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, November 17, 2016

Unknown rewards

Jessica Lahey in her book, A Gift of Failure, tries to convince helicopter parents to wean off extrinsic rewards for behaviour. She asserts that this stunts the growth mindset in children where they do things because they are trying to figure things out rather than because they get rewarded for it. While I find it hard to adopt everything she says, I fully agree with her ideas.

She also talks about how, if it was necessary to reward, the rewards had to be inconsistent and rare enough not to form a pattern.

Fast forward to this upcoming weekend. Packrat and I are away this weekend. JED want to know if they can watch TV while we are away. As we are not around, we felt that it was only fair to put that decision into the ones who were caring for them in our absence. The twins were told that their TV privileges would only be made known to them during the weekend. How that decision was going to be made, was a secret. Not very democratic and transparent but child rearing rarely ever is.

These uncertainties brought about a sea change in their behaviour. Instead of the regular bickering and occasional-come-to-blows responses to each other, in the split second after the aforementioned pronouncement about television was made, they became helpful siblings who looked out for each other and were accommodating of each other.

When Muffin dropped his cup, Jordan scrambled to get it and Evan rushed to rinse it out as opposed to the usual "Muffin, why are you so clumsy?" accusation. The twins also wrote down a list of household duties that needed to be done and split it amongst themselves.

They even elected to read to Muffin before they fell asleep.

All this because they know that their TV privileges depended on their behaviour. But they weren't sure which aspects of their behaviour mattered the most. Being helpful, being caring and considerate, being nurturing, being neat... they didn't really know. So in face of the uncertainty, they did everything. We're not sure if it's sustainable but it's been interesting to see how they responded and we'll see what all the good intentions amount to by the time we get back.

At the same time, I'm leaving them a big series of books to hopefully distract themselves.

It's a lot less mess and less painful to clear up than leaving them Lego.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Elections 2016: Evan's Perspective

In the run up to today, we've talked a lot about the US Presidential Elections in our household. JED hear it over the radio on BBC and they talk about it at a child-like level in school. Of all 3, Evan is the most interested in it. Jordan thinks it funny because I rant about Trump.

A few nights ago, at bedtime prayers, we added in praying for the American people and that they would make a wise decision at the polls. They asked questions. Most of them fuelled by crazy hearsay nine year old style. Trump has a nuclear weapon, Trump is going to kill people and so on. We clarified their misconceptions. It was in a sense, their introduction into political science by way of Trump vs Clinton.

Today is a day that will go down in infamy. I exaggerate. But not by much.

Evan rang me at the office. His bus driver told him that Trump had won. He needed to confirm if it was true because his bus driver speaks Chinese and Evan wasn't sure if he understood him right.

His questions to me were rapid fire.
1. Is Donald Trump going to start a war?
2. If he does, is it going to be World War III?
3. Is Donald Trump Hitler?
4. If people say he is like Hitler, then why did other people choose him?
5. Was Hilary Clinton really so lousy?
6. How come Donald Trump won?

His questions were a mixture of thought and hear say but there was also some fear. I liked hearing his questions. Mindful of Packrat's warnings about giving them glib answers like "Donald Trump is an idiot" I tried to explain to him that hopefully, there would be no war because there's too much at stake (though his 9 yo mind didn't buy that). that no, Trump isn't Hitler (Hitler actually killed many people) and how there were problems in the USA that made it possible for Trump to actually happen. I tried to explain how democracy worked. But I could only do so much over the phone.

I'm not sure how much of it he understood but he did try to make sense of it. When he did, he rang off but not before reminding me to get a newspaper so that he could read more.

Well, if nothing else, I'll credit Trump for my son's political awakening.

But if left to me, I wish it were Bartlet for America.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Dealing with loss- a 9 year old's perspective

JED lost their great granddad last week. The twins, in particular were close to him because they grew up living in the same house as he did. There's something to be said about living in a multi-generational house.

Anyway, he passed, at a ripe old age of 100. We knew it was soon because he wasn't doing so well and had done our best to prepare JED. Even then, when we found out that he had passed on, telling them was still going to be no easy feat. For good or for bad, Grandma broke the news to them before we managed to.

Jordan was inconsolable. Evan was very take charge. He took it upon himself to ring myself and Packrat to let us know. He also let us know that Jordan was distraught about it. Muffin was confused because he didn't have as many memories about Tai Gong as the twins did and he couldn't understand why he wasn't as upset as they were.

It took some time for us to talk Jordan through her despair. And what perhaps helped them all process it was for them to write cards to Tai Gong to place before the casket. We also got them to share their best memories of Tai Gong.

Jordan: Going into his room and taking his hymnal and singing with him.

Evan: Stealing butter cookies from his cookie tin (the traditional round tin of butter cookies)

Muffin: The stuffed tiger that taught him to roar loud.

Allowing them to talk about Tai Gong seemed to help. So did bringing them to the wake. When there weren't many people about in the afternoon, we brought them over and allowed them to say goodbye and place their flowers and cards.

We didn't stop them from crying. Some of the elders tried to console them by telling them not to cry since Tai Gong was in a better place and had gone to heaven but we told them they could cry and it was okay to be sad. Because we didn't hide how sad we were to have lost him, we told them they didn't have to either.

By the end of the funeral, everyone was emotionally spent but I think we were all calm and at peace with Tai Gong's passing. And while I thought we were done processing our grief, I found a letter Jordan had written to a friend, two days ago. The passing of a friend's cat had triggered reminders of all the deaths she's had to see through this year and that's when I realised that in their own little ways, they were still coming to terms with Tai Gong's passing.

He had no longer been part of our daily lives but I think he was always at the back our minds. And even though the twins had memories of him, it didn't seem enough to make up for the fact that he wasn't physically present anymore. So slowly, they have to work through it and as parents, we are just there to answer their many questions and hold them tight when it gets too much.

 But in the little things that they have said and done since Tai Gong's passing, they're also showing themselves to be little grown up beings in more ways than one. And I'm pretty sure, Tai Gong had a little bit to do with that too.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

No Need MBTI

The next few posts will be exam-related because it's October and we have two kids prepping for it. November, however, I promise will be full of glee.

Anyway, it's the exams and we've realised how the twins are different in how they take on the challenges of revision and the actual stress of taking the exams. We try very hard not to be the stressors for the exams. But they don't actually need us to be the stressors because they pick it up subliminally from school.

So the night before their composition papers, the emotions were running on high. Jordan was trying to pull a Hermione and cram all sorts of things into her head. She had copious notes copied into a book and when I declared it was time for a hard stop, she sneaked in two more bits of information into her notebook and stuffed it into her school bag surreptitiously, hoping that I didn't see it.

Evan, on the other hand, grew quieter and more agitated by the minute. He kept worrying but his worry was the 'walk round in circles' sort of worrying which eventually culminated in him hyperventilating in fear that he was about to fail his exams.

We had to pull everything we had out of our metaphorical bag of tricks, convincing him that he wasn't going to fail and if he did then he just needed to figure out why. We promised him that no one got kicked out of school for failing exams. It took him a long while to settle down especially with the sister chiming in about how many things she had tried to remember and that was what he ought to have done. Eventually, he fell asleep and both Packrat and I commented about how the twins were different as an eggplant and a bag of nails when it came to how they faced challenges.

 I recalled that years before we had kids, over late night prata and Milo Dinosaurs, together with our friends, we  came up with a matrix that described people's behaviour as an interaction of how motivated they were versus how anxious they tended to be. Over the years, Packrat and I have desperately tried to recall it that matrix that we had drawn on a paper napkin.

The next morning, after the meltdowns, I could't suddenly see it in my mind. And this was what I came up with that I think approximated what we did all those years ago.

Low Anxiety, High Motivation- Zai/ Steady (Unfazed and gets things done)
Low Anxiety, Low Motivation- Bo Chup (Lazy and unfazed)

High Anxiety, High Motivation- Mugger Toad (High Achiever)
High Anxiety, Low Motivation- Gan Cheong Spider (Runs around like a headless chicken but not actually doing anything)

So there.

My twins, both high anxiety but differing on levels of motivation. I had thought that I would use the melt down Evan had to point out to him, when he was calmer, how he could avoid such a situation again.

Unfortunately, with the terror of the first paper past, he was back to just being Bo Chup and nothing I could say could inject into him a sense of urgency.

 But that wasn't my epiphany this time. I had already known my children to be like that. The achievement and accomplishment in this case was figuring out this matrix.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Great Expectations

The exams are looming and that brings out the tiger mom in me no matter how much I try to squish it back in. The twins have only finished the essay papers for both languages and that itself brought epiphanies to me.

The most glaring one. 

I expect too much of my twins. 

Not in terms of grades though. 

It's partially an occupational hazard. When my livelihood is dependent on teaching pre-university students to think critically, I suppose that it is inevitable that some of that spills over into what I do with the twins. 

It doesn't feature as much in the actual content papers because honestly, some of that is beyond me, even as an adult and a teacher. It does rear its ugly when it comes to composition. It isn't about the phrases and whatever rubbish they are often encouraged to memorise and regurgitate. It's to do with the ideas. 

An example. 
A composition about helping. A picture of an old man selling magazines. 

Jordan's take.
Old man is poor. Needs to sell magazines for a living. 

Nothing wrong with that. But I prod on. 

Could there be anything else wrong with the old man that might require him to sell magazines? 

Erm... He's sad. He needs money. 

He likes reading magazines. He can read them and then sell them. 

I wanted to lead them to talk about people who might be disabled and what led them to that point as well as what their struggles were. I asked them about the old lady who sold tissue paper at the MRT station near us. She always had a walking frame with her. I asked them if they noticed the walking frame. I asked them why was it that the old lady had to sell tissue paper and wasn't doing anything else. 

She stuck to it. The old lady was poor. Needed money. 
Evan wondered what it was like to have a walking frame. 

Smoke started to slowly escape my ears. 

I asked them how else we could  help people apart from giving them money. Jordan offered to give them food. Evan thought very hard and wondered what toys they could give away. 

I realised that their answers were fine. But just not the direction I wanted them to be moving toward. 

I gave up.

Eventually, I showed them the video of 6 year old Alex who wrote to President Obama. Both of them were interested in what had happened that caused Alex to write the letter. I pointed out to both of them that helping could come in this form too. And that little children could help in big ways too and that little Alex had written to the most influential person he could think of to ask for help and that was being helpful as well. 

But on hindsight, I wondered if it was too much to expect my 9 year olds to think of it beyond what they see and to draw connections to things around them. I wondered if my being disappointed that they couldn't draw these connections was an unreasonable expectation. 

I guess, for the purposes of their compositions, their answers were sufficient to get by.

But for them, as people, it's definitely insufficient. I think that was why I was distressed. I see all these young adults who have such beautiful transcripts but without a heart or thought about the world they live in and it makes me angry. I fear that it's the transference of that frustration that manifests when the twins give me trite, textbook answers. 

Then I wondered if by wanting them to think about ideas in such a way , was I telling them how to think. That truly frightened me. What if I was squashing them into the exact box that I hoped they would think out of, unintentionally? 

So I stopped and I left them with Packrat and went out. I wasn't doing anyone favours. Them or myself. 

I come home to this. Of all the things that I talked Jordan through that afternoon, she remembered one thing. She made her letters bigger and clearer and she co-wrote a joke with Evan about Obama for me.

So, without these great expectations, my 9 yos are pretty great and funny and I have to remember that.