Friday, December 11, 2015

Flipping for Joy - The Role Chinese Books Play in Our Homeschooling

A story my boys have been asking me to tell them over and over again is the one in which my Chinese teacher threw my Spelling book out of the window and I had to sorrowfully go out to retrieve it at recess time. The story well encapsulates my subsequent experiences with the Chinese language. Let it be said that it was a hate-hate affair. I went on to fail my "AO" Levels twice before passing finally, I'm sure, due to my desperate prayers out of fear of having to attend Chinese Camp before my entrance to Uni.

Fast-forward 30 years, and I find myself at home with two young boys who are looking to me to teach them the same language I struggled with for so many years. It soon became clear that I needed some help, especially when my older boy recently went into a phase of constantly asking, "What is ______ in Chinese?" and I was forced to Google translate most of the answers.

I have been trying various approaches to our Chinese lessons. I use a lot of kinaesthetic activities with the boys, like learning the different words for colours by tossing beanbags into a basket while on scooter boards. Then there was my discovery of Chinese picture books last year when I realised how inexpensive they were compared to English picture books. And beautifully illustrated, with well-chosen storylines and none of the "twaddle", a term which 19th Century educator Charlotte Mason coined to describe books which lack substance and quality in their writing.
This is how we often do our learning - with a scooter board and lots of scooting around!
In fact, what I liked best was that a lot of the books had been translated from Japanese, French and other European picture books, some of which had never been translated into English. On our trip to Kunming last year, I brought home a suitcase-full of picture books and we have been enjoying them since.

It was therefore with great excitement that we were given the opportunity to review "Flip for Joy", an online bookstore with carefully curated Chinese books for children. I was sourcing for a birthday gift for my sister in the US, who had requested for some Chinese books for her soon-to-born baby girl, whom she wanted to be exposed to the Chinese language.
The Flip for Joy website is so attractive, and easy to navigate!
Doesn't everyone simply flip (over) with joy upon receipt of such a parcel? Or is it just me?
The Flip for Joy website is extremely user-friendly, with bright and cheery colours and three main categories Fun, Knowledge and Love. For a book lover like myself, it's like stepping into paradise! Of course, the fact that the product descriptions were in English certainly helped!

I also appreciated the friendly invitation to ask for recommendations with no obligations to purchase. There were too many choices! I emailed the very friendly and gracious Meiru, who soon replied.with a list of  personalised suggestions for my new baby niece and for our homeschooling purposes.

The whole order was arranged very efficiently by courier, and we were soon greeted by this oh-so-marvellous parcel full of storybook treasures. I think I was more excited than our boys. There's nothing like the prospect of a new book to make my day.

I had ordered a selection of infant books for my little niece, and another set for our homeschool use. Meiru very generously included some additional book treats for us. This was our stash! It was like Christmas Day early!

Oh, joy! Christmas comes early this year :)

Our stash.. with book treats galore! Thank you, Flip for Joy!
The baby books were sent to Florida via my parents. For the little one, Meiru had suggested the Starter Pack A, which included the Chinese translation of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?  by Eric Carle as well as a sweet series of lift the flap board books for babies. I also got some touch and feel books, and a Japanese series which involved parent-child interaction. What a great idea as a baby gift for new parents instead of the usual gift ideas!
The Chinese translation of an Eric Carle favourite!
A sweet story for baby!
Some lovely lift-the-flap books, perfect for little hands!
Brain stimulating activities for parent and child!
Touch and Feel Books for Baby
For the boys, I went with Meiru's recommendation of a set of sequenced early readers which would provide the foundation for their acquisition of the language. My boys have always taken to books with real photographs (I'm not sure if it's a boy thing!) and I knew it would also give myself as a teacher a framework to work with, knowing we could just go through the books in sequence.

I have indeed started using the set as part of our daily Chinese lessons. We are taking our time to go through each section and the boys have already picked up the terms for family members and parts of the body and are starting on new vocabulary for the different parts of a house. I have been writing out the words on flash cards to reinforce their learning with games and actions. I love the fact that it's finally working for us! We are gradually working through the set of 18 books, categorised in order of difficulty. This homeschool mama is going to take these books on holiday with us, because it will be so easy to learn on the go!
These are perfect for homeschoolers wanting to teach their children new vocabulary!

Enjoying the lesson on parts of the body!
The simple way we learn - simple but effective!

The second set I ordered was a lovely illustrated series of stories on values (影响孩子一生的情商故事(15册+5张DVD+父母导读手册) which came with accompanying DVDs. My sons are visual and auditory learners too and love audio books, so I thought this might work for them. Well, turns out they love the books themselves so much that we have only watched the DVDs once. The series has been perfect for bedtime with the sweet and gentle illustrations and tales of animal adventures which put forth a clear message without being overly moralistic like the Chinese books I was so familiar with and disliked in my childhood. The authors and illustrators are from Spain, Italy and the US!

These books have become fodder for mealtime discussions too. There's the one about the bear who was bored and decided to paint the world around him different colours; it talks about contentment and  the beauty of nature just the way it is. My boys' favourite at the moment (because it resonates with them a bit too much, I admit!) is about a cake making competition which turned into a disaster because each animal claimed his was best. In the end, they learned to cooperate to make the best and most "luscious, delectable cake" ever, as my 5-year-old puts it. I am looking forward to reading the rest of the books in the set of 15 with them!
Each of these stories is based on a value or character trait to be emphasised.
And for the book treats... I could not wait to see what Meiru had handpicked for our boys!

My favourite choice was the set by a Korean author and illustrator which teaches very specific concepts in Chinese like colours, prepositions, and parts of the body; loved the humour infused in the stories!
Learning about prepositions in Chinese!
Inspired by the book 纸飞机飞到哪里去了?Is the airplane flying over my head?
Another book which I personally could not imagine ploughing through for its length was 100晨的房子. More than its length, I wasn't sure if my 5-year-old would find the concept interesting yet at his age. But he loved it! We enjoyed a nice afternoon going through and counting the different levels up to 100, and predicting the kinds of animals he was going to find living at each level. It was a fun read!

A fun read, involving counting and lots of visual discrimination!
To be enjoyed next...
And this one too!
And so we have it! This blog post sure took a long time to write because of the bounty of books we had to review and enjoy. I must say it was one of our most enjoyable reviews of the year... and the enjoyment is carrying on, because, as quoted in Flip for Joy's Christmas promotion of a free $5 e-voucher for any expenditure over $50, a book is a gift you can open again and again. Thank you, Flip for Joy, for helping us bring the joy back into learning the language on our homeschooling journey!

And now to share the joy with others in this season of peace, joy and giving:

Parenting on Purpose is pleased to host a giveaway for Flip for Joy books. Simply complete the following by 20 Dec 2015. Two readers will be selected to win a $20 e-gift card each. The card is valid for one time usage and may be used within the next 6 months:
1. Like Parenting on Purpose on Facebook. 
2. Like the Parenting on Purpose Facebook post of the review and share the post on your Facebook account.
3. Visit Flip for Joy at 
4. Leave a comment under the  Facebook post telling us which is your favourite title and why. 
"A book is a gift you can open again and again." - Garrison Keillor
Share the joy of reading this Christmas and receive a $5 Flip for Joy e-gift card (valid for 6 months) for every $50 nett spent in the month of December.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Food of My Amah - A Reflection on Family & Life

This blog post originated from a eulogy delivered at the wake of the late Madam Diana Wee Soo Guat (10 November 1920-30 November 2015).
My Amah and Me - Celebrating 95 Years of God's Faithfulness.

It is now early in the morning; the day when I will say my final goodbye to my grandmother, who passed away earlier this week, at the grand old age of 95. I recall the events of the past week, and I am thankful that the tears of yesterday have given way to the smiles of today. My grandmother, Wee Soo Guat, has lived a full life, and I am happy that she has now gone to a better place; one without suffering; one without pain.

I choose to remember Amah through the food that she cooked; something that all our family members have talked about and something that all of us will remember as long as we remember our Amah. Indeed each of the food items she cooked represents one aspect of the Tan Family matriarch.
My Amah and Ah Kong loved each other dearly; and she was the wife who stood
by his side for better and for worse.
Amah was famous for her achar, the traditional pickled mix of cucumber and carrot marinated in a blend of vinegar and other spices. This was a special delicacy that Amah made once a year and distributed to all her family and friends. To me, achar symbolised Amah's generosity, and family members shared that after all the hard work of preparing the pickles, that they sometimes did not even end up with even one bottle. My Amah was exuberant in her generosity, and gave all that she had to everyone whom she knew (and even to strangers).

Bakwan Kepiting. This Peranakan dish, often prepared during family gatherings, comprised minced pork mixed with crab that was spooned together in a special manner. This would then be stuffed back into the crab shell, and either prepared with bamboo shoots in a delicious broth, or deep fried to perfection and enjoyed with all its crispiness. The dish represented our close family gatherings that we used to have once a week, first in my Uncle Wilson's home at Hythe Road in Serangoon Gardens, and then at Mt Sinai in the Holland Road area. These were precious moments when the extended family would gather every week and enjoy the food and warmth of family. My Amah loved her family and she always ensured that everyone ate well, and that everyone was kept closely knitted together.
The grandchildren and great grandchildren today.
I cannot remember when, but one day, these weekly gatherings stopped. I was sad; but thankful that the family remained close, and continued to meet during regular gatherings at Christmas and Chinese New Year, as well as on other special occasions. One dish that would characterise this season of life was mee siam. My Amah's version comprised a delicious selection of side dishes such as sambal udang and sambal sotong (chilli prawns and squid), that would be served alongside the staples of bee hoon, sliced boiled egg and twa kwa. Amah's fried beancurd had to be cut into small pieces and fried to a crisp. Only then would the mee siam be representative of a bona fide Amah-style dish.

Then there were the more personal dishes. Amah loved each of her grandchildren in a different way. For me, it was through the food that she prepared for me to take home to eat. As I lived alone for many years during my time in university, this was particularly precious for me. One such dish was nasi ulam, an unusual dish even by Peranakan standards. This special seafood-based dish is a complicated one to prepare, with its numerous ingredients of white flaky fish, small prawns, crabmeat and a unique spice. One memorable incident was when I took the dish to school, to enjoy it as I studied. I remember that one of my good friends happened to take a whiff of the food, and he remarked that it was especially pungent. He still wanted to try the dish, since I told him it was a one-of-a-kind dish prepared by my Amah. So I continued to do my work, and when I looked up I realised that all the food was gone! My friend had apparently wolfed down every single grain of the nasi ulam!

My Amah was also known for her glutinous rice or zubi peng. This was something that I had always loved in childhood; but something that my wife Sue had never eaten in her life. She however grew fond of the sticky rice, fried deliciously with small prawns (hae bee), and sprinkled generously with peanuts. To me, zubi peng represents how my wife has came to love my Amah, and how Sue grew fond of my dear grandmother during the ten years or so that she has known her.
My grandparents at our wedding. We desire to learn from them, and to pass on the
legacy that they have left us.
Chinese New Year as a family.
For me, I will always remember Amah's fried onions and chopped garlic. Amah knew I loved to cook, and that it was sometimes hard to do so given my busy life. She therefore made it a point to prepare fried onions and to peel and chop garlic for me every time we met for our family gatherings. These condiments made it easier for me to cook, and till today I still have these ingredients ready in the kitchen. My children have become fond of these condiments, with my older son Z constantly asking for fried onions whenever we eat noodles or fried rice. As for my younger son E, he loves the chopped garlic pieces deep fried, and would often eat them on their own, even when they are served with fried egg or other dishes.

In John 4:34, Jesus said that "My food... is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work." This verse was spoken in the context of a later verse talking about the importance of outreach, when Jesus asked his disciples to look at the harvest; to realise that it was ripe and plentiful but that the workers were few.

Jesus had a heart for those who did not know God. So did Amah. She went to church from the age of 12, and was baptised at the age of 16. All her life she attended one church, Telok Ayer Methodist Church; and she often emphasised how important it is for everyone to know Jesus and to go to church. In fact when I first told Amah I was getting married to Sue, my grandma remarked, "Sue is a good girl. She loves Jesus." That, to her, was the most important. And I can appreciate the wisdom of that statement.
Supporting me at my confirmation service. I remember
she was beaming from ear to ear!
During her 95th Birthday celebration, just two weeks before her death, Amah shared with Sue what was to become her last words to our family. She told Sue to "always read God's Word to your children." Sue replied that we have been reading God's Word to our sons each night at bedtime, and Amah was pleased.

We are thankful that both our children have chosen to receive Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. This, I believe is Amah's greatest legacy to us. She was a third generation Christian, which makes our children sixth generation Christians. What a rich legacy!

We were especially thankful when 5-year-old Z prayed for Amah during her time in hospital. He declared," Dear God, Thank you for choosing Cho Cho. She belongs to you." My son has been asking why people do not want to know Jesus, and Sue has been encouraging him to pray for them. Our desire is for our children to take ownership of their faith, and to live lives pleasing to God, just as their great grandmother did. 

And we know that Amah would approve.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Of Giants, Stones, and Little Girls Who Bite

One of my main quests on my journey of motherhood is figuring out a way to reach the hearts of my boys. Mark and I believe that winning their hearts is the only way to ensure that we will be their first line of defence as they get older and face a world which is confusing yet alluring; we pray that we will always be one of the first voices they seek in the midst of relativism and blurred points of view. As Christians, we believe that knowing their hearts will pave the way for them to know the most important heart of all, their heavenly Father's heart.

I have been pondering a great deal about the centrality of relationships in parenting, largely due to our very feisty 3-year-old who has been a completely different kettle of fish to parent as compared with his big Kor Kor. Our spirited one who does everything with thrice the amount of energy and enthusiasm as the rest of us; whose emotions are as fickle as the weather in England; whose main struggle at the moment is expressing how he feels in words, though he is extremely capable of being verbal when he is calm and having a good day. He delights us daily with his insight, wit and fascinating explorations, and also leaves us flat out at the end of each day, having been hit by the whirlwind of emotions, words and ideas that come with the privilege of parenting him.
The energy & enthusiasm of little E!
His fears are as large as his very active imagination, and when he is able to express them, he talks of soldiers with swords, scary monsters in the darkness, and bad men coming to take him away. All that most people see, though, at these points of insecurity, are a small but furious little fellow with a big temper and angry words to go with it.

As parents, we often make the illogical leap from Point A (He/ She is my child) to Point B (I of course would know everything about him/ her.) If we think really hard about it, parenting is just like any other relationship. Just because they are our own doesn't mean anything, really, at the start. In any relationship, be it a courtship or marriage or a business relationship, getting to know the other person takes time and effort. 

When a baby is born, it takes a while for the parents to begin to discern its different cries for hunger, a wet diaper, or just to be picked up. We spend a lot of time listening out for their cries and trying to read the meanings behind their behaviour. Yet we forget when the kids become "tantruming" toddlers and whiny preschoolers, or angsty adolescents, to continue to listen out for the cries of their hearts and the meanings behind the words that they say.
The only way to get to know our children is to spend time with them; to
play with them; to laugh with them; to cry with them. It's when we journey through
life's ups and downs - that's when we truly get to know them.
I was telling Mark at dinner one night that I still felt I had not truly gotten a grasp of how to parent our little E, having only been acquainted with him for 3 years (the length of time he's been on this earth), and that I was praying for insight into his little heart. I want to know what makes him respond the way that he does, and I want to see these things from a divine perspective rather than that of a human onlooker who might come to a very different conclusion when viewing his feistiness of character and tendency to dig in his heels no matter what the circumstance. I prayed that we might find a way to be that bedrock for him amidst the many insecurities and fears which others might not see, hidden beneath his bravado and seemingly confident exterior.

Our spirited one often chooses to jump barefooted into whatever activities he chooses.
But sometimes what we see is not always what is deep inside...
God somehow provided a way in, when after dinner at the playground that evening, our little one came running up to me and said, "Mummy, I'm scared. Jesus will protect me from the scary monsters in the darkness?" 

"Yes, He will, E."

Another round up and down the slides, and back again. 

"And God will protect me from the soldiers with swords? And the bad men who will come and take me away?"

"Yes, E. He promises to keep you safe."

Another round, and he doubles back and asks, "How about the small girls who bite?"

We all burst into laughter. E's fears are assuaged and he runs back to join his brother in play. While we ponder in amusement at his final question, on a more serious note, I have been reminded that the way to get to his heart is to show him the heart of a Father who loves and protects him.
Our spirited son always enjoys a good story - especially when he can spice it up
with lots of embellishments! 
At bedtime, when I go into his room to give him his milk, he says, "Mummy, will you pray for me? That Jesus will protect me from the monsters and enormous giants?" I do. He asks for his favourite Bible story at the moment, that of the young shepherd boy David who fights lions and bears, and finally his biggest enemy of all, the giant Goliath, whom he takes down with a single pebble from his sling.

E peppers the story with his own commentary, adding in details from the Bible stories which Mark tells the boys every night. "David was a brave boy, Mummy. God protected David from the bad enormous giant," he declares with gusto, before we end the night with the all-time favourite Sunday School song about David. "... And the giant came tumbling down!"

E beams in the darkness and lies down, happy and assured. I know I still have a long way towards knowing and understanding his little heart, but thank God that the battle is not mine to fight, for the battle for his heart belongs to our God - and it's not mine to win, because it's already been won by a Mighty God.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

A Pocket Full of Oils: Essential Oils for the Weary Mom

Essential oils have become part of our family's everyday routine.
We diffuse Lavender in the boys' room at bedtime
for a good night's sleep. 
It's been a few months since we first began our journey into the world of essential oils by Young Living. Although I haven't had the time to blog much about the oils, they've pretty much become part of our family's life since then, and our go-to remedy for almost every ailment our family encounters. 

I'm actually very happy with the way it's turned out, as it's much more appealing a thought to be applying some therapeutic-grade Lavender or Thieves to counter a headache or soothe a sore back than to be popping a Panadol or some other pain-relief medication. 

And, believe me, as a tired mother of two extremely active and precocious boys, I have been needing all the help I can get!

Yes, our two boys who keep us on our toes from dawn to dusk, 24/7!
It was of great interest to me that essential oils were featured in the papers today as being used by parents to help with various health conditions in their children, ranging from sleep challenges to the common cold.
Ms Faith Teo, 38, an independent distributor for Young Living Singapore and a mother of two, sees the trend as part of a bigger movement among parents towards feeding their children organic food and using chemical-free products at home.

She says the oils can be used on babies for conditions such as colic and gas. She adds that they also help them sleep better, regulate their bowel movements, relieve discomfort during teething and calm them.

For older children, the oils can reportedly be used to support their immune, respiratory, musculo- skeletal and other body functions and systems.

The oils can be applied on the skin or diffused into the air. For children under two, the oil is best diluted before use.

Some parents apparently use these oils to relieve symptoms of common ailments such as cough and cold and to bring down the temperature in a feverish child and for chronic conditions such as asthma and eczema.

- "Feeling Poorly? Dab Some Essential Oil" in The Straits Times, 8 November 2015
The oils have indeed been of benefit to the health of our children, and we have been grateful for these natural remedies which complement the traditional methods of dealing with coughs, colds and tummy aches. However, my husband and I have also found them to be helpful for us both as we face packed schedules and long days at work and at home.
Oils for the Weary Mum: Some of my favourites!
It was a challenging period for me during the recent haze period, as the pollutants in the air triggered asthmatic attacks which I had not had for several years. One by one, each family member came down with a nasty phlegmy cough and a sore throat which seemed to take ages to subside. I was exhausted caring for my sick kids while operating at less than ideal breathing conditions. How we take for granted each breath that we breathe!
Anyway, I have decided to do a short rundown on the Young Living oils that have helped us as a family, both in the period when we battled the haze, as well as on a daily basis. These are some of my favourite choices for busy and tired moms!
1) Lavender 
Lavender is also known as the "swiss army knife" of oils. It can be used for all sorts of things, and because of its mild nature, it's safe for use with children as well, though be sure to dilute it 1:1 with V6 oil (or an alternative vegetable oil) when used for the first time. We diffuse it in the boys' room every night for a calm and restful sleep. I also tend to use it for mosquito bites, or any minor grazes and cuts. It also helps ease tired muscles and tension headaches.

2) Peppermint

Peppermint is my favourite oil. It is refreshing and the only oil which worked during the haze when I was congested and needed some immediate relief. I also inhale a drop of it on the days when I have work and am feeling fatigued. I love the scent, and so does everyone else whom I have offered it to! I offer a drop to Mark when he is feeling fatigued while driving. It helps him to stay alert on the road, which is of utmost importance to our safety as a family.

3) Thieves

Thieves is a natural antiseptic. Legend has it that it was a remedy which grave robbers came up with for protection against the nasty bacteria they would have encountered as an occupational hazard. It is potent! My hubby ingests a drop of it under his tongue when nursing a sore throat. The effect, shall we say, is immediate, though be warned that the long term benefits require some short-term endurance as the Thieves oil does it sterilising work in one's throat. I am more cowardly and prefer to rub a drop or two on my hands and inhale it. Studies have shown that a drop of Thieves kills more bacteria than some hand sanitisers.

4) DiGize

DiGize stands for "Digestive Energizer". It is the replacement for the Chinese medicated oil I used to use when having a tummy upset or suffering from food poisoning. Interestingly, it also kind of smells the same! I find that just rubbing a drop on my stomach brings instant relief. It eases the pain, aids digestion and helps with nausea. It also has been helping my kids with their tummy aches and constipation.

5) R.C.

R.C. is milder than Thieves. When I ran out of Thieves during the haze, I tried R.C. instead. Because of its mild nature, it was suitable for application on my kids as well, and tided us through the period when they had nasty coughs. I applied a drop on our N95 masks before putting them on, which made the wearing of the masks much more pleasant for all of us. It clears sinuses effectively.

We are now under the Essential Rewards Program for Young Living Oils. It seems as if they have become a part of our family's wellness regime. They are certainly not cheap, but we have decided to continue with the oils for now as they have been of benefit not just to the boys, but have helped Mark and myself cope with the fatigue and tiredness which can come with being parents to two active boys and dealing with the demands of work.

If you would like to find out more about the Young Living Oils, do drop an email at, or leave a comment on our blog. This post  explains very clearly what the various options for purchasing the oils are.

We are offering a promotion for the month of November - the first 2 blog readers to sign up with us* for the Essential Rewards Program will receive a free special Relax & Rejuvenation Package (total value of $101)!

The package comprises a 15 ml bottle of Lemon Essential Oil, a "Brain Break" Kit from our sister store, Sensational Play, and a Basic Starter Kit from Young Living Oils.**

*Do quote our Young Living Membership #2948003 should you decide to sign up directly with Young Living :)

**You will receive the Basic Starter Kit when you sign up as an Essential Rewards Member with Young Living Oils

(The Basic Starter Kit has a retail value of $63 and comes with 1 5ml Stress Away oil, 10 sampler packets of the popular oils and blends, 10 1 ml sample bottles, 4 Slique Tea sachets, a Slique bar, and a roller fitment to transform a Young Living bottle into a convenient roll-on. We remember fondly our first Basic Starter Kit and how much we enjoyed using the oils!)
Young Living Basic Starter Kit

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Miracle Question

Suppose you go to bed tonight as usual, and while you are asleep a miracle happens, and the problems that you have are solved. But you are asleep and do not know that the miracle has happened; what will be the first small signs when you wake up in the morning that the miracle has happened and that the problem is solved?

I am coming to the end of my first year of part-time studies for my Graduate Diploma in Counselling. The past few weeks have been about writing term papers; about transcribing client interviews for analysis and coming up with a personal model of counselling that I could use on myself as a client. It has been hard work. But I feel I have learnt so much; and much of my reflection has been about my own life - how my childhood affects the way I relate to my family, and how it affects the way I relate to my children as their parent.
The Lim Family. My counselling studies have made me think of how I relate to my family,
and I have been very thankful for their role in my life.
My "Introduction to Psychology" module has taken me on a wild ride - the psychodynamic therapy approach has taught me how we need to make conscious the unconscious memories in childhood for us to understand more about ourselves; the Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy approach (REBT) has given me an insight that if we want to change the way we feel and behave, we need to change our belief system from irrational to rational. And then there is the Solution-Focussed Brief Therapy (SFBT).

Unlike traditional counselling approaches which focus on the problems that you face, SFBT considers the solutions we could possibly have, and how we could make these solutions come true. 

This leads to the Miracle Question.

What if life as you know it could change in a miraculous manner overnight? What would your world look like?

For me, I know that when I wake up it would be to two young boys who are so excited to begin their day that they jump into their Daddy and Mummy's bed to wake them up. Then instead of crawling reluctantly out of bed, my miracle day would see me joining my sons at the breakfast table before wishing them a good day at school, making my way quietly to the study to work, as my wife begins her morning homeschooling session with them. And as my hunger pangs start to grow, I would be thankful at the amount of work that I would have accomplished, making my way out to the dining table to join the family for lunch. 

My miracle day would continue after lunch at either a teaching class at the poly, or at a meeting for my store, or at the college for my postgrad studies. Whatever the case, my miracle afternoon would be both fulfilling and satisfying, and I would head back home just in time to take the kids out after their naps. The whole family would then go somewhere for a lovely walk, before we return home after a simple dinner outside; with ample time for an evening storytelling or board game session. And the day would end splendidly with my wife and I sending the kids to bed and retiring to our room for a peaceful time together.
Just another walk in the park?
The picture I have painted regarding my "miracle day" might not be as "concrete", "behavioural" and "specific" as most SFBT therapists would want me to describe, but it is an accurate portrayal of what I deem to be my desired life. And the beauty of SFBT is that I now know what I want in life and I can then make concrete plans to actualise this idealised version of a "perfect" life.

There are three main aspects of my "miracle life". Firstly, it would comprise the financial freedom to work from home and to go for jobs on an ad hoc basis. That was part of the reason why I left my full-time job more than a year ago, and my training company and online store are part of the plan to help me realise this dream. The second aspect of my desired life would be to enjoy a fulfilling time with my children, even as they enjoy a meaningful learning experience in homeschool. We are already beginning to see the fruits of our home education, and this is truly a joy for us. As for the third aspect of my dream, it definitely involves my wife. As we head towards the tail end of our eighth year of marriage, I desire for us to continue loving each other and to grow in deeper romance and intimacy. That, I believe to be the foundation of the entire "miracle".  
When I married Sue almost 8 years ago, I would never have expected that our journey together would
bring us to where we are now. But I am so thankful I made that decision, and she is indeed my
"miracle wife"!
The recent months have not been easy for us; even as we seek to teach our kids and to help them learn. For me, one of the greatest challenges has been to be more as a "playmate" to my sons as opposed to the role of a disciplinarian, which is the side of me that they see most often. As such, the miracle question assumes a deep relationship with the kids that can only be derived from constantly spending time with them and in relating to them in a way that they understand. I can see how this has been improving in recent weeks, even as I spend time playing Froggy Boogie with the older child; and as I engage in extremely physical games with the younger boy (such as determining who can kick each other harder, or finding out how Daddy's shoulders can function as the perfect balance beam).
Our older son has a love for puzzles and games. Our favourite moments have been spent playing
blocks or board games or jigsaw puzzles.
Learning that the way to this little boy's heart is to be as physical as I can be.
That's totally out of my comfort zone; but nonetheless crucial towards
building our relationship.
As I shared with Sue my answer to the miracle question, we discussed that we are currently living out a part of our desired life. There have definitely been moments of difficulty, even as we try to establish a new business. However, there has been much joy on the homeschooling front recently, and we have learnt that the boys are like untapped knowledge mines, storing up the voluminous information that they learn, knowledge that they will someday use in ways that we do not yet have an inkling of.

The miracle question, for all its promises of hope, is after all merely a tool to help us to realise what we want in life and to attempt a solution to our current situation. However in reality there are very few miracles in life; and sometimes the deepest dreams that we desire are actually right in front of our eyes. What we need to do is to hold on tight to our goals, and to constantly make conscious choices in order to obtain the desires of our hearts.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Inside "Inside Out"

Pixar's latest animated film Inside Out has taken the world by storm. The movie, about five tiny emotions that live inside a person's head, has swept box offices across the world with its portrayal of how the human psyche is controlled by the interplay of five emotions, and how these emotions control how people act in the real world. As a counsellor, I was drawn by the interesting premise of the movie; so I took Sue to watch it on her birthday, as part of her getaway day in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. To our horror, the characters started speaking in Cantonese... and there were no subtitles! So that was how we had the most romantic experience of watching our first Cantonese movie together... (For the curious and uninitiated, you can view the Cantonese trailer here. Do also note that the post contains spoilers for those who have yet to watch the movie!)
Official Poster of Inside Out. Photo credits:
Language notwithstanding, both of us enjoyed the movie even though we did not understand most of the words (it can be strange when "Joy" is called "Ah Lok" and "Sadness" is called "Ah Sao"). But we realised that the movie had to be good if parts of it could bring tears to our eyes even though we could not fully understand all of it!

There is much to learn from Inside Out that can be applied to parenting. Given that I'm currently doing a module on the "Theory and Practice of Counselling", there was so much of the movie that made sense to me and I know I can continue to apply it as I learn more about counselling.

The movie starts out with the premise that each of us is controlled by five major emotions, Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger. These five emotions live in the headquarters in the brain, and control most of our action and behaviours. 11-year-old Riley, a girl who had recently moved from Minnesota to San Francisco, is the main character of the film, and it discusses the transitional trauma she faces in moving to a new house and attending a new school. 

Most of Riley's core memories have been controlled by Joy, as she single-handedly attempts to direct the actions and behaviours of Riley all the way from birth to adolescence. However, when Sadness tries to intervene at a critical point (resulting in Riley crying in front of her entire class), Joy attempts to stop that memory from becoming part of Riley's core. Joy and Sadness are inadvertently swept away from the control headquarters into the recesses of Riley's brain, leaving a disoriented Fear, Disgust and Anger to control Riley's actions (and they do a terrible job at this).
Our older son has had a roller coaster ride with art. When Z first started at
heArt Studio almost a year and a half ago, it was fear that was in the driver seat.
Now art gives him the confidence to work hard in other areas.
Joy and Sadness attempt to return to the control headquarters, but not before they witness the terrible effects of Riley acting without Joy or Sadness - her worlds of "fun", "friends" and "significance" crumble metaphorically and physically as she is directed by Fear, Disgust and Anger. 

There is a particularly poignant scene when Joy blames Sadness for causing the recent turmoil in Riley's life and chases her away, telling her that there is no need for Sadness in Riley's life. She then attempts to return to the control headquarters alone with Bing Bong, Riley's long-lost imaginary childhood friend. But Joy and Bing Bong instead fall deep into the chasms of Riley's Forgotten Memories. As both of them attempt to escape, Joy stumbles on a memory, hidden deep within Riley's unconscious. She acquires a new understanding that one of Riley's happiest memories of receiving the love of her parents and the affirmation of her hockey teammates that been preceded by the deep sadness RIley had faced after losing her hockey match. It was then that Joy realised the importance of Sadness in helping Riley experience Joy.

When the two emotions finally return to the control room, Joy has a change of heart; she allows Sadness to take control of the terrible situation that had arisen - Riley was planning to leave home at the instigation of Anger. The emotion of Sadness caused Riley to remember that she had parents who loved her, and the tears that she shed together with her parents helped to bring healing and reconciliation to all in the family.
Families are all about helping each other experience the fullness of our emotions.
Who would we turn to if we did not have our family to love us just as we are?
Emotions are the driving force of all that we do. When we are happy, we tend to act more positively to the people around us. When we are sad, we tend to distance ourselves from others and choose to seek solace alone. Problems arise when we behave in an incongruent manner to what we feel - for instance when we force ourselves to be happy even though we feel terribly sad deep inside; the converse is true - when we try to hide our feelings of happiness and present a front that is stoic or emotionless. Inside Out begins in this manner; and at the start we assume that Joy is the best emotion to direct the behaviour of Riley. However, as we journey along, we realise this is actually a terrible idea. While it may seem all hunky dory to have the single emotion of Joy in the driver's seat, this actually suppresses all other emotions, and the person you see is one devoid of the deep emotions that help bring colour to life - the outcome we see at the end when Joy finally allows all the other four emotions a joint role in directing the actions of Riley.
Our two boys enjoying a moment of happiness together. Their interactions have been mostly
happy ones; although sometimes anger and sadness take over when brothers decide to fight, 
or if they refuse to give in to each other. 
Psychodynamic theory tells us that if we want to resolve the issues we face in our adulthood, we need to re-examine our childhood, and uncover the deep emotions that have been suppressed there. This idea of the unconscious was first developed by Sigmund Freud, who did much of his work helping his clients to explore their childhood hurts. 

As parents, we are the custodians of our children's childhood. Most of the work we do as parents is derived from the behavioural branch of psychology, which emphasises the practice of rewards and punishment in order to help shape the actions and behaviours of our children. However, many parents forget to help their children understand their emotions, or they are unable to teach their children the emotional vocabulary that is essential towards helping kids articulate how they feel. Parents fail to understand that if children do not acquire an acute emotional awareness of the situation, they would not be able to produce an appropriate social response, which would significantly affect the social and emotional wellbeing of the child not only in the present, but also in the future.
What goes on in the mind of a 3yo?
Happiness? Sadness? Fear? Anger? Loneliness?
Our two kids are at the stage of learning how to express their emotions. I wrote an article when the older son was 2/1/2-years-old, discussing how important it is to help our children articulate their emotions. And just two weeks ago, we had attended the birthday party of a good friend and the two boys were presented with helium balloons after the event. With a gleam of mischief, the older child untied the balloons to watch them soar away into the sky. The younger boy, who turned 3 in July, stared hard at his brother.

E: Kor Kor, why did you do that? I'm so angry with you. 
Z: Sorry. 
E: Why did you let the balloon go? I'm so sad...
Z: I'm so sorry.

And the two boys were directed to try asking for more balloons; an act that finally brought a smile back to the face of the little one.
Our younger one has had a fondness for balloons as far back as we can remember.
Here he is with his older brother. They are seen here playing with balloons at an 
aunt's wedding in Melaka, Malaysia.
Another mistake that many parents seem to make is when they attempt to suppress the sad emotions faced by their children. We often hear parents saying "Don't cry. Everything will be ok." And while this action is well-meaning - trying to help the child get over a negative experience, it is not helpful for him or her in the longterm. Children who are taught that it is not ok to cry grow up trying to suppress their sad emotions, and they become confused individuals who are never fully able to express their emotions. A friend I know starts laughing every time she feels sad. However the laughter almost always hints of bitterness and hurt. This friend tells me that she has been brought up with the principle that being sad is wrong and that people were created to lead happy lives. These ideas have affected her significantly, and as an adult she now has difficulty trying to identify her emotions as well as knowing how to respond appropriately in a given social setting. 

We know there will be a long way to go in the journey of helping our children to fully express their emotions. We want to be there with them when they experience the most joyful of memories; but we also want to be there when they fall into the deepest pits of sadness and when they get driven through crises of anger and fear.

For life can never be experienced fully without the full suite of emotions to direct us along; and there can never be true joy if there is no encounter with sadness.