I have been, rather quietly, fuming in my little corner over recent developments on this sunny island and thought I was doing a pretty good job holding my peace in a semi-public space. Until the reactions to the Orlando shooting came in, and by golly, to stay silent is to be complicit.
There’s a video going around lambasting a woman for insulting, cursing, belittling an old cleaner. I was disgusted by the woman in the video but bewildered and just a smidgen scornful of what happened behind the lens too.
I’ve always endeavoured to ensure that being a mother does not take over my identity. I’ve spoken of this before: I need time to be with the lil boss, but I also need time to be myself, be a daughter, be a friend.
But good Lord Almighty, it’s so difficult to keep to that philosophy when the kid grows up so quickly and every moment so fleeting that every memory seems to slip out of grasp if I’m not present in the moment.
Let’s get real: the lil boss doesn’t need me to be there as much as I want to be there to capture what I can.
A month ago, the lil boss was still insisting on my cradling him during his showers so that water would not get in his eyes when I wash his hair (rule that applied only to me ) . Now he will not have it: I have to let water rain down on him, because it’s fun to blow bubbles like a goldfish.
A week ago, he’d whine about having to go to school and then cling on to me at the gate, demanding to be carried in. This morning, he was jumping and skipping to school, excited to show his favourite teacher (crush, coughs, crush) and classmate his new Elsa crocs. He also promptly walked into class with nary a backwards glance. Barely over two, and already in a hurry to disassociate with uncool, hovering parents.
We celebrate the firsts, but we barely have time to register the lasts.
Today the lil boss still climbs into my bed at night to sleep on me (yep, Minion the cushion). He still pretends to cry and whine (yes, all an act), just so he can sneak in a “Mi mi must carry”. He still wants cuddles in the middle of the night- let no one talk to me about sleep training- and he still wants me to sing lullabies. He still wants me to play and read with him, to share a drink and split a bag of biscuits. God knows when he will stop wanting any of these.
Sleep can wait. I’m getting all the cuddles I can.
I’m slowly leaning towards the nature camp in the nature-nurture debate. Nurture mitigates or accentuates but kids seem to come with an innate, base set of attributes. Two parents can do exactly the same thing and get completely different results. Same thing with raising siblings.
In D&D terms, you create a character with a set of inclinations and abilities. You can brush up on your dice-rolling skills, you can even cheat and weigh dies in your favour, which can do a lot to shape outcomes but your character is still stuck with the base set of attributes and their actions still take some guidance from there. No one else is getting this analogy, yah?
Any case, digression. This is why I take parenting books and articles with a spoonful of salt. Or for that matter, well meaning (and not so well meaning) advice from relatives, friends and the occasional nosy stranger.
I’ve had so many people warn me against carrying the kid as much as I did when he was growing up, because I’m apparently encouraging him to be clingy and needy . Well, the lil boss turns out to be fiercely independent: he knows what he wants and he learns quickly how to get it. He insists on doing things himself and gets frustrated when he can’t. He also runs off by himself in a mall without care, resulting in one heart stopping episode recently. So junk that theory.
We’ve also surrounded the kid with a variety of toys: building sets, puzzles, a giggling Minion (that he’s terrified of). He has cars, vehicles, entire Thomas sets from indulgent family members. But no, he is simply not interested. Not even in those that make appropriate choo-choo sounds. Instead he takes beautifully to open ended play and sensory bins (sand, water beads, rice, slime, light). He also loves his art materials and currently his little drone. I did not set up intentionally to adopt a Waldorf approach to play – I learnt about that only in the process of finding new things to engage the lil boss, and now he makes me look like an overachieving parent.
We exposed the lil boss to the performing arts, but we never did have to teach him to stay quiet and to whisper if he had to when a performance is on- he just naturally respected the performing space. We didn’t set out to make him interested in chores; he is just inclined towards pretending to be an adult and policing his space. Probably the only thing we did deliberately was to keep the lil boss interested in books, and even then, I don’t think we can take credit for how well he takes to them.
(If he sounds wonderful, know that he’s also naturally inclined to hate the sun, avoid anything remotely mathematical, dislike drinking milk, and stubbornly choose to give up what he wants and likes than meet your terms.)
God probably had a lot more to do with how he’s turning out than we do. We just to learn to avoid screwing things up and throwing the dice wrongly, really- and that’s some comfort at least.
I’ve been at a professional plateau for a while. That’s a fairly nice way of saying I’ve stagnated and lost the steam to grow since I came back to my job three years ago. What started as a demotivating struggle to find direction and carve out a role in a mature team became a realistic look at how much effort I wanted to put in to truly value add and what cost it would come for all the other roles I play in my life.
Not being brilliant enough to do everything simultaneously, I held true to my promise in NYC and chose to shift my world out of office. I have learnt early enough that defining myself against my career and tying my self worth to how I perform in the workplace brings about a misplaced sense of achievement and little spiritual reward.
For most part, I have been satisfied with that choice. I have spent many dinners at home since, and I am watching the lil boss grow up every day. I no longer feel the need to check my phone and the news after hours and over weekends, and I now have time to do things like research into STEM education, creating playscenes, bake and probably more besides when I am not knocked out.
Lately though, I have received several reminders about the dangers of settling and stagnation early in life, and I am beginning to question whether I am just satisficing. My job pays me well enough, I am doing what I need to do to pull my weight but little more, but God, I know I am capable of more. However chafing it is, I can’t even bring myself to stretch because the rewards are few while the harvest elsewhere is so much more satisfying.
Realistically my paycheck gives me the freedom to do everything else, but I am wondering if self-fulfillment needs to be the price.
I might have made a strategic error calling the kid ‘lil boss’, because at 20 months, he’s acting like one. He knows what he wants and he makes sure you know it. While he is experimenting with different ways of communicating his desires and aspirations to see what yields results fastest, he knows what the boundaries are and he stays just within them. As he has been fairly good at reaching key objectives, you can’t even contest with what he is asking for.
He has learnt to dictate his own bedtime and set it at a very reasonable 9 pm when we are at home. (Grandparents’ places are fair game.) He will tell everyone present “Night, night, bye-bye- bed bed, sleep”, wave, then run to his bed, grab his bolster and call out “Milk, milk!” He will hold his bottle, until just before he knows he’s able to go down for the count, and with a grunt, he will instruct the minion to take over the bottle-holding, so that he has the luxury of drinking that last bit of milk before sleeping.
He has also learnt to point at food items on the table and ask for servings. “Bak-bak” (meat) must be “big!”, and he wants the stems of the vegetables “bone!” “bean-bean!” Since he eats both meat and vegetables with enthusiasm, minions are hardpressed not to give him what he asked for, especially when he nods his head and sagely says “Danks!”, and occasionally, “Please!” He is chafing at having to be fed, and insists on having his own cutlery so that he can stuff his mouth because the minions are much too slow. He wants to “hold!” his own fruits and insists on finishing every last drop of the “nut!” (coconut) Demanding boss, but he balances that out by dropping his bowl off at the sink all by himself and telling the maid “Kaka! Danks!”
He knows his favourite story books. Climbing into his cosy corner, he will cry out both at night and the moment he wakes up, “Book! Read book!” There is nothing the minions can say to that but “What do you want to read?” Clam-clam for I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean, Hoo-hoo-ha-ha for Curious George’s Pat a Cake, Llama-llama for Llama Llama Hoppity Hop. Grab the wrong book and he goes “Dowan” – which is now his absolutely favourite phrase.
He dictates the order in which we visit the animals when we go to the zoo. First up, it’s always “Pang-Bear” and it will be a good twenty minutes of “Bear-bear, bear-bear” until we get to the darn panda bear exhibit. After which he would imitate the trumpeting elephant, which wonderfully is at the other end of the other zoo. This minion changed the itinerary some times, and in between each animal, he will remind me with a trumpeting elephant or an incessant “Bear-bear”. Not in a tantrum, because he knows that doesn’t get him anywhere. Nope, he will just ask you “Bear-bear, where?” until you would much rather give in.
He knows exactly when he wants his music, and no, he does not want you singing out of turn. He has fancy hand movements for Wheels on the Bus and Twinkle twinkle little star, and he will whine if you sing something else. He reaches for the remote and has learnt to pop in his CDs. He likes the violin but barely tolerates the piano.
He wants “big, big hug” in the mornings, and he demands to be “put down!” when he wants to “walk walk” or “run!” He has dismissed my sister to “Go! Room!” when she tries to play rough and clapped in encouragement when my father told him he couldn’t possibly read his English books. He can now open the shoe cabinet by himself, thank you very much, and he knows which pair he prefers (the Spidey one with lights). He tries valiantly to put on his own shoes and then grudgingly allow the minions to put them on for him. He refuses to carry any bag at all. He has all his minions well trained in putting out our hands instinctively when he says “Hold!” so that he can deposit whatever he has in our hands and reach for something else he wants. (Breaking out of this habit is difficult – I have yet to succeed.)
He is now nearly (only) 20 months old. I foresee interesting years ahead.
As I type, the lil boss is running a high fever and Minion 2 has left for Washington DC again, and I am back at trying to be an adult and not gnash my teeth at being left to be the responsible (as opposed to ‘fun’) parent.
I did warn Minion 2 that his taking a posting overseas instantaneously granted me rights to emotional blackmail for the rest of our lives. Though for all my jibes, I do not envy his position much for missing out on some really entertaining times with the lil boss.
Except when he tells me that he is extending his work trip to Peru and joining his mates to Iceland for fun, joy and laughter just as I deal with a sick kid and glorious puke all over the kid’s bed.
I have some choice words for a young man, Russell Tan, whose letter to the ST today enraged me with his presumptuousness. However, I pride myself for being a mature adult and shall refrain from a full tirade against a 19 year old, who in a decade will rue the fact that this letter is available on the internet for his future employers to locate.