CNY clothes, this was on international friendship day. We are on top of our laundry woohoo!). I don't want to encourage her to do the ironing as she is still very young, but I'm glad to know that in future, she will be able to handle household chores independently.

It's been 2 weeks, and I've reached my threshold. It's really not easy to work, tend to the kids, cook, clean, ferry elderly parents around and run errands. I've been very busy at work, with several preschools approaching us to run our program in their centres.

My Sunday was crazy, with church in the morning, visiting an elderly, conducting a parents' workshop and helping my team to prep for one of our student's birthday party, and coming home to do chores before cooking dinner.

Kate saw her food and said, "I don't want to eat this."

I would have expected it from my son who has always been a picky eater, but coming from Kate, I got really mad. I snapped at her, "If you don't want to eat, go up and shower and go to bed!"

I stomped around the kitchen trying to prep for tomorrow, thinking about what to put into her lunch box for recess, her snack box for class break, and what to give her for breakfast. I didn't have time for a supermarket run this weekend and there wasn't many options.

I took out a pack of "wang wang" japanese biscuits, put 2 into her snack bag and said, "Since you like to buy these for recess, you can bring these to school tomorrow." For good measure, I threw the whole big packet on the kitchen counter and said, "You know what, you can have all you want for breakfast."

Such a bad mummy moment.

What happened last week was that on Friday, I was running out of food for her lunch box and she said that she will buy food from the canteen. When we asked her what she bought, she said too cheerfully, "I bought a bowl of fishball noodles and also roti prata."

Immediately, we knew she was telling a lie. She confessed and admitted that she bought a wang wang biscuit from the snack stall.

I was still snap-pish at the older kids but told myself to take 3 d-e-e-p breaths. Kate finished her dinner (with her sister's help) and washed her utensils. I took her up to shower and she said, "Mummy, I'm sorry." I gave her a big hug and asked her what was she sorry about. "I'm sorry that I didn't want to eat your food."

I asked if she knew why I was upset? "Because you cook for me." I explained to her how it took me effort to make a healthy dinner for her, and was sad that without even trying a bite she refused to eat it. I apologized for my harsh words and we talked about what happened and both of us felt much better. She went to bed happy and me? I went back down to the kitchen to find something wholesome for her breakfast tomorrow.

2 down, 3 more weeks to go!


~ www.mummyweeblog.com - A blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~



Thursday, 28 March 2019

Why a co-ed school was the wrong choice for my son

My son had his first Sec 1 PTM and having experienced regular complaints from his teachers in primary school, I was dreading the meeting. From a co-ed primary school to an all boys school, I had no idea what he was getting up to in school. Fights? Bullying? Bad behaviour? Getting information out of him is like pulling teeth. I get scanty details which I have to piece together.

I approached his 2 form teachers, gave my son's name, and waited with bated breath. After scanning the master sheet, the first thing Mrs Teacher said was, "Oh, he did ok, you didn't have to come, you know?"

Yes, #5 had told me that his grades were fine and it was not compulsory for me to attend. However, I wanted to have a talk with his teachers to find out how he has been behaviour-wise, and to see if he is settling in well as it was a huge transition for him.

Mrs Teacher gave me a smile and said, "He is an interesting boy. The things he says are quite different from the usual answers." Hmm, I couldn't quite decipher if that was a good or bad thing, but drawing from her grin, I don't think I should be too concerned. "What about his behaviour? Is he naughty in class?"

"No, not in my class. Sometimes he tries to wriggle out of doing work, but he knows when I mean business and he will get my work done nicely. No issues at all. However, he has some scratch marks on his face. Is he cutting himself? I also notice he yawns in class, he must be tired." I told her that he wakes up at 5.30 to get ready to take the bus to school, but he goes to bed by 9pm. And those scratch marks were done by little Kate.

I was surprised at how they are genuinely concerned about the whole well-being of the child, not only the academic aspect.

Mr Teacher started to talk, and I was keen to hear from a male teacher's perspective. "I don't have any problems with him in my class either. In fact, he scored 100/100 for art! He is a very creative boy and you can tell that he is bright. He pays attention and is very focused when he is doing his work. Looking at his overall results, the only thing that is worrying is his Chinese. He scored 16/100 and that will pull his average down. You may want to speak with his Chinese teacher. She's a very experienced teacher."

I thanked them for their time and Mrs Teacher got up and escorted me to his Chinese teacher as the hall was crowded.

I felt much better knowing that everything was going fine and he was in such good hands. The last concern was Chinese! I was expecting the same-old, like the past 6 years, where his Chinese teachers tried to tell me (in too cheem Mandarin) how bad his Chinese was, that I had to encourage him to read more Chinese books, sit with him to revise the words he didn't know, or hire a tutor for him.

Mdm C was a pleasant, smiling lady, and we conversed in English. She started off by saying, "Your son is a joy to teach!" I almost fell off my seat.

My son? Chinese? That was impossible! Was I hearing wrong? Wait a minute, she probably got the wrong child. I scanned the list and pointed out his name.

She was concerned at his score of 16/100, but showed me his compo. "Look at what he wrote. Not bad at all. 2 pages, good sentences, neat handwriting. He's a bright child, but his foundation is very weak. His standard is below his peers, and sometimes they will laugh when he doesn't understand even the simple words, but I tell them not to laugh at him because he is trying to learn."

I asked if she had trouble getting him to pay attention in her class, and that previously he gets bored and would fold origami under the table or disturb his friends. She was surprised to hear that, and assured me that he concentrates in her class and tries his best to complete her work.

What a nice change, that unlike Primary school, she did not handover the responsibility of revision to me nor ask me to outsource to a tutor, but took full responsibility and said that anything that had to be learnt will be discussed with the students directly. She reassured me that he had a good learning attitude and will try her best to help him.

I left his school on cloud nine. Can you imagine how I felt?! To have had teachers complaining about your son for 6 years, with only 2 or 3 out of 20 who had positive things to say about him, and finally finding a school where the teachers accept him and are able to bring out the best in him.

I texted our family chat group with the good news and the girls were so proud of him. One of them said, "Lol, he's in a boy's school now, so that is just normal boy behaviour. For years, he has been judged by girl standards at home and in school. He's given up trying to be good a long time ago."

For years, he was labelled as naughty simply because he couldn't pay attention, talks too much, disturbs his friends when he's bored, and as a result, constantly punished by being made to stand in the corner. All because his Executive Function skills like attention and impulse control were weak and he just could not sit there and take in this "teacher talk, student listen" approach for long periods of time.

An experiential approach is needed for children with such profiles, especially when they are in lower primary. Instead of viewing these kids as disruptive, they are the ones who will be most needed in the changing future landscape where we need creators, inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs.

It was only after 5 years that his first male teacher Mr Tan understood him and told me that he is simply an active boy with a quick mind who gets bored easily and when he gets excited about a new idea, he talks too much, too fast and too loud. Mr Tan made the effort to build rapport with him, and would remind him to tone it down instead of punishing him, and thus could gain the cooperation of #5 to behave well in his class.

I have seen it in the neighbourhood schools and now in a boys' school, where because these students are the norm instead of the exception, teachers have found ways to handle them so that teaching can be done. And most importantly, teachers seem to understand that there is a difference between learning styles, developmental needs and discipline issues, thus handling them differently. Sadly, he may have enjoyed the learning journey better over the 6 years of primary school if things had been different.

Nonetheless, I'm extremely grateful for his dedicated teachers and I'm sure they have been and will continue to be instrumental in developing the students who come through them into contributing adults with character, and to give them a fair chance to succeed in our traditional classrooms.

School Stories:

#1 - When your son gets into fights in school
#2 - My son the loan shark
#3 - So kids can't play once they start school?
#11 - How #2 topped her level in English
#12 - DSA. Yet another initiative parents have warped
#13 - Tuition - First line of attack?
#14 - Why do exams have to be so stressful?
#15 - First day mix up!
#16 - The day I forgot to pick my son from school
#17 - No more T-score. Now what?
#18 - Tackling the new school year
#19 - She did it, without tuition.
#20 - So who's smarter?
#21 - Why I do not coach my kids anymore.

~ www.mummyweeblog.com - a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Settling into P1 and Sec 1

Kate has entered Primary 1! On one hand, she was really excited to finally be a 'big' girl like her siblings, yet she was apprehensive about the new changes and environment. The night before, she couldn't fall asleep and had lots of worries. The good thing is that she is able to voice out her fears and I can help her to make sense of them.

She had a multitude of worries, from being afraid of getting lost, to not being able to understand her Chinese teacher fully, to not knowing where to go when her school bus drops her off. However, many of her fears were allayed as the parent volunteers did a wonderful job of helping the children to settle in. She comes home happy and tells us that she has made new friends. She still doesn't understand everything her Chinese teacher says and sometimes feels sleepy in class and once she closed her eyes and was scolded by her teacher!

The second day of school, she lost her water bottle. She put her school bag next to her on the school bus, but when the bus jerked, her bottle fell out and rolled away. They were told to wear their seat belts and she could not pick it up. By the time they reached school, the bottle was nowhere to be found. Poor girl did not have her bottle, but she said, "I was very thirsty so I told my teacher I needed to go to the toilet and I quickly went to the water cooler to drink water." The bus uncle had placed her bottle in the Lost and Found, but Kate doesn't know where to go to find it!

Overall, she is adjusting very well. When I get home, her bag is packed and she has seen to the instructions of the day and is able to relay messages and relate her day's events.

As for #5, my oh my. Every afternoon, we are holding our breaths.

We have chosen a wonderful school with a focus on character development and community service. The school is quite a distance away but he has a direct bus there. He used to take the school bus in primary school, so during the December holidays, my mum took him on a trial run on the public bus.

The night before, I pre-empted him. Boy, you may fall asleep on the bus. If you do, look around to see where you are. Stop as soon as you can, where you can see another bus stop opposite the road. Cross over the overhead bridge or at the traffic light and take the same bus home.

All scenarios covered, I went to work in peace. As #1 hasn't started school, I told him to text her if anything happened.

Day 1:

During recess, he was about to buy food when he realised that he had left his money in his school bag. He went back upstairs but all the classrooms were locked! He had not made any friends yet so he went hungry.

School ended at 2pm and he took the bus home. He was tired and fell asleep soon after boarding. Suddenly, he jolted awake, looked out, saw unfamiliar surroundings and thought he had missed his stop. He quickly alighted and texted #1. While he waited for her reply, he wandered around. He chanced upon a pizza hut, ordered takeaway and used up his whole week's allowance!

Finally, he and #1 figured out that he had alighted only a few stops away from school and he was still a long way from home. He walked back to the bus stop and took the next bus home.

Day 2.

I got home at 5pm and found #5 in bed. This time, he did not fall asleep on the bus, but stopped 1 stop too early. He started walking home but halfway through he could not go any further and took a rest at the playground. He fell asleep at the playground!

When he woke, he texted #1 to come out and get him but by the time she saw the text and went to look for him, she saw him about to hail a cab. She called out to him and told him not to enter the cab. He was having a fever and was too tired even to walk the rest of the way home with his heavy bag.

Day 3.

He was sick, stayed home, and rested over the weekend. He is starting to get used to the routine of sleeping at 8.30pm so that he can wake up at 5.30am.

Day 4.

Boy: Mum, are you at church?
Me: No, why?
Boy: I just passed it. Thought you can pick me. I think I missed our stop.
Me: Quickly alight now. Cross the road and take the same bus back.
Boy: I can see this condo called xxx
Me: Press the bell and alight! Now!

Silence for a while. Meanwhile, the girls and I were sitting in suspense.

Me: Boy, where are you? Have you alighted? Can you see a bus stop across the road?
Boy: No still on bus.
Me: Why? I told you to get off the bus.
Boy: Too crowded. I tried. Can't squeeze out.
Me: Just say excuse me and go towards the door!

Silence.

I texted #1 to see if he had texted her. He hadn't, and she also tried to reach him.

Me: Boy! Where are you? Answer me! We are getting very worried.
Boy: Bus interchange.
Me: So far! Ok, get off and look for the same number and take the bus back.

Silence for a long, long time. Meanwhile, we were getting extremely worried. But deep down, I had a feeling that he should be ok.

Finally, after an hour and a half, he breezed into the house.

Me: BOY! What happened? Why didn't you answer us? We were so worried about you.
Boy: Oh. I saw a mall so I went in to take a look. Then I took the bus back. My phone is in my bag. I walked very slowly because I'm hungry.
Me: Next time, you don't go silent on us ok? All of us were super worried! You must update us.
Boy: Ok!

Day 5.

At 2.30, we got a text.

Boy: Lost my bus card
Me: Search your entire bag again
Boy: I did. I cut my finger because the safety pin can't close properly.

Me: Pay with coins
Boy: No coins
Me: Pay with $2
Boy: Don't have
Me: How much do you have
Boy: 0
Me: Why
Boy: Spent everything on food

Me: Ask a friend
Boy: No friend at bus stop
Me: Ask a stranger
Boy: No
Me: Your sister did that once, and a kind lady gave her $1. She met her again many weeks later and returned the $1. Can you ask?
Boy: Nobody

#2 said she will call a grab for him, but because he was at a bus stop I thought it was better he walked to hail a cab. He walked a long way because all the cabs were hired.

When he got home, I told him to be more careful, and that I had just topped up his card with $40 and his carelessness cost me the cab fare plus the $40. I was about to give the general office a call to see if anyone had found it.

Boy: Wait a minute! Maybe it is in my shorts! Just maybe!

He ran to his school bag, pulled out his school shorts and whipped out his bus card.

He was beaming.

Me: What!?

Oh mum, when I alighted from the bus this morning, I put it in my pocket. But we changed into PE shorts!

Me: You should have been more mindful and remembered where your card was! You just wasted me $16.

Boy (with a grin): But I saved you $40!

I really don't know what to say about this kid. It's become a daily family anticipation with many face palm moments.

I don't think anything more can go wrong.. fingers crossed.

~ www.mummyweeblog.com - a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~
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