I had an extreme encounter recently at a local 5* family resort, all within a span of 10 minutes.
The first encounter began with me standing in line for my Egg Benedict, freshly made by a friendly elderly lady who was manning the egg station. In her soft, grammatically-correct English, she asked, “Did you study there?” pointing at the T-shirt I was wearing. I looked down and it was a ‘Harvard Dad’ souvenir tee bought during our visit to Harvard, Boston last June. I was quite taken aback because in all our travels and hotel stays, no one, let alone an egg lady, has asked me about the T-shirt I chose to wear to breakfast.
I smiled at her, “No, but I certainly hope my kids will” was my tongue-in-cheek reply. Then, to be polite (and to satisfy my curiosity), I asked, ‘Did you visit there recently?”
As she placed my perfectly cooked Egg Benedict with a muffin on my plate, she replied, “Yes, my son graduated from Harvard and is now doing his Masters in MIT”. She then added, “You have to work hard and save hard for your kids to study there. Very difficult, very tough…but very good.”
I haven’t had my coffee yet but there I stood, slowly letting the conversation that just transpired sink in. In my half-awaken state, trying hard not to embarrass myself with my gaping mouth, I thanked the lady for the morning chat. How delightful this encounter – of a simple egg lady who has sent her son to Harvard and MIT yet happily serving hotel guests to earn her keep. I thanked her and before I walked away, she offered a chocolate pancake, “Come try this, I made it myself. Fresh!” I took one, feeling so mighty proud of our country’s meritocratic policies which has enabled a humble egg lady to give her kids the best shot which life has to offer – through education.
My thoughts were abruptly jolted by an excited shriek, “Come! Come see!” screamed a young girl to her siblings. A group of children who were done with their breakfast had spotted a ‘local resident’ at the resort – a slow-moving monitor lizard, crossing a path near our breakfast restaurant. Very soon, a larger crowd gathered and observed the harmless reptile from a comfortable distance. Dana was one of them.
Then the words which I was about to hear next hit me like a ton of bricks.
“Get off bitch!” shouted an angry voice. I turned around, in disbelief, wondering whom these rude words could have come from. It was certainly not the lingo one would expect on a vacation morning. Then I heard it again, this time louder and angrier, “Get off you bitch!” My eyes darted around and to my horror, saw those words mouthed by a young Singaporean boy, no more than 7 or 8 years old, directed at his younger sister (no more than 3-4 years old) for blocking his view of the monitor lizard when she climbed onto a nearby chair.
I was appalled to say the least as my eyes followed the boy while he shoved his sister’s small frame aside and took ‘front seat’ view. I looked around for her parents but they were nowhere to be found. They, probably, like us, are savoring their breakfast, enjoying their vacation moment. Fortunately, his sister was too young to ‘appreciate’ the implications of that offending phrase (or so I hope).
I walked solemnly back to my breakfast table. Trying to make sense of these two surreal encounters that had happened within 10 minutes.
Dana had just completed her first term as a Primary 1 student. That means Angie and I have survived our initiation as parents of a school-going child. The learning curve was a tad steeper than we thought. Recently, when we were taking stock and reviewing about how we had planned her schedules, we realized that she has a couple of afternoons and many evenings free. The wife started commenting that she feels a tinge of guilt because she wasn’t able to commit to more extra-curricular activities as a working Mom (due to pure logistical constraints). I, on the other hand, was rather happy that our daughter seems quite ‘free’ and in fact can afford to go to bed early on most nights while maintaining our nightly book-reading routine.
Herein lies the reason for this blog post – this is a post for the future us.
One of the challenges we face as parents of school-going children is balancing their time between home, school and everything else. There was, in fact a period of time, during the nursery days, that Dana was practically shuttling to and fro enrichment classes, parties etc. All well meaning, well intended, to engage and give her a memorable childhood.
Soon, I realized that we were just mere drivers and chaperons. Her contact time with instructors and teachers were more than with us, her parents. That, didn’t seem right and had to be put to a stop. So we agreed, some time ago, that our children should have more contact time with their own parents. Us. And we should intentionally carve out time to commit to that because as parents, we are ultimately responsible for their upbringing as a good person and not just as a smart person.
To be honest, time is not on our side – a day will come when friends will take precedence over their family. Our children will yearn to spread their wings and explore the horizons on their own, as we all did. Therefore, what is it that keeps them grounded while they soar? They are the values we instill through the contact time and close bonds we forge with them, while they are still young.
While they can compartmentalize their instructors and teachers into structured time in their lives, we their parents may run a risk of being ‘relegated’ into certain functions in their lives (e.g. chauffeurs, ATMs etc.) instead of having a permeating presence in their lives if we do not start keeping them close and spending more time with them. I’m sure if the parents of that little boy had heard him speak those words, they would have intervened.
It’s common to liken the nurturing of a child to that of a tree. From a seed and sapling, the tree is patiently planted and faithfully pruned. Care is taken and fertilizers given at the right time to ensure that the tree grows strong and bears fruits. Good fruits, specifically that would make the farmer proud. But let us not forget that when storms come (and they will), fruits may drop, branches may break but what truly hold the tree are its roots. A tree that grows tall and bears much fruits is only as strong as how deep its roots grow. I firmly believe it’s family and relationships that can grow deep roots in our children.
As we celebrate Singapore’s 50th Birthday, let’s count the blessings of our meritocratic, world-class education system that is held in high esteem internationally and opens up many doors. Our children, regardless of any school they go to, lack virtually nothing. But is it enough? Are smart kids by default good kids? As parents, we strive to provide our children the best – we devote time and resources to make our kids the ‘best’, we try means and ways to get our kids to the best schools, we give them the best organic diets, the best tuition – I can go on and on…but let us remember that the best should not be only measured in academic excellence but in the nurturing of the child’s character and moral values. Grow deep roots, build strong trees, not out of self-gratitude but to provide shade, greenery and make this world a better place for all.