Friday, October 29, 2010

Dad, Dad, no Dad

In my short walk to the Post Office and back I was struck by three family situations.

#1: Little blonde toddler running after balding dad who went, "Come on, catch up with your gingerbread Dad."

#2: Dad and son had just crossed the road and dad had swooped son into his arms. Both having a lovely chat.

#3: Attention drawn to child (about 11-12 years old) stamping and completely destroying a pair of glasses on the ground. It was a family of mother plus three small children plus this lad. They must have just come from the cinema and had been given those pretty sturdy 3-D glasses.

Mum was tending to a much younger child when the oldest child stamped on the glasses.

Mum: "Any why did you have to do that?"

Boy: "Because no one would recognize me."

Mum: "Now pick up those bits and put them in the bin."

I don't know what transpired before this incident. But the look on the boy's face and his manner suggested to me that he needed some help with anger management. Did he feel he was not getting the attention he wanted? Anybody's guess.

Thankfully his mother seems a sensible sort of person.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Time of my life, living in hope

Earlier this evening I said to "my boys" how I always enjoyed our meal times together.

Son was telling good jokes and giving good reports of life at school. What more do I want?

Had to explain how when I was his age meal times were served over two hours. Because of the wide range of our ages and the two-session school system, my siblings and I never seemed to sit down at the same table.

Either I came home far too late to eat with any of the family (older siblings would have eaten and gone onto evening classes) or I had to eat way too early before I set off for school. That is why I always made it a point that our family sat down together for meals.

No TV. No books. And lately no talk about Lego and computer games.

We're at the end of our first half-term. There has been many changes, not least of all that son is walking to and from school by himself.

He's supposed to be at a 'silly age'. But he's also getting more and more responsible and I AM NOT COMPLAINING.

For example, he's up at 6.40am, checks that I have finished showering and then turns on his own shower.

He takes his own breakfast things back to the kitchen. Without my telling him.

He changes into his school uniform, makes his bed, etc. and gets himself ready for school without my prompting, well, apart from reminding him to have a fresh handkerchief. He likes one particular handkerchief more than others, it seems.

He still needs reminding about packing his games and PE kit sometimes, but he does it all by himself.

At the appropriate time he would tell me (as I am busy answering emails), "I think it's time to go to school," and he goes.

When he comes home from school he eats a snack (usually a variety of biscuits) and moves on to his homework. Yesterday he came home and announced that he had finished his History homework during lunch break at school.

My reaction: "But you must play! You must give yourself time to play at break."

"It's OK, Mum. I did play at first break."

Since their homework was doubled this year it is good to see how he is managing his time.

Today he tells me that he is bringing his work with him on our short holiday so that he could revise. I said I'd rather he did not do that as I wanted us all to have a relaxing time.

I'll let him bring his books. Whether or not he actually revises will be up to him.

My only question is when would I start to find him doing his piano and clarinet practice without my reminding him! I live in hope.

This morning I saw a young mother struggle to change her baby's nappy. The daughter was going through the "I am not going to lie still" stage.

My son went through that stage. He was always big for his age. So changing his nappy was physically exhausting and I often ended up in tears.

You cannot reason with a big baby, and I lived in hope that he would grow out of it.

He did.

And as I witnessed a grandmother then change her toddler's nappy -- and this little girl kept still -- I told the first mother to watch.

See, they do grow out of it.

Talking to some of the younger first-time mothers I was surprised that many have never heard of the "terrible two's". O well, never mind. They will soon learn about it.

The point is I am having the time of my life, enjoying my still-sensible son at a point when he is well able to look after himself but before he becomes a stroppy teenager.

And I live in hope that the relationship we're building up would mean that he would at least treat me with trust and respect when his stroppiness sets in.

Husband and I are eternally grateful to our friend who spoke at our church wedding. The message we came away was "give each other space".

I wonder if the "giving space" principle also works on teenagers. If we gave him space, would he give us respect?

In fact we are going to give him so much space that we might live in a different country altogether! We'll see.
And then 16/10/10 husband chanced upon this report: Are middle class parents driving their children to depression?

This is why we (together) opted for me to stay at home. Until he was about three years old, our son saw his dad for three minutes every evening before he was put to bed. (Sometimes Singaporeans call this process "put to sleep". Parents don't mean an intention to kill their offspring, let me assure you.)

The full attention son received from me led to other issues, but that is a different story. The point is, this was noticed and we could intervene as soon as possible.

Children are only children once. Let them enjoy their childhood.

26/10/2010: One in 10 families NEVER has an evening meal together

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Economics Nobel Prize Winners


And what are they saying? Apparently:

"governments need to cut benefits and tackle restrictive practices and regulations in the labour market to boost employment levels".

What does this mean? Minimum wage, maximum hours, and everything in between?


Original report here.

Who would win the Nobel Prize for saying that "ethical" employment practices would benefit all?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sitting still -- whose job is it to teach?

Sunday morning and having breakfast with son. Somehow we drifted into a discussion on asking the right questions.

My point was as we grow up and are being introduced to new knowledge, knowing the right answers is important.

But as we progress up the learning ladder it is not knowing the answers but knowing which questions to ask that matter most.

It is the case in research. The whole point of research is finding the answers. What answers we find is directly correlated with the questions we ask.

So this report on How Fair is Britain? appears to have the statistics for all sorts of un/fairness. My question to my son is: Were they asking the right questions?

Take the issue of gender and how boys do not know how to sit still.

Or sitting still – something girls tend to be better at. "So a boy can't sit still, so he gets told off, so he starts to feel like a bad boy, so he starts to behave like a bad boy, so he gets told off some more, so he gets angry, so the teacher gets angry and so on," said [interviewer], her words tumbling out as she described the vicious circle. "And so his work will suffer."

So you must ask why do some children find it difficult to sit still?

In my toddler group (the one I help to run as a volunteer) you would always get a few children -- both boys and girls -- who refuse to sit down at juice and biscuit time.

There are some children, all under three, who would sit and would not dare get off their chairs unless told to do so, and there are children who cannot sit and would run wild around the large hall where the group is held. See previous post here.

The difference is very much due to how their parents/carers train them.

Yes, "train" does sound a bit like "training dogs". I used that verb deliberately.

We train athletes, boys and girls to play football, etc, so why not train them to sit down?

I have enduring memories of grandmothers, mothers, maids, etc running around little children at feeding time. When my son was born I was determined that I do not have to train for the marathon while feeding him.

Son was coming up six months and sitting up. I had to see my supervisor for a final session before my viva. There was no one to child-mind (as usual) so I took him with me to the university.

I put a piece of muslin cloth on my supervisor's office floor and set my son down and gave him toys to play with. He sat within that square.

When another much younger lecturer came in and saw him within that square of cloth he asked, "Is that it? He does not go any where?"

No, first of all because he was only six months old. And secondly when he manages to move out of that square he gets plonked back onto that square. I was bigger and stronger than him.

All through toddlerhood he was sat down, no matter if it was for a drink, a piece of fruit, a biscuit, etc. So much so that whenever you gave him food, he always looked for a place to sit down.

There. Trained.

He is still a bit of a wiggle bottom, but he knows there are times and places when he must sit still.

Decorum "at table" (ie meal tables) was important. No messing about. Mum and Dad would see to it.

Sitting quietly (not always the same as sitting still) at church was to be expected. We sometimes played games when he was bored but he was still required to be quiet.

[We had two "hand games". Game #1 entails holding our palms perpendicular to the ground. One of us tries to push both our hands together while the other tries to keep them apart. We switch over occasionally. Quiet and fun.

Game #2: one person places an index finger in the open palm of the other person. The one with the open palm attempts to trap the index finger which is withdrawn at appropriate times. Great fun, too.]

I keep telling "my" parents at Toddler group that getting their children to sit down with all the other kids at juice time is good training because they need to sit down at school later.

Many young and new parents heed the advice. Some -- a small minority -- simply don't get it.

As we would say in Singlish: what to do?

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Linguistic Hegemony: Cockles and Muscles

(A shorter, less controversial version of this was published in the Straits Times online section on 11th October. I had assumed that the Editor was not going to run it. Apologies for the overlaps.)

The English-Singlish debate has thrown up a vociferous group defending the use of Singlish, largely because they see Singlish as being tied up with a Singapore identity. (I tried to explain how being a good Singaporean should not preclude us from learning to speak good English in a letter to the press.)

This group seems to be made up of people who are able to speak (or at least write) excellent English when they choose to.

There is a deafening silence, at least in the English cyber-media (and understandably so), from the Singlish-speaking group who could most benefit from learning to speak good English.

If I were a Marxian sociologist (not the same as being a Marxist, nota bene) I would say that this ‘good English’ group own the “means of production” and the ‘Singlish’ group do not.

In original Marxist philosophy the bourgeoisie own the “means of production” – land, tools and other resources – unavailable to the proletariat who merely provide the labour.

In Singapore today we can equate “means of production” to access to, or monopoly of, a good standard of English, and with it, ideas, knowledge, jobs, money and therefore, power.

By championing Singlish the ‘linguistic bourgeoisie’ are ensuring that the ‘linguistic proletariat’ continue to be ignorant of how they and their children are being deprived of these “means of production”.

I have spent enough time working on the factory floor to know that parents in this ‘linguistic proletariat’ are unlikely to march up to the school principal to flex their collective muscle and demand that their children are taught English grammar so that they could speak and write proper English.

It is therefore a form of hegemony when the ‘linguistic bourgeoisie’ act to ensure that the social mobility of the ‘linguistic proletariat’ is, henceforth, effectively curtailed.

Outside of economic gain there is another issue related to the grasp of ample language skills: we need good language skills to think through complex ideas.

The tools of language, like the keys on a piano, are all there. Just as good music would evoke a response, a good leader could put words together in such a way that listeners could go, “Wow! I’ve never thought of it that way.”

Good use of language could stir listeners to action. Think of famous speeches like "I have a dream" and "We shall fight [them] on the beaches", etc.

In his recent National Day Rally speech did the Singapore PM choose to inspire?

Instead he chose to dwell on bread-and-butter issues, using anecdotes and case studies to engage, explain and communicate.

Perhaps he had discerned that his audience were unlikely to have the vital language skills to be inspired by clever rhetoric. He has learned that they much prefer to talk cockles and chilli*.

Years of languishing in a linguistic torpor have guaranteed that enough people remain merely useful and utterly apathetic. So apathetic that there is no real fear of uprising.

But alas! these same people cannot be stirred to action either.

Think about it. (And if you do, I am almost certain you won’t be thinking in Singlish.)

*In a 2006 speech the PM used the phrase "mee siam mai hum" which translates into "a spicy local noodle dish without cockles" to illustrate a point. It was then noted that "mee siam" is never served with "hum" (cockles). So did he mean "mee siam mai hiam" where "hiam" refers to "chilli"? What's the point of ordering a spicy noodle dish without the spice? Whatever the defence for this mistake was given, the suspicion remained that this PM has not eaten at hawker centres as most Singaporeans do, suggesting that he was (is?) completely out of touch with the electorate.