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.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Respect the child's decision

- There are parts of this post that are spiritual in nature so consider yourself warned before you roll your eyes-

For the longest time, Jordan has been wanting to move schools. Initially, it was because she wasn't settled at her school. But even when she did settle and found her footing, she seemed to still have this inclination to move schools.

By then, we weren't so keen to do so because she had a group of friends that we liked and she could count on. She had strong teachers who were providing her good grounding. It was a good school with simple, decent and strong Christian values. There were no airs to it and we liked that very much.

Unfortunately, she kept picking on things like the girls beingnoisy and sometimes mean and the toilets being smelly and dirty. While we tried to assure her that she would face the exact situations in any other girls' school, she remained like a dog with a bone.

Since there was no dissuading her, we told her that it was then up to her to make it happen. We told her that we would submit her application for her but everything else would be up to her. She would need to

1. Provide consistently good results.

Her edict to herself as she worked towards the year-end examinations
2. Do whatever she felt necessary to get in.

3. Pray for God to open the door for her.

And then we left it. All I had to remember was to submit her results every semester. Jordan on the other hand, talked about it incessantly as if it were already going to happen. When we told her not to get her hopes up, she took it one step further and chose to write to the principal of the school. Jordan then convinced Grandma to drive her to the school and hand deliver the letter to the school office.

A day after her final term exams began, we heard from the school. They were offering her a place for next year. It was what we had been half hoping for for the last two years but thought was never going to happen. Once we got over all the hairs on our arms standing because we knew that it was by the Grace of God more than anything else, we were overwhelmed with nostalgia and reluctance. After all, her current school had done her no harm but in fact given her so much room to grow and develop as a person. And by taking her out, we were in some way hinting that it wasn't good enough for her. And by taking her out, we were throwing her into a brand new environment that she would need to get used to and make friends, all over again.

But the decision wasn't ours to make. That conflict was the hardest to bear. As parents, we are used to calling the shots for JED. But we had put the responsibility of her getting into her school of choice, into her hands. So it was only right to let her decide. We waited till her exams were over before we told her. In the ensuing days, Packrat and I went back and forth, weighing the merits of the new school but lamenting the loss of the her current school.

When we did tell her, we did so most dramatically. We pulled her out of school once her exams were over, took her to brunch and showed her the email. And as she read the email and chomped down on her buttered toast, a grin spread across her face, wide enough to split it. That was our answer enough. People asked if we would have pulled rank and demanded our preference over hers. That grin and the look on her face told us that we would be doing her and in the long term, ourselves a great disfavour, if we took that moment away from her. It was her moment. She did everything she could to get it and if we pulled it from under her feet, she would never trust us again.


Later on, I asked her what she thought were the reasons why she got into the school after such a long wait.

Her response was that
1. She had worked very hard and she had got herself some pretty good grades.
2. She had prayed. Very very hard.
3. She had written to the principal.

I asked her when she had prayed. In the words of those annoying click bait posts on FB, her answer blew me away.

Me: So, Jordan, when did you pray?
Jordan: Today, at recess.
Me: You prayed today, at recess that you would be able to move schools?
Jordan: Yes. And after recess, you came to pick me up and told me I got in.


So, with a heavy heart and trepidation on our part and an excited one on hers we're off on this new adventure, all because God heard the prayers of our 8 year old. May she always remember this as her first encounter of God's faithfulness to her.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Of tears and recriminations: a post mortem.

The end of the exams did not come fast enough for the twins. And they rejoiced, from the night before the last paper till the day they got the papers back. Then there was a bit of a pall in the house. One did better, one didn't do as well. The problem was that the one who didn't do so well, didn't do so well because of a lackadaisical attitude rather than general inability.

As with grief, there were different emotions that I encountered.

First it was denial.
Those scores couldn't be. The incredulity was greatest for English. After all, the twins are the products of two English teachers. How could it be that their English was so bad? I had to remind myself that my 8 year old self once spelt "other things" as "oether thinks". So, if my 8 year old self had crap English, why not the twins?

Then anger. 
When I saw the results and saw the mistakes that led to the results, it truly did make my blood boil. My emotional and irrational response was to wonder if I could get away with caning them. I had grown up listening to how my classmates got caned for bringing home less than perfect scores. Then I asked myself, to what end? How would my inflicting pain on them do anything beneficial? It might make me feel better especially since I would have an outlet for my frustration but I would not inflict pain on a child to make myself feel better. That would just be plain child abuse.

Then the big bad word came along. Guilt. 
I work. I'm out of the house 3 days a week till evening. By which time, I can manage a cursory glance at what they've done through the day. Most of the time, I leave them instructions as to what they need to do. Would it have been better if I had been home every afternoon and put a gun to their heads and made sure they did what they needed to? It was easy to blame myself for it. Could I have put in more effort? Could I have been more vigilant and drilled them a bit more? Then it occurred to me that I wasn't the one taking the exams and I wasn't the one who had to do the work. If it was only being done because I was there, then the work was done under duress. Admittedly, I think if I had drilled the twins more, they might have been in a better position for the exams. But what would they have learnt? That Mommy is their crutch? As they get older, it would get more and more ridiculous for me to be home just so that they would get their work done. So the uphill task that the rational part of me had was to convince the not-so-rational- penchant to be helicopter- tiger mom part of me that it wasn't my fault and my stopping work or staying at home more wasn't going to do the twins any favours. I haven't stopped feeling guilty but Packrat keeps reminding me that the twins have to take responsibility for their own learning and their own achievements.

So where am I now? At this point, while writing this, I think I'm still at  the bargaining phase, full of despair; trying to find reasons and solutions.
I ask myself "Why?" Why is it that the papers were so badly done?  I ask Packrat, what can we do? Of course, the million dollar instinct is to plough them headlong into tuition classes. After all, part of the problem comes from that fact that there is so little rigor in the school work that they aren't used to sitting and practicing for extended periods of time. They don't take, as seriously, the homework we set for them because they know that we aren't their teachers. But this is a path that I'm willing to explore but unwilling to take. The time, the cost and how it's still a short-term solution that breeds a certain amount of dependency and helplessness make it a less than desirable plan of action. We have sat and talked about it to death, coming up with reasons, justifications and recriminations. Eventually Packrat suggests a two-fold action. First we sit with them and ask them the following questions.

1. Do you think you could do better? (Rhetorical question that has to be asked)
2. What do you think you can do to make it better?
3. How can we help you to make it better?

With that, we devise a holiday work schedule (even though we promised no work during the holidays, the caveat had been that they had to earn it) where they stipulate how much work they are willing to do and stick to it. The pages would have to be done to the best of their ability. By the end of the holidays, we'll give them a 'supplementary exam'. If they still show that they aren't doing well, then we start thinking about additional help. The consequence of that, as told to the twins, would be that we will have less money to vacation and they will have less time to play.

I'm not sure if I've reached Acceptance yet though. I'm still annoyed with careless mistakes and and the low grades. I dread finding out what the consequences are. There is some calm albeit resigned acceptance; that these are the grades they were meant to get and the classes they get streamed into are the ones they were meant to get into for whatever reason. That and the fact that 15 years from now, no one will really care what they got in primary school and the ones who did well and the ones who didn't would have all levelled out onto the same playing field. Those thoughts need to become strong enough to block out the more negative, dark and twisty ones that convince me that with these grades at 8, come 12 at PSLE, we're going to be in trouble. Such dark and twisty thoughts have the potential to snowball into panicky, psychotic, crazy mother behaviour which benefits no one.

So have we returned to reality and the living of a normal life?
On the surface, yes. For now, We're giving them a bit of breathing space to go nuts and just play. But deep down inside, I'm still upset and angry. But I know that it's important to move forward and use this as an opportunity to fix what they are weak at. I also know that they need to take on the responsibility of getting the grades they are capable of getting. The latter is a bit harder to teach because it involves us watching them by the wayside and not reacting even if it is a train wreck in slow motion.

There have been counter suggestions. Migrate. Leave this less than ideal system. We would still like to, at some point, but if we did it for this reason then we wouldn't be any better than who pay to get their kids certified as special needs and we'd be running away. Now, that would truly be something to feel guilty about.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Exam prep, the 8 year old version.

It's the twins' first exams and it's bringing into very sharp focus the difference between the boy and the girl.

Girl- She wants everything planned and sorted out. She wants to know exactly what she has to do each day.
Boy- He stares, jaw on the ground, at the practice timetable that I set up for the both of them and has no idea how to make head or tail.

Actual practice: 
Girl- She takes it seriously. She does every paper neatly and she wants it graded and she wants it scored. She checks off what she has done.
Boy- He sees it as time away from his Lego and his Harry Potter books. He sees it as an interruption and he needs to get back to the important things as soon as possible. That means, careless mistakes, messy work and haphazard answers. He rips off the Post It and crushes it up. I suspect the ripping and crushing is symbolic as well as literal.

Girl- The exams are something meant to be feared. So she practices and practices. But she still fears to the point that she bursts into tears. When poked and prodded, she admits that she fears failing.
Boy- There's no sense of urgency. The exams are treated as an annoyance that need to be dispensed with as soon as possible. He tolerates the work we set him because he knows it's his passport to free time and TV time on the weekend. His stress doesn't come from the work but the thought of what he might be missing as he does his work.

The Exam Schedule.
Though the exams aren't over yet, these are my takeaways.

1. I get why people send their children to tuition. Trying to get through the twins' work and corrections  makes me want to run away to the office and hide there till the exams are over. I want someone else to do it.

2. But there's something to be said about going at it by myself. I know how long their attention spans are, I know where their weaknesses and strengths lie and I get a bit of insight into how their very bizarre brain functions.

3. The blood pressure skyrockets equally, whether it stems from the lackadaisical attitude or the uber anxious one. They make me worry in different ways.

4. It's definitely much more stressful to have my own children take exams, despite the fact that the twins' exam are no big deal and my work kids' exams are national exams.

So how have I been coping and how have I helped the twins to cope with mommy being replaced by a stern taskmistress?

1. There has to be mandated play time. It gets counter-productive, despite the fact that holidays and weekends seem the best time to force them to do more work, free of school homework and whatnot. But at some point, it stops working. We'd go out, either in the morning to the park or to lunch with friends or to swim dates in the evening. Wherever possible, we would break the monotony. It ensured that everyone, myself included, kept our sanity intact.

2. Work has to be done in short periods of time and the amount of work has to be realistic. My mother, who was way ahead of her time, believed that keeping a child seated for too long was just not healthy and I grew up being reminded of that. We took breaks at the hour mark and I declared ihandstand/ Potter breaks as well as scooter races up and down the corridor.

3. Keeping the goals short-termed. Long-term goals are abstract to the twins. They cannot fathom that they are working hard now for a 'better future' or whatever. They cannot even fathom how their actions now will impact something next year. Furthermore, if the goal is too complicated then they give up. They're realistic. They know they can't get to it, so why try? We've done them in baby steps.
a. Finish this paper and you get ten minutes out on the corridor.
b. Finish by lunch and we'll go out in the afternoon.
c. Complete all your tasks and you get to pick what you want to do after.

4.  Keeping to the schedule.
It is very tempting to ply the twins with more work once they are done, especially when they are all bright-eyed and chirpy after. But the reason why they cooperate when it comes to doing what they needed to do is the knowledge that when they are done, that's it. If I keep slipping them more work, I am not keeping to my end of the bargain and there wouldn't be any incentive for them to finish up because they would just get 'punished' with more work. That would just be plain sneaky.

5. Managing the stress.
Managing my stress sometimes meant ceding the revision to Packrat. It would do no one any good to have a screaming and crazy parent.

Managing Evan's stress (his stress comes from not being able to do what he wants) means using the 'sandwich' method. First, commend his effort on something he's already done well (i.e. handwriting, evidence of checking, attempt at employing something we taught him before). Second, highlight the problem of the moment "Look at where you were careless!". Third, assure him that we aren't angry with him even if he just got a earful. Point out that it's what he did rather than what him personally that we had taken issue with. We also encourage him to try to see beyond what he feels is a 'gulag' existence right now. He cheers up at the prospect of no more work in exactly a week's time.

Managing Jordan's stress means using the sandwich method with different ingredients. First, acknowledge her fears (failing is scary and failing is bad). Second, ask her what we can do to help her not fail ( she needs to come up with this herself i.e. help her with spelling or run through her multiplication tables with her). Third, explain to her that there is nothing wrong with failure, if it actually does occur, because then she'll know what she needs to pay more attention to. That too, is rapidly followed up with the exhortations that our affection and love for them is not grade or achievement dependent.

We don't know how the twins will do in the exams but it is an experience for them, needing to work for something and having it long drawn. But how they do doesn't matter, what they take away does.   When a blood vessel in my head is threatening to blow, I am comforted by the knowledge that in the larger scheme of things, no one really cares about how they did in Primary 2. These achievement milestones are artificial. And that thought, among others, helps assuage the blood vessel and prevents me from losing my remaining marbles.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Snail Mail

Some time back, we were part of this sticker club thing for the kids which was a little bit of a chain where we got an email invitation to send a packet of stickers to a child and then send on the email with your own kid's name in it to 6 kids who would then do the same thing. It was meant to allow our kids to experience receiving mail, in this day and age where for most part, nothing fun comes in the mail anymore.

Recently, I noticed that Jordan and the neighbours, less so Evan because he can't be bothered to write long rambling letters, have started sending letters to each other.

First, we found them in their school bags. They were passing letters to each other during recess. Then we started seeing pieces of paper slipped under our doors. The problem was that the girls would use recycled letters to write to one another and we often thought they were scraps lying around or junk mail and we would toss them out.

After a lot of indignation on their part and a lot of feigned blame on ours ("You shouldn't leave them lying around!"), the girls came up with the idea of making their own mail boxes and sticking it the front doors. That way, the seemingly ignorant mommies wouldn't toss their precious letters into the bin.

Unlike our regular post, this postal service seems to be very active in the evenings and on the weekends. That's probably when the girls see the least of each other. 

It's provided our front doors decoration and it is indeed a cheering sight to come home to a happy envelope on the door. They take it seriously and when they receive a letter, they read it and race off to pen a reply and slip out to drop it off. If only our local mail was so efficient.

It's funny how they implore each other to write and occasionally resort to using emotional blackmail.

We found a letter sometime ago and with permission, I've posted a fragment for posterity here. The rest of the letter was a plea to write to her because she had been grounded by her mother. The mothers routinely take photos of found letters and sent it around amongst us. We have laughed about it though maintaining a straight face and pretending to take the girls and the mail route seriously.

We'll see how long it lasts. I remember doing it when I was a bit older than they were. But because that was also part of the 'collect letter paper' phase of my life, I regretfully used fancy letter paper to write these letters.

Evan, on the other hand, totally enthralled by Potter world, thinks that Owl mail is the way to go and has recently asked for one. On account of there not being an Owl post network and his friends not having owls plus the fact that they poop indiscriminately and leave regurgitated, half eaten rats everywhere, I'm inclined to say no to that one.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Playing with Possibilities at the Playeum

I have an eight year old who is obsessed with the right answer. We didn't teach it but there's an inherent need to make sure the answer is right. So we try our best to send across the message that getting things wrong is okay and it's part of learning. Part of it is inherent, the other part of it is bred by our school system where there is always a right way, right answer and attaining that is highly rewarded. That's good for some things. But not so good for others.

In such a system, some things fall by the way side. Divergent Thinking is one of them. Divergent Thinking is the ability to see many answers to the same question. Not entirely the same thing as creativity but where new ideas and new ways of doing things come from. This idea, I learnt from Ken Robinson and is something that we struggle to make known to the twins, especially, who are already entrenched in this culture of right and wrong.

How do we do try to do that? We don't dictate how they play. When they ask what they ought to do next, we ask them to go figure it out for themselves. We find toys and opportunities for play that are open-ended.

One of the opportunities that was given to us recently was an invitation to  Playeum; The Children's Centre for Creativity at Gillman Barracks. Unlike most indoor play areas, there aren't set ways to play. The closest I've seen to this is Kaboodle Kids, a play gym entirely made out of foam blocks. But Playeum worked on a theme (The Art of Speed) rather than a particular type of play.

The entire centre was broken up into different spaces where you could do different things. The theme of speed basically meant that there were a lot of wheels associated with the play. Along side the wheels were troughs and troughs of Lego and play pieces for the children to assemble what they felt might work on the various ramps. 

And that, was the great testament to divergent play. No one knew what was the perfect way to build a contraption that would survive the steep ramp without an explosion of Lego all over the place. Every child, including mine, went back again and again, adapting their vehicles trying to figure out what worked better. Eventually Evan worked out that it was all in the wheels. The black wheels with threads offered too much traction and it didn't gain enough speed down the ramp; that meant it couldn't jump the divide between ramps and his creations often crashed and burned in what we started to fondly refer to as The Valley of Broken Dreams.

When he figured it out, he taught it to Muffin and Muffin ended up creating a zoom-worthy vehicle that ended up as a blur no matter how many shots we tried to take of it. It was interesting to note also that despite the fact that Evan told Muffin how to build his vehicle, their vehicles looked markedly different and while Muffin watched how Evan built his, he went off to create his own.


We were late to family lunch because we stayed longer that we'd expected to at the Playeum and while regaling what JED did there, a question that surfaced was "So what did Jordan do since it was all Lego and cars?" My instinctive retort that needed to be suppressed was "Who says girls can't play with cars (and Lego)?".

Because that was precisely what Jordan did for most part of it; play with the cars and later on with Lego and marbles. I had expected her to be at the Workshop table where there was a buffet of recyclable materials, fabrics, glue, markers etc. And that in itself was a terrible assumption on my part. She didn't even venture there because she was busy trying to race cars down another set of tracks; in this space, you could adapt the tracks as well as create the vehicles. She twisted, propped up, laid flat, looped and curled the track, watched how her car responded to it and adjusted it accordingly. We have a million pictures of her building a mini roller coaster for her car without it going off the rails and none of the Workshop area, unfortunately.

She can't look!
An interesting observation was that despite the number of times their cars crashed, broke into a million pieces, the kids just went back the drawing board and tried again, always adjusting, always swoping out parts and using different things to see if it worked better.

Jordan and Evan also tried their hands at building their own marble runs while taking a break from the ramps and cars. Even with this, they used ribbons, straightened and twisted paper clips to 'tie' the 'tracks'. Tracks here being old tubes of cardboard or plastic pipes or tubing. Evan got a bit frustrated when his creations wouldn't hold but there was a gleam of satisfaction every time he dropped a marble in and it came out at the bottom.

So they ended up with a morning of play which wasn't dictated by anyone. It was just theirs. When asked which section they liked the most, they were unanimous in their vagueness. They all liked 'building the stuff', which was really all they did.

There were other areas as well though JED didn't spend a lot of time there. It wasn't as if they weren't as fun. In fact, the Dark Room was one of my favourite areas  because I love shadows and making pictures or shadows. There was also the Workshop space I mentioned earlier where we could make whatever it is we wanted with the available tools. Packrat spent much of his time building cars to try and outdo the boys. I don't know if he succeeded though.

At the end of the day, one thing Ken Robinson had said resounded "if you're not prepared to be wrong, you'll never come up with anything original" and it had truly been a morning of their coming up with their own original creations and where there was no right or wrong way to do it. Any place that does that is good for anyone's soul.

Details of how to get to Playeum and other nitty gritty but important pieces information. 

Blk 47 Malan Road
Gillman Barracks #01-21/23

It's near the Hort Park and it quite far into the barracks so be prepared to trek and clock steps or drive.

Mon to Fri from 7:00am to 5:00pm
First Hour Free Parking
$0.50 per 30 min for the Second hour
$3.00 per hour for the Third hour onwards or part thereof

Saturdays from 7:00am to 11:00am
Free Parking from 11:00am to 7:00pm
$0.50 per 30 min

Mon to Fri from 5:00pm to 7:00am (next day)
Saturdays from 7:00pm to 7:00am (next day)
$0.50 per 30min (capped at $2.00)
Parking is free on Sundays so that was great. 

Child (1-12): $20 (It's a non-profit organisation but they have to keep putting out resources and pay for utilities!)
Accompanying adult: You play for free.
Not open on Mondays and Christmas meaning Haze days are a great time to visit them.

We are most thankful to Playeum for the the time and space to create, tinker and make without instruction manuals!