Saturday, May 11, 2013

A Mother’s Manifesto

A cafe in Villefranche sur Mer, France 

 I am fully aware that I am not meant to live vicariously through my children and  I have set out some parenting rules as reminders.

Rule No 1 : While I cannot force my dreams  on my children no matter how good I think my dreams are, I have to try my best to make them see how everything they do or say  will bring some consequences. We are therefore responsible and must account  for what we do and say.

 Rule No 2 . I can only guide and share my views and thoughts but I must not expect that my children will agree with me totally.

Rule No 3 :  I must appreciate my children for who they are. I hope that they will grow up to be sensible, kind and compassionate human beings who dare to be different if they want to and try the unbeaten path if there is one and if they so wish to.

Rule No. 4 :  I love my children no matter what they do but  I  must not overlook their flaws.  I love them all the same. It is not a rule it just is that way.

Rule No.5    :  I must always pay attention and listen to what they say * and I think  they have great insight of the world and can often offer fresh ideas and new approach to a situation.

* (So often I am guilty of that.)

Queen of Hearts chocolate card placed in
 a sealed envelope
from the Fat Duck

Rule No 6     :  I  want my children to know that if ever I  unwittingly put them in an awkward position,  it is unintentional as it is never my intention to embarrass them.

Rule No. 7  :  I cannot expect my children not to subject themselves to peer pressure. I hope that they will rise above peer pressure.

Rule No. 8  :  While I will not make disparaging remarks, I must not unnecessarily raise their platforms or expectations as they must have realistic assessment of themselves. Refer to Rule No4.

In school and at tertiary, we have teachers marking our work. So who is the referee in real life? I will know that  I am doing okay if and when my children continue to believe in their own abilities. My office young partner’s late dad had always told her “Confidence is half the battle won”. So true.

I recently read the novel by John O’FarellMay Contain Nuts”, a hilarious and thought provoking story about a compulsive and  protective  mother who frets about errant drivers on the road and took extreme measures in this league table maniac world to prevent her child from failing the  entrance exam for  getting into the elite school . Alice, the protagonist wanted to do everything for her children: “clear every obstacle in their path, fight every battle and take every blow”.  In the voice of the protagonist , O’farrell wroteThe period in which your children are totally dependent upon you is such a short phase of your life. You think it’s for ever, then suddenly it’s over; before you’ve even looked up from checking their coats were buttoned up properly , it’s over. One day you are in your kitchen when the doorbell rings and it is your own child arriving home from school, staggering over the threshold with a four-ton ruck-sack of books on her back and her mind weighed down by a million thoughts that you will never know. And you glance up at those framed photos on the stairs of when they were so little, wearing clothes you chose, sitting in swings you had to lift them into, laughing uncontrollably as you pushed them back and forth. And it’s gone. That’s it, she’s grown up- that expression of total trust in her face, it’s gone for ever; just a memory.”
As I browse through pre-school photos of my daughters taken when they were growing up, I miss those years and wish that if only they could stay like that for just a little bit longer. I can still recall the time when my child was three years old and we were late for her nursery class. After I had dropped her at the school compound and let her walk to her class on her own, I could not bring myself to drive away as I had this fear that kept me thinking what if someone was lurking in the school compound and she was abducted during her brief walk to the class. You cannot fault me for worrying as in my biased opinion, they were the cutest and adorable kids around. I then stepped out of the car and take a quick walk to the classroom and was relieved that she was already at her desk. I once stood by a joint parental rule that my husband and I  set for our daughter. If she did not make the mark, she would not get to go for the class trip to another state. I was prepared to forfeit the fees already paid so that I could free myself from the anguish that she was going to travel on the school bus. Till this date, she felt that the punishment we had meted out then was a little severe for her score in a language test that proved to be unimportant. I had heard too many horror stories about reckless bus drivers that I would dissuade her from joining the rest of her classmates on those school excursions. When she was twelve and I reluctantly let her go on the junior school trip on a chartered bus ; when I saw the bus  leave, my heart felt this quiver and I was in tears. I had to refrain myself from trailing behind the bus all the way to their destination. I had to put my guard down when my younger child was ten and she took part in some junior squash heats away from home. I had to stop myself from worrying sick about her crossing the big wide road in Kuala Lumpur. Thanks but no thanks to mobile phone because when I could not contact my children on their mobile phones, I became frantic only to be told later that their phone batteries had gone flat. Now that my girls are grown up, I have to  tell myself to stop worrying otherwise I can get carried away by worrying about things like them going to bed too late, losing track of time lines, procrastinating etc etc etc every single thing I am not a good example for . 

They grow up fast but as a parent, you never stop worrying and  if you let your big fat worries take over, parenthood will never be any fun. As  a mother, we forget that we are not running our child’s race but our child is yet we  want to protect our children from harm and also failures at all costs and we cannot imagine that they can manage without us. John O’ Farell wrote, “ You have to let them fall and fail and then try again. Nobody ever learnt anything except by doing it (said a book I’d read to make me a better parent)”.   I sometimes wonder how my mother had done it.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers in the world!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Serving Empathy

I enjoy solitude as much as having a one to one conversation if there is stuff to talk about.  But because I can be indecisive and prone to changing my mind, I  like to venture out on my own whether to grab a coffee or a bite or just to walk around a place. I decide where I eat according to where is convenient and whether I could get a park. The food is secondary, the company is important. It is easy to eat  alone, I can change my mind without having to account to anyone . It can be productive to eat alone as you need the time to read and think about things generally. It is not that I do not like people. I find people fascinating. Only opinionated know-it-all bore me, people who have quirky sense of humour and are open to exchanging their stories and thoughts interest me.

I like to think that I am open minded and versatile in accepting what comes may but in truth I find that everyday can be a challenge as it is never easy to just accept what you see and what you hear without forming an opinion, a conclusion or a thought. So I try to stock up my level of empathy. Perhaps the first thing one should be taught in school is to have empathy. In fact the reality is not every man for himself as it should be every man for his own salvation. In the world of politics , it may be every man for himself but we must all know that nothing lasts for ever. Every individual has to seek his or her own salvation because as humans, we are consumed with desires for one thing or another and desires are our drawbacks.

Often I feel that I get to where I am by default. It is easy to know what one does not like or want to do  but it is hard to know what one really wants to pursue or do, so one might end up where he or she is  by way of elimination process . By trial and error, some of us are fortunate to arrive at decisions they do not live to regret. We are told that we have to will things to happen if we want them badly. We call that positive thinking. Sometimes things may not happen when we want them too badly to happen. I feel that could be because you think you really want something badly but you do not really believe that you will get that something you want badly, then that something  you want badly will not happen . So eventually it is still about positive thinking. Positive thinking arises from self possession. It is a matter of having self confidence and faith in what you do. But then there is also the other theory that everything is about destiny, so if it is already in the book of the universe, you cannot change it. If that is so, we should not fret or be too disappointed if we do not get the results we want.

Often we procrastinate when we have to do something we do not like. One day I had this insight and I said to a couple of colleagues, “ In life one must learn to get good at doing something you don’t like doing.” There was no response. I could hear a pin drop. Perhaps that kind of sound depressing and I gave myself away by uttering the comment. It probably crossed these lawyers’ minds that “ She does not like what she is doing.” I definitely have this desire of only doing things that I like and I know that will be unrealistic.  As we are so often told that we have to love what we are doing , we should stop doing what we don’t like doing and only do what we  feel passionate about.  However whatever it is that you love doing, you might end up not liking it after a while so  you cannot just follow your desire unless you are ready to face the consequences whatever they may be.

We cannot sit on the fence. When I try to think about both sides of an argument, things can get a little muddled up. In the novel “ The Submission” by Amy Waldman, a jury gathers in Manhattan to select a design for the memorial to be constructed for the victims of a devastating  terror attack and after deliberating, the jurors opens the envelope only to discover that the winner they have picked is an American Muslim. Instantly the jurors are cast into a controversial debate about the claims of grief surrounding 9/11, the submission, its art  and the meaning of Islam. One of the jurors, Claire whose husband died in the tragedy was told by one of the victim’s brother. “ You don’t know what you want,” he said, haltingly in front of her, peeved by the difference in their height. “ You know what you’re supposed to want, but not what you really want. Step aside, Claire. Let people who know their own minds fight this out.”

“No people like me, who can see both sides, are needed. It’s called empathy.” Her tone had turned patronizing, superior.

“ Cowardice is what it’s called! You can see all the sides you want, but you can only be on one. One! You have to choose, Claire. Choose!” He was yelling now.That familiar, dreaded tightening ,the build of frustration  ,had begun……

In life we have to make many choices and we are all afraid to make the wrong choice. Perhaps we are afraid not for ourselves but also for our successors and the many next generations to come but we must know that we can only decide based on what we know at present. Everything in life is subject to change, it may be change for the better for some and worse for some, or it may not be better nor worse just different. We have to try to understand that one cannot be guided by passions or emotions alone. There are always the reasons for it and the other reasons against it. If only the people could try to be more objective and think rationally and not be overcome by emotion. Still we must not sit on the fence.

Nice, France (Oct 2012)