The Diaperbag family.

We are the Diaperbag family. There are Jordan, Evan and Dylan (also known as Muffin) and they are fondly known as JED. We are their parents. Ondine and Packrat.

This is JED

Always playing or planning and plotting to take over the world. Always up to shenanigans.

This is Jordan, our first born

Actually she's part of a twin set. She was known as Twin 1 in-utero. She loves to draw what she dreams, dances what she draws.

This is Evan, reluctantly the younger twin

He's Twin 2 by two minutes because it took the doctor that long to find him. We don't think he'll ever forgive the doctor!

This is our youngest, Dylan (also known as Muffin)

He fancies himself the Lion King. His favourite activities are to climb, jump, pounce and roar at the world. The world is his Pride Rock.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Note leaving

The whole family has taken to leaving notes for each other.

There are various functions for the note-leaving.

For me, it's a case of expediency.

It's convenient, it stops me from nagging till I turn blue in the face and the little reminders do in fact act as little triggers for them to do things. Sometimes we  do it because it's funny and it gets a rise out of them.

Sometimes, it's purely to remind me to do something. Regardless of how much we remind them to pass us stuff to sign the minute they get it, they often only remember just as they are going to bed or when I'm not home. I take comfort in the fact that Evan is very responsible and will remember things told to him so occasionally, I take advantage of it and ask him to leave a note to remind me to for instance, "pick his sister at 3 pm".

Tangentially, Evan needs better handwriting because he wouldn't really know if I 'sighed' on the form.

Other times, they do it because they've done something wrong and it's easier to confess it on paper than to face the music. Muffin has recently discovered the joys of procrastinating. So he'll read and sit and play even if he has work to do. A few days ago, despite the fact that he didn't do anything else and spent a good 4 hours just sitting at his desk (only to get up for the bathroom and have dinner) he hadn't finished his Chinese homework which included a five pages of exercises and two pages of writing. His siblings, having more experience with the wrath of mom 'orrhhed' at him to the point that he trembled with fear and then ominously warned him of imminent punishment i.e. (Mummy is going to kiiiiiilll you). In an attempt to pre-emptively placate a potentially angry mummy and avoid sudden 'death', he left a note on his board with multiple "very"s to highlight his recalcitrant behaviour. 

Procrastination at work

Unlike her brothers who leave notes for purely functional reasons, Jordan leaves me notes for everything. To tell me what happened in the day, to recount something bad that had happened, prayer requests, to apologise to me for sassing me, everything.

Funny how they don't leave Packrat notes.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Visiting Melbourne: Through JED's eyes

As promised, this post is Melbourne through the eyes of JED. Or it could be titled "What to do with Melbourne with children" because this post is about what JED loved about Melbourne.

I shall state from the outset that the twins are very infatuated with Melbourne. Jordan is ready to move there. Forever. She wants to go to school there and go like now, now now.

To JED, Melbourne was about 7 things.

1. The cold weather

This was the most important. That is, once they got used to it. Muffin was the one that took the longest to relish it. It went in order of the amount of insulation they had in their bodies. And Muffin doesn't have any, at all.

But once they climatised, they ran around with jackets and even ventured as far as going to the beach twice. Something I wouldn't have even considered no matter how mild the winter was.

2. The animals. 

JED love animals. But as with most urban kids, they are scared of them. So it was funny when Evan wanted to feed ducks (his favourite animal in the world) and run away when the ducks approached him for more. It was similar with the guinea pigs that they could play with at the petting zoo. Evan wanted to have the guinea pig but was squealing about it being ticklish because of its claws. I liked the Open Range safari type animals more than the local Aussie ones and while I understood that it made sense for the joey to be head in in the pouch, I was grossed out by the fact that there were a pair of legs sticking out of Mama-Kanga's belly. No one got why I was grossed out so I was left alone to make faces.

3. The playgrounds
With the benefit of space, the playgrounds around Melbourne were awesome. And I don't mean it in the tween way, I mean it in the "jaw dropping, covet and want to steal it back to Singapore, talk about it all the time" way. 

Every day, we explored a new playground and every evening, there would be the request of going back to the same playground the next day. Because it was just that much fun. It didn't matter that they spent good long stretches of time at the playground, it was never enough. 

Even the adults were hard-pressed to  vote on which was the best playground. 

a. Parkville

Packrat and I loved Parkville because it was behind our old uni and where he lived. We also loved it because it showed great sensitivity to the landscape. It was just a playground plonked into a field. The architectures built the playground into the natural landscape with slopes and trails integrated. Then there was a large hill that we could scale and the Grey's Anatomy fan in me loved the fact that from the playground or the top of the hill, you could see medical helicopters landing on the hospital rooftop across the road. 

JED loved it because it was challenging, sprawling and so open to the imagination. They played hide and seek but gradually settled to play at the dam structure, which in itself was a stroke of genius. The kids could build a network of waterways in the sand and there was an irrigation system that they could work, pump water and dam before releasing it into their waterways. Over and over again, in different permutations. 

My only concern about the playground was that it was so sprawling that you couldn't quite keep an eye on the kids all the time from one spot. But other than that, we spent 2 days and had lunch there. Even then, it was really with a heavy heart to leave. And also to know that should we ever come back, the twins would be too old to enjoy it as much. 

b. St Kilda
St Kilda's a pretty bohemian part of Melbourne and it follows that the playground there is similarly so. It looked like a junkyard with odd pieces of wood structures painted in a cacophony of colours. There was a haphazard feel to it, it was challenging in places for the kids with an adrenaline junkie's dream of a flying fox that whizzed at top speed and only stopped with a mighty clang when it hit the end and caused the kid to rebound or get thrown off into wood chips (though we didn't see any kid get thrown off!)

Similar to the Parkville playground, even though we spent 3 hours there, JED didn't cover every inch of it. They climbed a tree, discovered secret tunnels built under the playground structures and tried to run up a skateboard run which was close to impossible. The playground was run by the city council and there were crates of free fruit for the kids. With places like these where you can see so much love and care has gone into creating it, I was happy that I could put in a donation to keep the place going or to help buy the next crate of fruit.

4. Fake snow
I badly wanted to drive up to Mt Buller for some snow even if we didn't ski. But the men, who were the designated drivers refused to budge. It was too long a drive to see mounds of ice and they couldn't imagine tetchy kids all the way there and disappointed kids back. The next alternative was an ice rink near the hotel that had a fake snow slope.

The cold, together with the speed thrilled JED to bits especially because the only way to stop was to crash headlong into a thick padded wall. Muffin and Jordan were the most adept. I came down screaming while Evan internalised all his fear with a constipated look on his face. It wasn't enough to totally get the snow jollies out of the way but it did go some way into assuaging it.

5. Rowing a boat
If at any time, a child suggests that rowing a boat would be fun, heavily indoctrinated by years of singing that insipid kid song, please say no. Against our better judgement, we agreed to row a boat down the duck pond. With 5 in the boat, the weight wasn't evenly spread out and that meant I spent half the time worried we might truly capsize. And never believe the children when they promise to help row because all they do is splatter water and complain their arms hurt. So rather than rowing, we spun in circles in the general direction of the current, bouncing off both banks and miraculously spun back to where we started. By then, there was water in the boat and JED had all been splashed by algey mucky water that was filled with duck pee.

6. Autumn leaves

There is a Chinese saying about fishing that goes along the lines of "even if can't catch fish, settle for the shrimp". It sounds better in Chinese. That was the philosophy that JED approached Melbourne winter. To them, winter meant snow. We spent the better part of the year dispelling that notion so they settled for the next best thing. Leaves.

Piles of leaves, leaf tracks, just shuffling and rustling in leaves, picking at them, comparing the different shades of yellow, orange and green was interesting enough that they left the adults alone.

7. Friends 
There was always fun to be had where ever they were because they were 5 of them, 4 of them of similar age. There were squabbles and differences but they tried hard to work it out for themselves and figured out the best dynamics amongst them. They didn't sleep together but played together, ate together and even celebrated their birthdays together.

The adults vowed that for as far as possible, we will try to bring them away together because these are what make for good memories for them. 

My takeaway from the entire trip was that fun didn't need to be expensive at all. So, no we didn't go and see the penguins. Nor did we take the windy Great Ocean Road or the coal spitting- tear inducing choo choo train round the Dandenongs. And it really didn't matter to JED nor their friends.

Every one needs more of these sorts of holidays. It does wonders for the soul.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Revisiting Melbourne

We've been wanting to go back to Melbourne for a very long time. We moved back to Singapore close to 15 years ago and haven't been back for 10 years. Since JED were now old enough to appreciate Melbourne as where "Mommy and Daddy met and went to school", we thought it was a good time to do it.

We didn't expect to feel as nostalgic as we did when we got there. So this post is basically Melbourne, through our eyes, as opposed to the subsequent post, which will be Melbourne, through the eyes of JED.

What we generally did was to re-trace our lives in Melbourne, right from touch down.

There was
1. Breakfast at Thresherman's. 
We didn't eat here on a daily basis because we were poor students but on the occasion or when there was family in town, we'd come here for brunch. It was a 5 minute walk from our house. I remember giant fruit salad take away bowls, hot soup in the winter and farmer's breakfasts. Incidentally, when we bought the farmer's breakfast for JED, they complained it tasted weird. When we tried it, we realised that their definition of weird was our definition of 'fresh'.

2. Uni of course.
Because we were at Thresherman's, we were close to uni and since we couldn't check in to our apartment, we went to uni for a walk around. That's when all the feels came flooding back.

To humour JED, we recreated a photo we took when we got engaged and we took a photo at the stop light where we first met.

But for us, it was walking around, remembering what it was like to walk through the various buildings and hallways on the way to lectures, marvelling about the things that hadn't changed and the buildings that were new, bright and shiny.

There is something about old buildings, blue skies and trees that makes the heart rate slow and the blood pressure drop a bit.

3. The old apartment

No trip down memory lane would be complete without visiting the old house. We pointed out to the twins where we would BBQ, where we kept our dog for a while, where Packrat and their Uncle's bedroom was. We told them about Barry the neighbourhood cat who would surely be dead by now though it didn't stop us from looking in the same places that he would hang out.

3. Food

I warned Packrat that when it came to food, we might be a bit disappointed because we were students on a budget then and now that we are a bit older and more discerning, it could possibly be a case of "What did I just put in my mouth?".

There was Italian at Sofia's where it was about mass rather than quantity as well as taking up the challenge of the giant gelato. Even with 9 people, we didn't manage to finish the gelato nor the food but everyone was happy and left in a blissfully stupourous state.

There was also Vietnamese many times over, steaks for our carnivorous tribe and some Chinese thrown in for familiarity sake. For Packrat and myself, souvalkis were necessary because souvalkis remind us of our first real date. Unfortunately, it was a truly a situation where the eyes were larger than the tummy because we couldn't finish the souvalkis. We forgot to take into account the difference between 20 year old's and a 40 year old's appetite.

4. Friends

No pictures here but meeting up with ex students who have lived in Melbourne for longer than I did as well as ex-classmates was on the agenda. We visited their homes, ate where they ate and did what they did. Not touristy at all. In fact, it was these meet ups where we learnt of the reality that Melbourne is actually more costly to live than Singapore, that housing, transportation and even food ($3 for a box of plain rice is daylight robbery) is as costly if not more than in Singapore. A nice reality check for the grass is always greener sentiments.

And then, for me, there was
5. Ballet.

Not specifically for me but for Jordan, to meet my old ballet teacher and to take class in my old ballet school. Time stood still in the ballet school, right down to the carpeting and the ballet studios. Even the teachers. Jordan got to meet my old teacher and take some classes with her. What she taught Jordan, watching her teach class and instilling the same discipline and etiquette I remember from all those years ago, I felt I was an undergrad and the years had melted away. But I wasn't.

10 days of re-tracing our steps and then we had to pack up and come back to reality. But while it lasted, it was good.

Some would say that the past should stay in the past. But I think that occasionally, it's a good thing to touch base with the past. It reminds us of simpler times, what it's like to slow down a little bit, not to get too caught up in the things that actually don't matter and laugh some.

Friday, May 26, 2017

The One Where Evan Hits Balls

Both Evan and Jordan do sport. Actually Muffin as well though the twins spend a lot more time on it.

But their narratives could not be any different.

Evan is not a natural athlete. As a baby, the doctors worried because his head lolled to one side for the longest time. As a toddler, he would fall over a lot and bump his head repeatedly on the same spot. Even as a tennis player, he is no where as good as many of the kids in his age group.

And that makes it hard for him.

It means that he has to work doubly hard to do what comes naturally to some and sometimes, it gets very disheartening. 

It means that there are some coaches that don't like that he isn't a ready made player, who has natural ability. They would yell at him because his footwork isn't what is to be expected of a 10 year old who plays x number of days a week. These were the coaches who would make him cry in frustration.

It means that in a team, he might not be seeded very high and might not get picked to play because he might weigh the team down.

But does he try. Try very hard, he does.

He works till rivets of sweat run down his face and he can't lift his feet anymore. He's learnt to be consistent while he works on power. On the days he doesn't play, he goes running with Packrat and is attempting the jump rope.

We do our part by putting him with coaches who will affirm his effort and encourage him along. We stay away from the coaches who only see him for what he is not. That isn't helpful, to anyone.

In his first ever league tournament, he knew he wasn't seeded very high and every time he played, he tried very hard and tried to make it count. When he couldn't kill the shot, he rallied till the opponent made a mistake and he always took stock of the players he played with. He learnt very quickly to place his shots out of reach of his opponents. And in that way, he won more points and in some of the matches, ended up carrying the 'higher' seeded partner he was playing with because his parter, while stronger was more inconsistent with his shots.

The day of the finals, when he helped the team place well, was a vindication for him; against the managers who would leave him out of line ups, against the coaches who thought him crap and even, to some extent, against us, for the times that we rolled our eyes at his seemingly uncoordinated ways.

I told Evan, the one thing I truly admired about him, is the fact that he's a cool cucumber. He looks cool on court. He doesn't let the stress get to him and he just goes on placing the shots where he needs to. When we commended him on being cool, he exclaimed that he was nervous as heck. That, I told him was excellent, that he doesn't let the nerves get to him. I told him the analogy was to be duck like; gliding along the water as if nothing gazed him  but actually paddling furiously underneath, away.

Someone said to us that Evan is probably learning more because he's isn't naturally gifted and things don't come easy to him. And like pediatricians used to tell us, as long as the milestones are achieved, it isn't about who gets there first.  It'll come in good time and he really is getting there. 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Anti-List for the holidays

The exams are finally, finally over for the twins. Jordan finished much earlier but Evan's drudgery only ended yesterday. Coincidentally, I was asked to write a piece about holidays activities. I thought about it and Packrat and I are pretty much of the opinion that JED, having relatively busy school days should be allowed to do nothing during the holidays. There is a great amount of value in giving them time to be bored.

So our default is to let them come up with their own games , read, go to the library, hang out and go downstairs to muck about or to explore new parks. And oh! Evan has asked for us to go back to Willing Hearts to do some work there. That, we'll definitely do at some point this June.

There. Done.

But I don't think that was what I was asked to write about though.

And honestly, there have been times where we've needed to park the kids somewhere so as to not drive their care-givers crazy while we were away or because they really wanted to learn something new.

So, the list that I'm sharing is of places that JED have tried before and have had quite a bit of fun with.

a. Art camps
A big hit even at this point with the twins being 10. There's always joy in mucking about with paint and creating something from it. We have excellent pieces on our walls courtesy of these art camps and it brings JED so much joy from being able to see their work on the walls.

We've done a few and some are better than others. We did one where I was told the kids weren't listening to instructions and painting it as they were told. We never went back there again even though it was close by us. We have however gone to heART Studio many times over even though it's further away. Their holiday programmes are by the day so it's great if you want them occupied for a couple of hours; though I'm tempted to sign Muffin up for the 2 day Dinosaur one.

b. Science camps.
I've heard that the BASF Science Labs for June are all filled up already and science camps are a whole lot of experimenty fun. The one that we really liked and we sent them to while we were away was a Discovery Vacation Camp which was a 5 day full day camp where they did experiments, went on field trips and actually learnt stuff they remember till today. The only thing about that was that Jordan said she felt homesick. Because it was longer than the typical school day. But that said, she remembers it fondly and they went as a big group of friends so it was a lot of fun.

c. Writing camps
Though only the twins have gone for writing camps, Muffin remembers fondly the time he sat in one with the twins. This was Monsters Under the Bed's Monsters HuntINK camp a few years back. I think at that point, they were still too young for it but they talk about the hydra and the medusa that they learnt about during that workshop. And then, there was the workshop they did last year, where they wrote and published their own book.

They would be happy if I sent them back to any of the ones above but what they really really want to go for is a building workshop where they learn coding and creating games because that's often what is on their minds these days. Evan got his hands on a flyer for the Tink Tank one and has cancelled off the ones that he's learnt in school like Scratch and decided that he wanted to do the MBot and Sphero one. Muffin is keen because he knows that Sphero built the BB-8 we have rolling around the house, though I cautioned him that it wasn't what he was going to build in 2 hours there. Jordan was torn between that and another workshop called Little Bits where you learnt to work with circuitry but Packrat said if they were going, they were ALL going to the same workshop.

There. A list. Of what I would do, what they could do if I gave them the chance to and what they really really want to do. 

All I can say is, I don't really care what we're going to do. I'm just ecstatic that the exams are over and we can do everything we want to or choose to do absolutely nothing.