One major difference I found between the boys lies in the way they play.
I found this photo when I looked through my backlog. This was taken when Chip just turned 4.
He used train tracks to create this maze while I was busy. When I came into the room to see him, I was so pleasantly surprised I had to take a photo of it.
M plays like this too. But maybe not when he was just 3+ or 4. When he was around 4 years old, he spent almost all his indoor play time on Lego. Now and again, he may show a brief interest in other toys like train sets and play doh but it was obvious that Lego was his obsession.
With almost the same set of toys, I've noticed that Chip, who is 4 years old now, plays somewhat differently.
To begin with, he has been the one who is more into pretend play and cuddly toys since a tender age. Maybe because I was more relaxed with him cuddling stuffed toys even when he was an infant, it had made a difference to his attachment to all the soft companions.
With my first born, I was paranoid about stuffed animals and the risk of suffocation and whatnots. As a result, M didn't come in touch with stuffed toys till he was a toddler. By then, he had learnt to derive comfort and discovered pleasures from other sources.
Chip also seems to reach the stage of symbolic play a lot earlier than M, maybe even when he was just about 3. Almost everything that Chip laid his hands on could be turned into something else. A torch becomes a rocket. A flute is now a machine gun. His pillow is transformed into a boat for his piggies.
Now, if I were to give the kid a set of picture cards from a game set, he would come up with a different set of rules to play an entirely different game that he has thought of.
In fact, on a daily basis now, the boys would imagine adventures to undertake and quests to conquer which require them to build up action-packed scenes using objects they find in the house. These are then played out in the comfort of their bedroom, which often looks like a war zone.
I know all kids come with their idiosyncrasies, but I am sure there is something that we have done, directly or not, which have contributed to their differences.
It would be interesting to give this more thought and figure it out.
My 6 years old made this hilarious comic last December, inspired by the movie 'Three Pigs and a Baby' which I rented to please Chip, the pigs lover.
He cheekily credited the illustrators as Pooky and Big Pig, who are actually two of his favourite soft toys that reside on his bed. Haha!
I thought this comic is the best that he has done so far and it is just so cool!
No matter how I try, I will never be able to draw like this. There is an element of childlike innocence in the drawings and I love the side profiles that he has drawn.
Though the boys watched the movie only twice before I returned the video, the plot really stuck in their minds.
A week or two after, I could hear them still discussing the plots or arguing over the names of the pigs and how the Doomsday Device should operate etc.. Sometimes the discussions turned into tickling frenzies, though there were also times when one would get so frustrated with the other that they threatened to fight.
Then one day I found them role-playing the scenes umpteen times on their own, sometimes adding new scenes and giggled themselves silly with their own injection of wicked humorous lines. It was so heartwarming and precious to watch.
After entertaining themselves with their self-directed play, they began to express in different forms. Hence the birth of numerous comic strips and drawings, all inspired by this film.
This comic strip Doomsday Device was created in one sitting, without any help from us, hence the noticeable grammatical and spelling mistakes. But we decided not to correct them after, though we highlighted to M. Leaving in the original form seems the correct thing to do since we want to preserve as much of its originality as possible.
When Chip begged me to rent the movie at the video store, I took a look at the plot and DVD case and secretly scoffed at the B-grade quality. But for $5, I thought it is OK to just let him have his way.
I'm so pleased that the kids took a lot more out of the movie, instead of treating it simply as a form of entertainment for the couch potato.
It has been quite a culture shock for M so far. My boy makes it clear often enough that he isn't impressed with big school. Haha! There are daily grouses, though thankfully, these are dwindling by the week.
Besides having to get used to the long hours away from home and the new routine which involves waking at 6 am, there is also the steep learning curve to be even more independent. Though I think he is independent enough to survive and adapt, I am sure the uncertainty adds a level of uneasiness and unhappiness. He is vocal and sensitive to begin with, so perhaps he is more ready than the average easygoing child to voice his displeasure.
It is all getting better though. He is still not skipping with joy every morning about going to school, but he isn't protesting either. On most days, he does grumble, albeit a little, and has even mentioned an ingenious idea of creating a robot clone to go to school on his behalf. Heehee...
While I would say that the past weeks have been rather smooth-sailing, it has been quite an experience for me too. Several incidents happened, which not only highlighted a growing area of concern but also taught me plenty in the department of parenting. But I shall save them for another post.
The first week was orientation week which included some walkabout in school, fire drill and assembly-style events.
Classroom activities included some free expression drawings and coloring. Kids were told to bring a storybook to read. There are also lots of books of different themes in every classroom which they can read during their free time.
Lessons proper started in Week 2, which was last week. I must say that there were a few things that surprised me so far.
The textbooks and workbooks are hardly touched though the lessons have supposedly started.
Worksheets for every subject were handled out by the subject teacher and kids just had to do them. There were no former instructions (i.e. teaching).
One day, M came home to tell me that everyone had to complete a 19-pages booklet consisting of 2 Maths questions per page. He finished his well ahead of time and they were all easy to him. Asked him for some sample questions and I can see why he would find them to be easy, but I wonder if it is the same for everyone.
Another day, he did a 12-pages booklet with lots of English questions.
I've known for some time that in some schools, the teachers just assumed that the kids are already advanced enough to be able to handle the basic concepts and if not, they will have to get outside help (e.g. tuition or parental help).
So the teachers just teach the 'extras', which is why the introduction of plenty of worksheets. According to the rumours that I've heard, M's school is one of these and that some teachers are more extreme than others.
But I also wonder if the teachers are introducing the worksheets right now without instructions to gauge the abilities of every child. This would be a logical and reasonable practice since a good teacher must know the strengths and weaknesses of every student before she can push him further to make progress or guide him along to meet the minimum standards.
M told me there are some students in his class who seemed to be really struggling with some worksheets, while majority of the class breezed through them. To be expected, I suppose.
Now that we have come to the end of Week 3, there still isn't any homework. Not even a liner!
I am reluctant to give him much work too, after seeing how exhausted he is by the time he gets in from school. He deserves a rest for sure after the long day.
Thankfully, his foundation is strong and I know that for now at least, he is still finding all the work in school 'easy peasy' as he puts it. Even for Chinese, he is doing fine because we had done quite a bit of work last year which puts him well ahead of the curriculum.
The thing is, as parents, we don't get regular feedback from school anymore, at least not as regular as most of us would like. So if a child struggles with his work in school and we don't see any of it at home, there will be no red flag until it is too late.
While I like the no-homework practice, I am not going to take a laid-back approach and wait for the alarm bells to go off. It seems wiser to keep the pace of learning consistent now.
The honeymoon (for me) is over. It's time to oil the engine again.
Being the worrier mum and control freak that I am, I have been packing two snacks a day for Marcus since his first day at Primary school.
Thankfully, this decision doesn't draw him unnecessary attention. In fact, from my observations in the first three days of school, at least half of the Primary one boys bring a box of food for recess.
Anyway, the boy prefers to bring along his own snacks from home instead of queueing to buy. Might as well, since he is only capable of eating in the most unhurried manner. So far, no amount of pressure could work to hasten his chewing or swallowing. I have given up on hurrying the tortoise.
Since my objective is to prevent hunger pangs, I figured the most constructive solution is to pack him nutritious and calorie-rich food that can be assembled into a small parcel and consumed in a few mouthfuls.
Before he leaves home, he eats a normal size breakfast. Two and half hours later, he takes his first snack box to the canteen during recess. Another two hours later, he has a quick break in the classroom, which I understand lasts about 10 min.
So basically, the calories he consumes at these three small meals must be sufficient to keep hunger at bay till he reaches home, which is hours past the typical lunchtime. In fact, in the past two weeks, by the time he finishes his lunch at home, it is about time for some office workers to head out for afternoon tea. Darn!
At this rate, how can I ever stop worrying about him not putting on enough weight?!! Urghh!
Because of this eternal concern, there is a need to entice my boy to finish his snacks every 2-3 hours, especially when I won't be there in school to nag him. So I aim for a varied daily menu comprising of wide range of ingredients, hoping to keep him keen on his food.
There are many other factors to consider too, such as the nutritiousness, ease for him to finish in the allocated time, perishability of certain ingredients at room temperature and the food's tastiness a few hours after preparation etc.. So many items are ruled out as a result.
To save myself wrecking my brain and stressing my zombified body at 6 am, I made a list and stuck it to my fridge. The plan was to simply follow it - to stock the fridge, pack the snacks and make breakfast, lunch and dinner accordingly.
Sounds easy, but it isn't. Not to me anyway, who's never the sort of cook to plan a week's meals in advance, preferring to give in to spontaneity. The latter allows for days of laziness and occasional household emergencies to be attended to, while I can still sanely serve up a few meals a week. It is definitely a tried-and-tested strategy that has worked well in our household. I like to think of it as organized chaos. :>
So now, having to refer to a list on the fridge calls for some unnatural behaviour on my part. Barely two weeks into the routine, I already found myself trying to come up with substitutes now and again, either because I haven't had time to shop the days before or make certain things the night before.
But I am trying my best. Mornings can be a lot rosier for me if I were to just pack him some sandwiches everyday, or buy from the deli an assortment of buns with fillings, or just make the boy go brave it out at the canteen and risk being left with 5 min to eat. And of course, ignore the fact that he may not eat at all and lose a few kilos in a month. Sigh.
These thoughts are enough to keep me going. Yeah, I can do it! :D
Anyway, here is the partial list (with the lunch/dinner items removed), which I've tried to follow closely in the past two weeks. It includes what I served for breakfast, followed by the two snacks I packed daily. We are into week 3 now and I do intend to try out a 4-weeks menu and rotate it monthly. Let's see how long it can be sustained. :>
Mon (not for week 1 since school term began on Tue)
Cereal w milk
Crumpet w peanut butter Egg sandwich Cheese crackers and grapes
Tortilla w cheese
Salmon fried Rice
Kaya bun and milk
French toast Fried chicken strips with Onigiri
Small banana and cashew nuts
Waffles Pizza Strips (tomato, cheese/ham) Granola bar
Week 2 Mon
Toast w nutella
Tortilla wrap w baked beans & cheese Banana nut muffin
Cereal w milk
Tuna/sweetcorn sandwich sultana biscuits
Scrambled eggs w smoked salmon Macademia nuts and Milo
Peanut butter w bread Tortellini w soft boiled egg
Pretzels, fruit and small bun
Cheese Crumpet Inarizushi w chopped crab/prawn, vege Jam pinwheel sandwich
The verdict so far has been rather encouraging. He ate most of what I gave him, with the occasional leftovers because he hadn't enough time to finish.
He also told me how much he loves packing snacks to school and opening up the boxes to see what's in store, though usually I briefed him in the morning before closing the boxes. I don't know why there should still be a pleasant surprise involved, but I am not complaining as long as it keeps him happy.
The best part of it all is that on most days, he isn't starving when he gets in. After a quick shower, he would sit with me to finish up a big portion of lunch that I had lovingly put together before dashing off to play.
It does feels like mission accomplished, a day at a time. And I am happy about it.
All over the house are papers just like these (above).
Some were painstakingly created to list the components required and sequence for making a special robot that he has invented. I have since lost count of the numbers. Over 30 maybe?
To make a new robot, he will have to destroy the current one as he normally requires most parts in the Mindstorms NXT set and we have only one robot brain from the set. As a result, the only proof of the robots' existence are some amateurish photos and videos of selected models. We should really make more of such videos! (E, are you reading??)
I really like his initiative to record his designs. It's such a good habit since it will help him remember the parts that he had used for a particular design, should he wish to remake it.
Hobby aside, this is also great practice for honing the other academic related skills, without having to whip out any assessment books. :>
One of his sources of inspiration.
Usually, after he finished a model and made it work, he would demonstrate it to whatever audience he could find in the household, giving a superb presentation which could last forever if we would lend the listening ear.
If I were him, I probably would not want to ever dismantle something so precious, especially after hours of hard work. I would want to admire them over and over for the longest time possible.
But there lies the difference between us. He is not like me.
The moment he has done his 'show-and-tell', he has already set new targets to aim for - the next, even more mighty robot to create and conquer.
This is the attitude which I adore in him.
If only I can channel more of it towards some other areas. I am working on it.
*** This is the 1000th post of this blog! I can't believe it! ***
The day began at 6am when I gently woke the boy up. Perhaps because he slept at 9pm the night before, he woke easily with nothing more than some whispers and a few light pats on his arm.
Within the next 45 min, I got him washed up, packed him two snacks and made sure he finished his breakfast before dressing for school.
I was anxious that we would miss the school bus on the first day, and I really jumped when I heard a loud honk, wondering if I had remembered the wrong pick-up time. Luckily, when we got down, it wasn't our bus.
I had considered walking him to school on the first day, so that he would not feel so lost and 'alone'. I can imagine how intimidating it can be to alight the school bus and be surrounded by a sea of unknown faces and unfamiliar surroundings. But we decided it is better for him to start on the school bus straightaway and have faith that there will be guidance from teachers and older children once he gets there.
While waiting for the bus, he was rather chatty. Though he didn't say it, I could sense his apprehensiveness. I briefed him of what to expect and spoke positively about the experiences to come. A quick kiss and tight hug before watching him get on the bus with his spanking new bag.
As the bus drove off, I felt a wave of mixed emotions sweeping over me.
There goes my little boy, on his first journey to his new school, all on his own. Without me!
He has grown up. He is big enough to carry his big bag (though it was filled with just 2 snack boxes, a water bottle, pencil case and small box of colour pencils that day).
He is going to love his new school and make loads of new friends! He is going to enjoy learning and all the new experiences!
He is growing up too fast! Soon, he won't need me anymore. Soon, he won't want to spend time with me anymore. Ohh....
Then I snapped out of those crazy thoughts and back to reality. Ok, he will be fine. He is a smart boy, he will find his way around and I will see him at recess.
I headed home for a quick breakfast before strolling to his school, well ahead of the time for recess.
By 8.50am, parents were pouring in from all directions. Within minutes, we had lined ourselves along the corridors that connect the classrooms to the canteen. Majority was armed with cameras and video cams, chatting excitedly while waiting for their stars to walk down the 'red carpet'.
Closer to the place of action, there were also hoards of parents who parked themselves on both sides of the canteen to have a good view of their sons eating. :> Some even took a few test shots to make sure they had the perfect angles. Haha! They are not called parents paparazzi for nothing!
I was expecting to hear a loud alarm ring to signal the commencement of recess, just like what I was used to in my times, but there wasn't even a buzz. All we saw were lines of little kids walking out of the classrooms in pairs. The Primary 1 kids were all assisted by a Primary 4 or 5 boy. Some of the older boys were actually really good at looking after their younger charges, guiding them along protectively, which was very impressive.
But I can't really say the same for the boy who was paired with M. They didn't even walk together. But M didn't seem to care. He was like this cool papaya swinging his lunch bag as he made his way to the canteen, oblivious to the bystanders. I wouldn't be surprised if he was thinking of the designs of the next robot to make!! Haha!
Unfortunately, I couldn't take any good shots of him due to where he was seated in the canteen, though I caught glimpses of him just before recess was over.
Everywhere I looked, there were parents with goofy smiles, cheering quietly as they observed their little boys nibbling down snacks brought from home or bought with the help of the older boys. Like them, I smiled a mega smile and waved like an overly excited girl whenever M made eye contacts with me. Thrice! I hope it assured him that everything will be fine.
After recess, I headed home still beaming with pride, yet occupied with slight feelings of uneasiness. I wondered if he had made any friends and if I had given him enough food.
The school had emailed parents a week prior to the start of school term about the week long orientation programme. Proper lessons will only begin in second week. I thought that was a gentle way to ease the children to the new routine.
A few hours later, I was waiting for him at the lobby when his school bus pulled in. Off came my boy, looking a little disheveled with an untucked shirt and unkempt hair. He was obviously weary from the long day.
He couldn't wait to play his toys and badly missed his brother.
Did he have fun on his first day? It was a loud and clear NO. The school was boring. The day was boring. There was waiting, waiting and more waiting. He was grumpy about having to wake at 'this ridiculous and ungodly hour and having to take the rotten bus to the rotten school'. He told me he had enough of the school and was not going back there anymore. Hahaha!
Ok, I didn't laugh in his face when he expressed his thoughts. He got a pep talk instead.
Clearly, my little boy needs some adjustment time. I am glad he is talking about his feelings though, which will make it easier for me to help him. The school had understandingly allowed parents to visit for the first three days, so I was there during recess on the 4th, 5th and 6th Jan. He looked fine, not chirpily happy but there was nothing out of the ordinary that deserved attention either.
I am sure in a week or two, he will enjoy school more once he has made some friends.
Now that my first born is in Primary school and we have started giving him pocket money, this issue on teaching my children about the value of money becomes more relevant than ever.
Since I was a kid, I have been very careful with my money. It certainly has a lot to do with how my parents raised us, but I think my personality must play a part too.
When we were in Primary school (aged 7 - 12), my parents used to give my siblings and I daily pocket money instead of weekly allowance. I believe the main reason was to prevent us from splurging it all the very moment we got them.
That was what E used to do. He would run out of the house, straight to the first candy store and spend the entire week allowance on an assortment of sweets and comics! :)
I remember getting only 80 cents per day even when I was 12 to spend on snack food/drinks at the school canteen and stationery store if we ever need something. No money on weekends or any special days, except for the Ang Pow money we received during the Chinese New Year.
Even with just $4 a week, I was able to save close to half of that amount every month. With no intention to spend it on anything in particular. I just saved it for rainy days because I didn't need to spend it.
Once a year, my dad would count the change and tell me how much I had saved and the sum was deposited into my bank account. My sister was just like me, accumulating her little wealth from our meagre sum of allowances. Actually she saved even more than me, if I remember correctly, as for a few years, she was known as the miser in the family.
It was a different story with my brothers who spent every penny they had in the canteen. To them, the money was given to be spent. If they were not spent on food, they headed to the small mama shops (neighbourhood shops) to buy stickers and lollipops on the way home.
Like my family, there were savers and spenders among E and his siblings.
The thing is, these very habits of being mindful of the value of money, money management and saving for rainy days remain with us all even when we entered adulthood.
The ones who were never mindful of savings before are more of a spendthrift by the time they started earning their own keep. Or maybe they are just plain generous with their money. The savers continue to think thrice before treating themselves with their hard-earned money.
As a parent now, naturally, I want my boys to appreciate early enough the value of money and to realize what count as necessary expenses versus the frivolous wants.
But I also want them to know that it is fine to give themselves a little treat now and again, as long as they don't overspend. In fact, it should be encouraged, as I believe it is tied to the development of self-worth.
The night before M's first day of school, I was showing him his wallet and all the compartments. Noting that only the coin compartment was filled, M made a few suggestions.
'Mummy, how about putting a few hundred dollars into here?' (pointing at the note compartment).
'These are for cards, right? Can you also put my credit card in here please, so I won't forget tomorrow?'