Of Zombies, Slugs and TNT

“MaMa, what is the Pinata Party today?” is a question I get asked every evening, by a 7yo boy with an excellent memory. Unlike his MaMa, who struggles to even remember what she ate for lunch the same day.

Every evening, I roll my eyes skyward, sifting through my cluttered mind to try to reconstruct the battle visually, so I could describe it to Matthew. “Have you gotten Mista Saturday yet? What Slugs did you use?” Again, I reply him. Satisfied, he would let me off, only to quiz me again the next evening.

If my eyes remain in the unnatural position a tad too long, with a scrunched up face for trying too hard to remember, he would say matter-of-factly “It’s okay if you don’t remember, MaMa. It’s okay.” Yup, I have a very cool, it’s-okay-no-biggie-chill son.

That is the start of my daily conversation with my fast-growing up boy. My boy who is into Plants vs Zombies 2, Slugterra, Skylanders, and Minecraft. In fact, he and his friends share stories, tips and books about these electronic games every day in school.

Unlike his friends, Matthew only gets to play games on the Ipad once a week. So he relies heavily on his friends’ stories, and my limited playing to feed his thirst for knowledge about these games. And yes, I play the games as well. Well, at least the free ones, which are limited to PVZ2 and Slugterra. And I play them not because I like playing electronic games, but to have a common topic with Matthew. And I’m glad I do. I just wish I have more time to engage him in conversations and share common interests. I shall endeavour to allocate a little more time to do that, for he is growing up too fast. He is already displaying signs of what is to come in about 3 years when he reaches his tweens. Independent, able to engage in his reading or playing (alone!), and spending long periods of time not talking to anyone.

How much time does MaMa have before I lose you, Matthew? MaMa is starting to get worried …

How to Make Dentists Happy

In the span of one generation (between mine and the kids’), the experience when visiting the dentist has changed vastly.

I used to be so terrified of visiting the dentist that my Dad helped pull out my baby teeth when they started to wobble. And when I started Primary school, oh man, the twice yearly visits to the formidable dental nurses were enough to send trembling all the way to the clinic, and return to the class after on weak knees. I used to freeze up and pray that the clipboard-bearing classmate/schoolmate would not be coming for me. I was so traumatised by dental visits that I stopped visiting the dentist for several years after my last major operation, when I had my wisdom teeth extracted.

It was only when the Man recommended his dentist to me, whom I would find ‘very handsome’, that I overcame the fear of visiting dentists and scheduled regular visits again.

I didn’t want my kids to go through the trauma and fear of visiting the dentists the Man and I went through as children, so I did some research and brought Matthew to a paediatric dentist when he was about 5 years old. Even then it was too late; for Matthew had 2 small cavities in his front teeth, which we spent a bomb to fill in, and which he promptly dropped 6 months later. Now that Matthew has started Primary One, we leave it to the school’s dental nurse to take care of his oral health (saving on dental expenses at the same time).

Having had the experience, we brought Megan to the same dentist at an earlier age, but she was too shy to sit by herself. That first experience was also good for her as it left no traumatising memories.

But ever since the wonderful dentist moved to an outlet very far from where we are staying, I decided to look for another dental clinic. So I booked Megan an appointment with the paediatric dentist at the NUH Dental Centre, and an appointment for myself too.

When the morning came, I made sure both of us reached the clinic earlier to prepare Megan mentally, in case she became worried about the visit. But I had nothing to worry.

Megan already felt at ease at the registration counter – the manager even let her paste our sticker labels onto our case notes files! She also led Megan to hand our files to the respective dentists who would be seeing us. Before long, Megan was prancing along the corridor in high spirits, peering often into our designated treatment rooms, and chatting with the dental assistants.

My appointment was first. Megan was so cheerful throughout my treatment, asking the dentist tons of questions, and touching everything in sight. The gentle dentist was so patient with her, answering her questions while giving my teeth his full attention, and occasionally warning her not to touch the sharp instruments. I could not stop Megan for I could not speak nor see her, but I was very glad the dentist was able to keep her under reasonable control.

Megan was so impressed by her experience that she declared very loudly she would become a dentist when she grows up. That made the dentist really happy, and his happy voice came through the mask, when he replied that it was a good vocation to choose.

Megan repeated the same declaration to her dentist soon after. Again, she made her dentist very happy too. And by then, Megan was so relaxed and cheerful that she sat in the seat by herself. The dentist was also very patient with her, introducing her to the instruments she would be using on Megan’s teeth. These thoughtful gestures made Megan at ease as she knew exactly what was going to happen next. Her teeth were done in no time. And her favourite part of the visit? Stickers as reward! She even wheedled 2 stickers for her GorGor, while negotiating 3 stickers successfully for herself. Sales person in the making?

At the Dentist

A cheerful gal with white-again pearlies.

I hope Megan will continue to make dentists happy by sticking to her childhood wish as she grows up. Will she? Keeping my fingers crossed…

This Read is Hilarious

Don’t judge a book by its cover?

I have since stopped believing in that saying, despite it being drummed into my head by various teachers back when I was young(er) and impressionable. When it comes to books, especially children’s books, those with attractive covers are the ones I pick up over others. Biased? Missing out on good reads? Superficial? Maybe. But when I have impatient family members, time in the library becomes very limited. And with an enormous (read: dizzying & overwhelming) selection of books before me, and an active 5yo who pulls out book after book from the shelves and running over to me repeat “Mama, can we borrow this book?” a gazillion times, I have to adapt by quickly picking out books with attractive covers, then skimming through the contents of the books before heading to the checkout section.

And as it turns out, many children’s books with attractive covers are good reads as well. And once in a while, we find a platinum-diamond gem amongst these books.

 I Am Otter

Needless to say, the superficial me chose this book because of the cover. The illustrations on the cover alone called out to me. “Bring me home?”, the book beseeched, and I gladly obliged. The book introduced Otter, and her best friend, the stuffed Teddy. Together, they opened a Toast restaurant and ended up with … Otter, however, is already famous online. You can read more about her here. The humourous story and the beautiful illustrations made the kids and I spend a longer time poring over this book. Megan laughed because Otter was funny. Matthew laughed at the mis-spellings of Otter’s signs and notices she put up at her toast restaurant, and the funny antics Otter and Teddy got up to.

Beautiful IllustrationThese 2 pages of the book were truly amazing! The beautiful colours and amount of detail turned it into a mini-game for us – to spot misplaced stuffed toys in funny poses. And not to mention what Matthew quickly pointed out – mis-spelled words at the top right side of the page on the right. I cringed and could imagine myself fainting if I ever come home to this mess! I love Sam Garton’s drawings! And check out the final, hilarious moment of the book – on the last page. Classic!

And the true guide to the readability and success of a children’s book? The kids themselves. Matthew was seen reading through the book again, and chuckling to himself as he re-read the story and admired the pictures. And pointing out Otter’s mis-spelled words to us again, then laughing away merrily. Yeah, he is my funny guy.

Good or poor reads, there is always something to learn from the books. And to have the kids look forward to their reading time at night with me is something I will cherish as the countdown has already started …

Girls’ Day Out

There was no school for Megan on 23 May 2014 so I took the day off work to spend it with her. We booked ourselves an appointment each with the dentists, and we went to the Science Centre after our teeth were sparkly clean again.

I thought the Science Centre would be a great place for Megan, a highly tactile learner, to run around and touch all the displays as much as she wanted. I was half right, though. Granted she had lots of fun touching and playing with all the displays we went to, I think I learnt more from many of the displays reading the descriptions and then experimenting with the dials, knobs, sounds etc.

I did not expect to learn more about Megan during our outing though.

Floating Balls

We spent a considerable amount of time at this exhibit. By playing with the air flow along the tube, we were able to get the ping pong balls to travel down the length and then stay afloat in the air. Megan was very fascinated by the ‘floating’ balls. She meticulously and repeatedly balanced the balls right above the jet of air so they remained afloat. Usually an active child who cannot sit still except when she is doodling on her art pad, I discovered another activity she could totally focus on.

Look Ma, No Legs

Although she is a very sociable child, Megan has her shy moments too. When I dramatised my reaction to seeing her ‘without legs’ through this illusion, she laughed merrily and posed for a photograph, but her smile was so shy (before I asked her to smile more) that I wanted to scoop her out of her ‘cage’ for a big hug. This little girl is a mystery.

Need for Neatness

We met two groups of student-volunteers who either demonstrated and explained experiments or set up little booths with science-related activities for us to try our hands on. The game in the photo above was meant to be one where you navigate a tank out of the maze of animals by moving the pieces about a square. The young man who manned this activity tried very hard to explain to a 5yo the objective of the game. Megan, not understanding the rules of the game, simply picked up the tank and put it on the table. Her “So simple! There, the tank is out!” left the young man speechless. He decided to just let Megan have her own fun, and this was the result. I was very taken aback, for hidden behind her usual leave-things-about-if-I-can behaviour, she is actually one who is precise and organised.

Favourite Past Time

Spending 3 hours at the Science Centre was about the maximum we could manage, for we were quite tired out after all the stimuli from the exhibits. After a trip home to nap away the fatigue, we ventured out for a satisfying dinner together. Megan occupied her time colouring the kid’s activity handed out at the restaurant while I busied myself getting us dinner. This was the happy Megan indulging in one of her favourite desserts. We had a very leisurely time during dinner; it did both of us slow-eaters a lot of good to have the time to get distracted and finish our food at our own pace.

Spending the day with Megan (or Matthew) was more tiring than being at work simply because there are more uncertainties. There is also the added emotional burden (be it fear for their safety, irritation at their inappropriate behaviours, indignance at other bullies etc) on my shoulders that work does not impose. Of course, work is not all smooth-sailing and all, but it’s just different. Nevertheless, I truly enjoyed bonding with Megan, and I hoped she had a great day too. Looking forward to the next day out to the Zoo as part of the school’s Family Day! Stay tuned!

I am a Piece of S**t!

Disclaimer: This post is not one of those feel-good pieces about parenthood. If explicit mention of shit offends your sensibilities, please stop reading.

I might have mentioned before that this year has been challenging for us so far, mostly because Matthew has started Primary One. The second of four school terms has just ended, and Matthew has had bouts of behavioural issues in school because of peer influence already.

The quality of his academic work is also constantly under scrutiny and fire. It also doesn’t help he is the first-born, and naturally the centre of (negative) attention when it comes to producing quality work and being on the best behaviour all the time.

As the education system is nothing like that of my time, I will never comprehend the full extent of pressure being heaped upon 7 year-olds nowadays. With pressure in school and at home, Matthew’s short temper is rearing its ugly head more often now. “I hate (insert phrase)!” escapes his mouth, and hot tears of frustration pool in his eyes so often. Therein lies my inadequacy; I can only explain to him that all is not hate as he sees it, but love. Very tough love, nonetheless.

I try to soothe his ruffled feathers as best as I am emotionally capable of (at the end of a long day at work is not an excuse but a real factor), but I still feel I have failed him. I have failed to make him understand that these stem from love.

I knew I have failed as a mother, when I entered his bedroom one evening to see his precious artwork, done during his free time in school, lying lifeless and ‘broken’ all over the floor. Not that they were actually broken, for he would never intentionally let bad things happen to his possessions. He takes very good care of his things; he’s a darling for that, and more.

“Matthew, what happened?” I exclaimed in mild shock, gesturing to his artwork on the floor.

He slashed his paper figurine through the air in anger, and replied “Because I’m a piece of shit!!”, angry tears immediately pooling in his eyes.

“Huh?! Why would you call yourself that?!” I raised my voice unconsciously, reeling from the force spewed forth from his words.

It turned out he was scolded a few days ago. Hence his work, as evident in his English file, was “full of shit”. There were plenty of careless mistakes that could have been avoided had he copied the words carefully and double-checked them. “So I am a piece of shit!!”. Goodness, he still remembered what happened a few days ago.

He was chided this particular evening for leaving his artwork all over his shelves, making the bedroom unusually untidy. It does not help he has sensitive skin and nose either; dust collects easily the more things he leaves in the open, and he knows that. Still, he was having an emotional meltdown at the moment.

Immediately, the Ice Queen in me took over, blocking all my own emotions and focusing on getting Matthew to calm down. I knelt down in front of him and forced him to look me in the eyes. I pointed out to him that work that was not done to the best of his ability was just that – that was targeted at his work, not him at all. He was still indignant.

“If you are a piece of shit, then what is MaMa? I gave birth to you. If you call yourself a piece of shit, what does that make me? Do you know you are hurting me too, by saying such nasty things about yourself?”

He immediately calmed down and had a thoughtful look on his face. Whatever he saw in his mind from my words must had been funny, for a tiny lop-sided smile escaped his mouth. Well, at least it worked.

Next, I posed him a challenge, to prove all those out there that Matthew is far, far away from shitty. I challenged him to prove those out there he is good, by producing good work from now on. And that he should not let his mummy be hurt too. He looked as if he understood; I decided to leave it at that, and helped him to pack his artwork away neatly into the box.

Once the meltdown had been dealt with, and I left his room, the Ice Queen in me retreated. The shock and pain from his words came flooding back, overwhelming me. I kept replaying his words in my head over and over again, unable to stop the self-bashing. It took me a few days before I was well enough to write this.

If he thinks he is a piece of shit, what does that make me, what does that make me? He and I have some healing journey to go through together…

When You Grow Up

Encouraging a discussion about dreams with the kids is foreign to me. Nevertheless, I know that it is not my job to squash any of the kids’ dreams with harsh realities, but to guide them to make the right decisions by presenting facts as I know them. With a great deal of positive encouragement, of course.

Matthew has been going on about what he wants to be when he grows up for close to a year, and I am glad he has yet to change his mind about it. Megan recently had an epiphany too. Both of them now have their dreams and I am very happy for them.

It was opportune we were reading the book “A Bunny in the Ballet” by Robert Becks  the other night, and the topic about having dreams came up again. In this book, Becks writes about a (real) rabbit who dreams of becoming a ballet dancer, amidst humans. Undaunted by naysayers and training really hard (with the humans), she gradually wins people over and finally achieves the impossible. It wasn’t the best read, but it was a good conversation starter.

A Bunny in the Ballet

(Image taken from amazon.com)

Because having a rabbit in the human ballet world, albeit a talented one, is really quite impossible, I talked to the kids about achieving the impossible. I turned to Matthew and challenged him to not only become a chef, but to become the best.

And Matthew, with a rare glint in his eyes and a slightly excited voice, declared that he would want to become the best chef in Singapore. This is without us exlicitly teaching the kids about humilty. It must have been ingrained in our Chinese roots to be humble, for he didn’t declare he wants to be the best chef in the world, as I half expected.

Megan, of course not one to be left out, sat up on her heels and raised her arm straight in the air. In her excitement, she had slight difficulty in getting the words out. “So Megan is going to be the best dentist in Singapore?” I decided to help her.

“Yes!” She replied shyly, but with lots of twinkle in her eyes. I could not just leave it as that – I gave my two cents’ worth of reminder to them to work hard for their dreams, for nothing comes easy. And both of them nodded enthusiatically.

I was glad they did not ask me about my dreams in return, for I would be ashamed to tell them the truth. For now at least, I can revel in the satisfaction that when the kids grow up and I in turn grow old, I would have no lack of gastronomic delights. Best of all, I would not worry about my oral health as a result of the constant feasting.

The Butt of the Joke

Although he is still a funny guy sometimes, Matthew’s jokes has since caused my sparse eyebrows to rise so often I look like a clown. To make matters worse, I am developing deep frown lines to match the irritation I feel hearing his silly comments and jokes. A serious, many-things-are-not-for-joking mum with a slap-stick, foul-mouthed son just do not mix well.

The root of all my irritation – butt-related comments and jokes. I never knew so many words can be made up with just the words “butt” and “backside”. Worse, Megan is joining in the fun, and becoming “foul-mouthed” like the brother.

When the two siblings are in their butt-happy moments, they will take turns coming up with names or words that contain the derriere and then laugh themselves silly over their ingenuity. When I’m trapped within earshot of these moments, I don’t know what I should be doing – cover my ears, shout at them to stop their nonsenses, roll my eyes skyward, knit my eyesbrows together, ignore them, or knock myself out. Kids are just kids, right? They have no notion of societal demands for propriety nor do they care. But I care – yet I do not know if I should let them have their fun in private, and wish they do not repeat it in public, or just stop them completely before it becomes a habit.

The latest – Iron Butt. Which, according to Matthew, was a ‘real’ thing he read in one of the comic books available in the school library. It is a costume some boy puts on before he farts (seriously?!). Given the recent saga where he was caught lying through his teeth (I might write about it when the pain in my heart lessens), I have no faith he is telling the truth. I did a quick search in the Internet though, and found no boy with such a costume.

What I found was that there is indeed an “Iron Butt Association” based in the U.S., “dedicated to safe, long-distance motocycle riding”. No offence to the IBA, you guys are great. But I need help nipping my kids’ nonsense in the butt, I mean, bud.

Any tips for a struggling, ears-might-drop-out-from-the-filth-I’m-hearing mum?