Thursday, February 22, 2018

Seek and ye shall find

So Xena was in the middle of a swim play date with a friend's daughter when she emerged from the water to tell me very casually that one of her hair clips had fallen in the water. (I had put clips so her hair wouldn't fall in front of her swim goggles and obscure her view.)

"Actually I can see it here!" She looked down and exclaimed. 

"Then get it." I said. 

"I can't."

"Of course you can. It's just like when coach drops his watch in the pool and asks you to get it."

"But that's near the steps, where the water is not so deep."

"Well, why don't you try?" She had been doing better in her swimming lessons lately and I knew she could go underwater without panicking. 

So she made a half-hearted attempt that lasted a total of 4.5 seconds before casually gliding off to a corner of the pool to play with her friend. 

It infuriated me. 

It was not about the hair clips. The clips were actually very old, from the time she was a toddler who liked Hello Kitty. They must have cost hardly a dollar. But what made me mad was the callous indifference she showed towards losing one of them. And how casual she was about it. Hair clip fell in the pool? Ah, no big deal. We'll just buy another one. Or not. Whatever. 

It made me mad. Flippin' mad. I know it may sound ridiculous and over the top to some, but I have an acute (over)sensitivity towards Xena's generation taking things for granted, not caring enough about stuff and generally just being entitled brats who get everything they want. So I spend a LOT of time reading up on the topic and doing all I can do prevent her from becoming the kind of kid that I really cannot stand. I have long discussions about privilege, and failure, and the importance of trying and learning from mistakes, and not giving up. It's not easy for kids to grasp all this, and you need to reinforce it again and again through words and actions, in as many ways as you can find. In fact, one of the rare times I let her watch a video was to show her the sheer grit that this Kazakh boy showed. He simply refused to give up. (Watch it -- his attitude could seriously teach us adults a thing or two.) 

Anyway, back to the hair clip story. Instantaneously turning into a cruel dragon, I broke up the party in the corner of the pool. I told Xena calmly but firmly that she had lost her clip and it was her responsibility to get it back, or at least try to get it back. Both girls understood the gravity of the situation, and so did my friend (who, incidentally, is not at all the kind who would judge me for being such a hardass on Xena, so this made my task easier). 

"It's our mission to find the clip!" Xena declared. 

Oh wow. 

"Yes, it's your mission." I agreed. 

Both of them got to work. They struggled for a long time to spot it, with no results. At some point, they thought they had spotted it, but it turned out to be a leaf. It did not help that the clip was blue and so was the floor of the pool. Finally, they saw it! Xena had been right about the coach's watch though. Much as she tried, she wasn't able to dive deep enough to grab the clip with her hands.  

She treaded water, staring at the clip. I could almost see the gears in her head turning. 

The one thing I repeat to her (perhaps ad nauseum) is that whenever she confronts a problem, she needs to use: (A) her brain to get ideas and (B) resources to solve it. Many times, I have seen her take the brain + resources approach and solve problems. Her brain was telling her that she needed a resource, some kind of a tool to fish the clip out. All of us scanned the area around the pool. There was nothing, and no adults in the pool she could approach for help. We mommies were not dressed to jump into the pool to be the resources. I wished for a magnet and a pole and some string to fashion a fishing magnet or something, but modern swimming pools are generally not equipped with such items. 

Next, she tried to pick it up using her toes. The pool was deep so she still had to go fully underwater to attempt this. For about 10 minutes. I kept encouraging her to try again and again. But the clip lay flat on the floor and refused to get wedged between her toes. I could also see she was exhausted from the multiple times she had gone underwater to retrieve it. By now, I had also realised that this little incident had gone past what I had intended it to be -- a simple attempt to at least look for a lost item before giving up. It had grown and taken a life of its own; it had become an event, an adventure of enormous proportions. I doubted myself several times -- maybe I had gone too far about such a trivial matter. But then I just decided to go with the flow. There was no backing out now. 

I asked her to take a break to give her lungs some rest. She got out of the water and took a break before going back in. Again, multiple failed attempts. She then decided that swishing the water above the clip with her legs made it inch towards the edge of the pool. So she decided to do that. It took a loooong time before the clip reached the edge. However, the depth of the water was the same at the edge and much as she tried, she still couldn't retrieve it with her toes. She was successful in grabbing it once, but it slipped and fell back down the next second. 

By now, I was ready to pack up. We would never retrieve the clip and it would just have to be a learning point for Xena. That sometimes hard work and determination do not result in success, that sometimes our magical brain+resources formula doesn't give results, and that is okay. We just need to learn from our failures and move on. (In fact, sometimes I sneakily manufacture failures and disappointments for her so she will learn to take them in her stride and not crumble at the first failure she faces in adulthood.) 

"It's okay, Xena. You tried hard. Well done. Let's stop the search now. You can continue your play date. Clip shaayad nahin aayega." I told her. 

"AAYEGA, Mama." She said, emphatically, and dived back in. 

"I don't know if I should be impressed by her speaking to me in Hindi (she rarely does) or by her determination not to give up." I joked to my friend. 

"Right now I'm impressed by everything she's doing." My friend declared, quite seriously. (She's extremely fond of Xena. She's also the one who told me I have to document the whole thing on the blog.)

After another 10 minutes of trying and many, many failed attempts, Xena emerged triumphant. "FOUND IT!" She had managed to pick the clip up with her toes and quickly transfer it underwater to her hand. She raised it up in the air, like a prized trophy. It was a prized trophy. I told her I was super proud of her patience and her determination.

I did feel slightly bad that because of my insistence, she'd had to use up more than half of her precious play date time on this mission. So on the way back, we had a short debrief and I told her again how proud of her I was. We discussed the Kazakh boy again. 

"Mama, I used my brain! And my toes were my resources!" She exclaimed, eyes shining.

Here are the clips, reunited at last. I cannot get myself to put them back in her accessories drawer. I will store them safely in a special place forever.  They are all mine now, along with today's memories -- of a little girl who refused to give up, even after Mama did.   

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Can't help it

Xena - Mama, my classmate tripped and fell and got hurt, so I took her to the genoff.

Me - What (on earth) is the genoff?

Xena - Oh, Mama. Genoff is the General Office. At school, when you don't know where to go, you go to the GenOff. That's the rule.

Me - Ah, ok. Then what happened?

Xena - Then she asked them to call her parents so the GenOff called her parents and she went home and I came back to class.

Me - She went home? Was she badly hurt?

Xena - I don't think so.

So I messaged the child's mother to ask if she was okay. (She and I work in cahoots to stay one step ahead of our kids, without them knowing it.) The mother said she was absolutely fine and probably just wanted an excuse to get out of school and go home.

Realising that it could happen to Xena too (I've been told that the kids feel very important when they go to the GenOff, especially if they get to make a phone call), I gently brought up the topic with her.

Me - So if you get hurt at school and need help, you ask for it, ok? Ask a student or a teacher for help. Or if you can, go to the General... I mean the GenOff. You know that, right?

Xena - Of course, Mama.

Me - And you ask them to call me only if you're badly hurt, ok? Like if you're bleeding or in great pain and need to go see a doctor.

Xena - Yes, I know.

Me - Don't ask them to call me for minor bruises and stuff, ok?

Xena - Ok. I will try...

Me - What try? If you call me to pick you up for something minor, I won't come. You need to deal with it yourself. You know that, right?

Xena - I know. I won't call you for random things.

Me - Very good.

Xena - I didn't call you last week.

Me - What happened last week?

Xena - I got a little cut on my finger. It was bleeding like a volcano.

Me (trying to suppress my laughter) - It was bleeding like a... what?

Xena - A volcano. An exploding volcano.

Me - Really? Wow.

Xena - Yeah, but it was not at all serious. Just a tiiiiiinyyyyyy cut. I just went to the GenOff and got a band-aid. That's all.

Me - Very good. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Peas in a pod

So I follow this therapy dog called Norbert on Facebook (because who doesn't want this kinda cuteness -- without the poop-cleaning -- on their newsfeed?) and recently I found an old photo of Xena's that reminded me that I've always had my own little Norbert look-alike!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

So the story goes...

Now that Xena eats her lunch at home, I have stopped eating leftovers for mine. I make a proper lunch for both of us and we eat it together at the dining table once she gets back from school. Only, I finish mine in about 15 minutes, while hers takes close to an hour. Once I'm done, she continues eating, while I go about doing my chores, listening to all her stories from school. Sometimes, as she slowly works her way through her food, she'll ask me to tell her a story.

The other day, I decided to tell her a story incorporating the emergency phone numbers in Singapore. So I wove an elaborate tale about a brave girl called Niki (it was supposed to be Nicky, but she insists this is how it's spelt). In episode 1, she escapes from kidnappers and alerts the police by calling 999, and in episode 2 (which I told her on another day), she helps her mom who's had a bad fall, by calling 995 to summon an ambulance.

On Friday, Xena wanted to know what happens in episode 3. I did have a story with a fire engine situation in mind, but I hadn't fine-tuned it yet, so I asked her to tell me a Niki story instead.

She immediately agreed.

"So... Niki has taken her younger brother to his friend's house for a play date. She is babysitting the two boys and there is no one else at home. 
Suddenly, the doorbell rings. It's a policeman! He has a sack in his hand (at this point she notices my raised eyebrows)... but... the sack has these words printed on it -- 'Don't worry I am not a robber's sack; sometimes policemen carry sacks too'. 
She lets him in and he goes upstairs and starts robbing the house. (whispers) He's actually not a real policeman! She goes up and sees him and wonders what she should do. Then... she tells him to go sit on the toilet seat and close his eyes. She holds a toothbrush in front of him and asks him to try to touch it with his eyes closed. He tries for a while... but he is very tired because he has been robbing houses all day... so he falls asleep on the toilet seat. 
Niki locks him in the toilet. Then... she uses her brother's friend's toy phone to dial 999 and call the police (notices my raised eyebrows again)... but then it's a toy phone... so she uses a real phone to call the real police. The real police come... and they don't have any sacks with them. 
The toilet is still locked and the robber is sleeping inside. So the police take a big saw and saw through the door... pick the robber up by one strand of his hair... and throw him in jail! 
Everyone is very happy... but Niki is a little sad because her toilet door is broken... but actually it's not her toilet door, it's her brother's friend's toilet door so it's ok."

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Daily report

Xena has completed a month of primary school. Though we have all settled into our new daily routines, the one thing that's different every day is the hilarious report I get when she gets back from school.


Day 1
Me - How was the first day of school? Did you find your way around easily?

Xena - Yes. But Mama, the toilet tap is sooooo tight I couldn't open it and then I waited and waited till another girl came and I asked her to open it for me.

Day 2
Me - Did you manage to open the tap today?

Xena - Mama, I couldn't even find the toilet today! And when I did, it didn't have the lights on and anyway I can't open the tap because it's too tight and then the bell rang so I have decided I'll pee only at home.

Me - !!!!!!


Day 1

Me - So who are the kids sitting around you in class?

Xena - There is this boy called Aidan. He's very mean. I asked him to move his leg so I could get my bag, but he said go from the other side. So mean. I don't like him at all.

Day 2

Me - Who's your best friend in class?

Xena - Aidan.

Me - Eh? I thought you said he was very mean.

Xena - No, actually he's a little bit mean but actually he's not mean at all. He's my best friend.

Day 3

Me (reading the 'About me' section in her workbook that she has filled) - So your best friend is now Esther?

Xena - No, she's not. Actually we don't know each other.

Me - Huh? Then why did you write her name as your best friend??

Xena - Because she's VERY cute. Like a babyyy. She's soooo tiny and jumpy and cuuuute!


Me (trying to make sense of all the books and materials and timetable) - So this is your art file?

Xena - No Mama, this is the art folder, not the art file. The art file is separate. And there is an art bag also. I don't know if it is in the classroom or my locker [goodness she has a locker!] or with my teacher or at home. It's somewhere.

Me - It's somewhere??

Xena (confidently) - Yes.


Xena - Mama, the one-eyed teacher in my school is very scary. 

Me (I'm thinking mad-eye Moody) - The one-eyed teacher??

Xena - Oh Mama, not the ONE-EYED teacher! The ONE-I teacher. One Integrity! (The sections have names like Honesty, Integrity, etc.)

Me - Oh!


Week 1, day 5

Me - So you must have made some friends in class by now?

Xena - Yes.

Me - Who are your closest friends?

Xena - *rattles off seven names*

Me - Wow, that's a lot of friends for the first week. And do you know any other children's names?

Xena - Yes.

Me - How many names do you know?

Xena - Thirty.

Me - You know all thirty kids' names?

Xena - Yes.

Me - Are you sure?

Xena - Yes. I can write it all down, Mama. Believe me. [Takes a sheet of paper and writes down thirty names]

Me (stumped) - Very good...

Week 2, day 5

Xena - Mama, I wish I was in house XYZ. Most of my friends are in XYZ.

Me - Hmm... and who is in your house?

Xena - *rattles off several classmates' names*

Me - Okay...

Xena - Do you want me to write down everyone's names and houses? I can do it. Believe me, Mama.

Me - Oh, I believe you.


Xena - Oh Mama, we had four periods of PAL (Programme for Active Learning -- a non-academic section of the curriculum) today. It was ALL morning. I am SO tired.

Me - Wow. And what did you do in the four periods of PAL?

Xena - I can't remember...


Xena - Mama, can I have a dollar?

Me - Why?

Xena - There is a pencil with a fan attached to it, in the bookshop. I really like it. Can I buy it?

Me - You'll be able to get it by yourself?

Xena - Yes.

Me - And you will calculate and get the correct change back?

Xena - Yes.

Me - Okay. Here's a dollar. I want the full accounts tomorrow.

Next day...

Me - So did you buy the pencil?

Xena - No, my friend had bought it yesterday and she said it's not very good. So I bought a compass instead.

Me - You bought a compass??

Xena - Yes.

Me - Why?

Xena - I wanted to play with it. To find the direction.

Me - I already have a compass you can play with.

Xena - Oh...

Me - Okay, next time please ask me before you buy anything.

Xena - Ok. Mama, it's soooo fun to buy things at the bookshop! I think I will buy something every day!

Me - No, you will not.


Xena - Mama, can I wear a black hairband and a ponytail to school every day?

Me - Really? Why suddenly?

Xena - Just like that.

Me - Hmmm... let me guess. Does one of your friends wear it like that and you like it?

Xena (stumped at how mommy knows) - Yes...

Me - Well, your hair is different. I need to 'lock' the top towards the side before tying the back. If you wear a hairband and a ponytail, it won't stay neat till the end of school.

Xena - No, Mama, it will!

Me - Okay, let's try it out on a weekend and see how it holds up?

Xena - Okay.

We try it out on a Saturday morning. Two hours later...

Xena (looking at herself in the mirror) - It's very messy, Mama... the front hair is coming out everywhere... looks very jungli...

Me (resisting the urge to say 'I told you so') - Yes. Do you still want to do it for school?

Xena - No.


Xena - Mama, next week we will be skipping rope in PE class. Mr H (coach) has said -- if you know how to skip, then skip.

Me - And if you don't know how to skip?

Xena - Then you just skip it! HA HA HA!

Me - Ha ha! That's a good one. You should tell your coach this joke. That will make him laugh.

Xena (seriously) - Mama, Mr H doesn't laugh.

Me (seriously) - He doesn't?

Xena - No. And he only has two voices -- loud voice and angry voice. Sometimes we don't know which is which.


Week 2, day 1

Xena - Mama, I am very sad today.

Me - Why?

Xena - Because I am not the class monitor.

Me - That's okay. Everyone can't be the class monitor, right?

Xena - Yeah...

Week 3, day 1

Xena - Mama, I am the assistant group leader! YAY!

Me - Wow. Well done! What group is this?

Xena - So each class has different groups, based on the rows of seats.

Me - Oh ok. So what do you need to do as the assistant group leader?

Xena - Nothing.

Me - What do you mean?

Xena - Austin is our group leader. He has to collect the workbooks from our group and give it to the teacher.

Me - And you're his assistant?

Xena - Yes.

Me - Okay. And what do you need to do as the assistant group leader?

Xena - Nothing.

Week 3, day 5


Me - Huh?

Xena - I got to collect the workbooks from everyone! YAY!