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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Together

Brothers Together
The little boy dashed into the room. It was not terribly huge, but definitely bigger than the rooms at home. 3-year-old Z didn't care. He headed straight for the bed, and proceeded to jump up and down on it in wild abandonment, a ritual he performed on all other "bouncy beds" he had visited. Z's 1-year-old brother E soaked in the atmosphere. Following in his footsteps, the little one walked awkwardly to the bed, and managed to climb up with some help from Daddy. He too attempted to jump on the bed, a manoeuvre not as easily performed due to the already uneven bumps caused by a jumping Z. Changing course, the infant crawled towards his Mummy, but was inadvertently knocked over en route by his exuberant brother. Not skipping a beat, an excited Z cuddled alongside the tangled mass of brother, mother and father. He declared happily, "Daddy and Mummy and Z and Didi.... Together...."

Holidays are always a special time for the family. We set aside our daily household routines and chores, and pack away our lives for some three weeks of all-out adventure; but more importantly this is the time we have set aside for our family - precious moments for the family to experience deep intimacy and growth.

Admiring the bamboo in Arashiyama, Japan
As Z grows older, he absorbs more and more of the holiday experience. Our recent trip to Japan truly underscores this point. For instance, whenever we pass by a grove of bamboo trees back home, our little son will run excitedly to swing the stems to and fro. On more than one occasion he has remarked, "So many bamboo [trees]. Just like Japan." And our son's fascination with the Singapore Flyer has taken on an international dimension. Since he returned home he has been asking to see photos of the "Osaka Flyer", otherwise known as the Tempozan Ferris Wheel, one of his favourite sites during the trip. To add to the list, I have not even mentioned his requests to see pictures of Elmo, the gigantic dazzling float he saw during the night parade at Osaka's Universal Studios.

But holidays are not only about creating memories and helping our children to grow their personal life experiences. 

Just a few weeks ago Sue and I were experiencing one of our difficult moments with the children - the older one was throwing a tantrum after refusing to clean up his toys and insisting that he would not take an afternoon nap; the younger one was trudging around the house, attempting to cling on to his Mummy, while at the same time whining away tearfully and also refusing to sleep. Both of us were in a mess; exhausted from trying to discipline the children while at the same time simply longing to get them to bed in order to lounge at the sofa and to enjoy our latest DVD drama serial. 

I recalled fondly our lovely time in Japan, and wished that our entire family were on the next plane to Japan - or any other country in the world for that matter. It then occurred to me that the children were happiest when they were out of the house, running around in some park and spending simple quality time with their Daddy and Mummy. On a wing and a prayer, we bundled the two boys, grouchy and sleepy and all, and strapped them into their car seats. 

Within half an hour we had arrived at the Singapore Botanic Gardens; and it seemed as though a new day had dawned. Our older son was happily bounding through and into the grass, gesturing at Sue to look at every palm tree he could see; our younger son was lounging comfortably in his stroller, imbibing the wide expense of nature. My wife was in a constant state of trying to convince her older child why this tree did or did not look like his Kong Kong's hair (our son has a vivid imagination and still likens the foliage of trees to the hair on his maternal grandfather's head). As for me, I was kept busy pushing the stroller and going wherever my excited 3-year-old went - whether it was along the meandering rocky paths, or whether it was up and down the thick grassy slopes. I was almost out of breath during most parts of the walk, but I didn't care; I was together with my family and that's all that mattered.


Z with his favourite Bismarck Palm named
after one of his Daddy's favourite leaders,
Otto von Bismarck, architect of German unification.
There's something magical when a family packs away the ordinary routines of life, to embark on a shared journey of physical intimacy and emotional togetherness. As an educator, I lament often that too many of our children are deprived of the simple pleasures of spending time together with their family. Many children spend their weekends holed up behind their computers or other electronic devices, while their parents are out pursuing individual pursuits such as golf or shopping. This is not to mention the phenomenal amount of time that children spend doing their homework or spending time with their tuition teachers. And there are of course enrichment centres offering any type of course under the sun; from how to think positively, to how to ace your exams.

For the parents that recognise the importance of spending time with the family, this concept is often misconstrued, and the family often spends many hours plastered in front of the TV. Other families choose to spend time in a place that the parents enjoy, such as the mall or the restaurant, but this is often not the location of choice for the children. 

Does the Singapore family spend time together? Sometimes. But is this quality time? Mostly not.

The little boy dashed excitedly into the room, interrupting his Daddy who was at the computer playing his latest online strategy game. "I want to go swimming with Daddy," the little boy pronounced in deep anticipation. The father looked at his son, and remembered the times in Japan when he had taken his two children, one after another, into the Japanese onsen to bathe. At that time, the father had assumed that his 3-year-old would not enjoy the experience, given that there were so many other strangers bathing together in the same large room. Little did he realise that after the trip, that his son would proclaim loudly to his mother that "I like swimming with Daddy." 

It was then that the two began their special ritual of bathing, a precious time of togetherness between a little boy and his Daddy.