Mom, Can I Use The iPad Pleeeease

It’s the first week of school holiday and my boys can’t get enough of screen time! It is driving me crazy and I am tempted to just ban them from the iPads.

That would be ultimate. They will get bored and they will find things to do and they will survive like how they have survived through many of our road trips and holidays without gadgets.

But I am also caught in a dilemma, that using electronic gadgets is not all bad. In fact there are so many things to learn on the internet and through playing games. The latter might not be apparent but I am slowly changing my views. Result of the many conversations and arguments with my elder boy which shall be dealt with in another post.

Ultimately, they need to learn about self restraint, discipline and balance. That seems like the biggest challenge. How can I teach them when I am still constantly working on these things myself?

In an attempt to take control of the situation, I decided to set down a couple of rules. They will be given access to the computer based on these terms.

1. If they are learning something new
2. If they think of a project to work on

My 13 year old is trying to convince me that working at improving his gameplay and climbing up the rankings satisfy the terms that I’ve set. We are still in the midst of negotiation and discussion. Currently he is earning his screen time by doing chores around the house.

The other day, he scrubbed the toilet, mopped the floor, washed the dishes and made me coffee to earn enough credits so that his friends could come over for a gaming session. It made me feel like an evil step mother but I think that’s what they mean by tough love.

As for my 8 year old, the rules help to set some guidelines and boundaries. It gave him something to work on other than playing games.

He found out that he could make some really cool animations using Scratch and has been working on his ‘project’ the last couple of days. So far, it seems like a good way to train his patience, use his imagination and stimulate his creativity.

He realised how tedious it is to make an animation. Creating so many different frames just to animate a simple movement. It was quite amusing and entertaining to watch him act out the moves before drawing them out and putting them on the screen.

So while I continue to struggle with how much screen time my boys should be given, take heart that even Elon Musk, the mind behind Tesla, Space X and Solar City, who is a gamer himself, struggles with the same challenge with his 5 boys.

The biggest battle I have is restricting their video game time because they want to play all the time. The rule is they have to read more than they play video games. They also can’t play completely stupid video games. There’s one game they downloaded recently called Cookies or something. You literally tap a fucking cookie. It’s like a Psych 101 experiment. I made them delete the cookie game. They had to play Flappy Golf instead, which is like Flappy Bird, but at least there is some physics involved.

― Ashlee Vance, Elon Musk: Inventing the Future



Turning 8

My little man is turning 8 and he is so excited because I’ve agreed to let him invite his classmates over our place after school, just like his elder brother gets to do so.

Yes, he can’t wait to grow up and get the kind of freedom his elder brother has. In fact, I think he can’t wait to grow up like his elder brother, and yet, they could not be more different from each other. The fact that both of them emerged from the same gene pool is sometimes mind-boggling to me and my husband.

He is sociable and good at making friends. We think that he is good at charming his way with his big dimpled smile and he doesn’t even have to try. It didn’t matter even if he wore a toothless smile for most part of his growing up years.

He is very good at sports. I think that he got his good sense of balance and ball sense from me but my husband will be the first one to disagree. I think he is just jealous and he will tell you it’s the other way round.

He has started reading chapter books but he got bored reading his collection and got curious over his brother’s Science Fiction books instead. They were beyond his reading level so we agreed to read to him The 13th Reality.

What we thought was too complex, he surprised us with his explanation of the Nonex, the Chi’karda, the Barrier Wand and the different Realities. He told us that he tried to imagine the scenes in his head and we are currently into the 4th and final book in the series.

He has a vivid imagination which helps in his story writing. I am probably biased but I find his stories interesting even though they were often peppered with spelling and grammar mistakes. His originality trumps model essays written with flowery phrases and perfect sentences.

When he started Primary 1 last year, he had no concept of test. He didn’t know the format of a test paper. The idea that he and his classmates would be sorted, ranked and grouped based on their test results didn’t exist in his head. All thanks and no thanks to his parents who did not do their part in preparing them for Primary 1.

Obviously, he didn’t do very well for Primary 1. He was too innocent and naive to know the norms and standards of school. Thankfully he has a teacher who was very understanding and agreed that it was okay to let him take his time.

Then came Primary 2. After bumming around for more than a year, we started to see improvement in his work and his teacher was extremely pleased. We told her that we didn’t do much, it was probably his maturity that helped him figured things out.

Sometimes I think growing kids is like growing plants. You sow the seeds, water them, give them plenty of sunshine and they will sprout into beautiful seedlings.

He is now in the midst of his year end examination and he just had a week break from school because of PSLE marking. He got really bored one afternoon when I took away his games. When I ignored his plea, he disappeared into the craft room and emerged later with this.

He had helped himself to the hot glue gun and disposable chopsticks and made what he declared to be an F16 fighter jet. I asked about the missing air intake and the extra tail fin. He was quick to tell me that he made a mistake. It should be an F15 instead!

The same thing happened again the next day and this time, he made a cross bow arrow. He got really frustrated when the arrow couldn’t shoot the way he wanted it to go. While I busied myself in the kitchen, he figured out that by sticking a piece of blue tac to the arrow head, it could prevent the arrow from spinning and by reducing the body weight, the arrow could fly further.

Dear Marcus,

It is okay to be bored because that is when you start using your brain to get creative. You will end up making things or invent games in your head because that is what you love to do. You always surprise me with the things that you can come up with.

Don’t be afraid to make mistake and always ask why. It is often the WHYs that lead you to real learning, something more valuable than giving the right answer.

As you turned 8, we wish that you will continue to wear that big smile on your face, let your imagination takes you to places and never lose that sparkle in your eyes!

Happy Birthday!

Love, Mama and Papa



Biking With My 7 Year Old

We have been cycling quite a bit recently. During the school holiday, my 7 year old attempted the new Tenah Merah Coast Road. It was the first time for him, the furthest he has cycled.

I haven’t got the courage to bring him along on my own because the stretch of road is long, sunny and windy. It would be painful if I have to deal with a whinny kid who needs coaxing to pedal on.

But a last minute arrangement with some friends kind of got him all hyped up. Despite my effort to warn him that it wouldn’t be an easy ride, his enthusiasm didn’t falter. I think good company and good food at the half way point motivated him.

We followed his pace and took almost 3 hours to complete more than 40 km. He was like this little hamster spinning a wheel. It was amazing how his little muscles and lungs worked so well. So he officially did his first full marathon on his bike!

Then few days later, there was a flypast by the Singapore and Indonesia Air Force to commemorate 50 years of diplomatic relations. It was a rare chance to catch 25 fighter jets airborne and we wouldn’t want to miss it. Unfortunately, the Dad had to work and his brother had something on that day. We decided to head off on our own, just the 2 of us.

I had done my homework, it would be a 26km ride round trip and the new PCN would bring us all the way to one of the vantage points.

I was initially worried that my little guy couldn’t make it especially when his Dad and brother weren’t around to ‘entertain’ him. But the Tanah Merah ride a few days ago kind of boosted his confidence and mine too.

The morning came and it started to rain. The dark clouds started clearing up soon after but my weather app continued to show chances of shower. I was hesitant and worried of getting drench. My 7 year old was however optimistic and insisted that we should just stick to our plan.

It was cool and windy after the rain. He did complain about the headwind but was soon distracted by the sights along the way. The fallen leaves that lined the paths and and the flowers that dotted the trees. It was a pretty sight and I was glad he noticed them. Then there were the rain puddles which were perfect for splashing and making a mess of.

Food was always a great incentive for a long ride like this so we stopped at a cafeteria to gorge on our favourite food, Bolognese pasta for him and Penang Char Kway Teow for me.

We discovered a new cafe which was dressed like a garden with potted plants and hanging greenery. It was a soothing place to escape and relax with a cuppa and indulge in a slice their home baked cakes. We found out that the cafe has been there for a while now but strangely, we have never noticed it before.

I wonder what other things we’ve missed in our daily business when we rushed from here to there.

After having our tummies filled, we continued our ride. The sky started turning dark again and storm clouds loomed in the horizon. Since we still had some time to spare, I decided to make a short detour to show him a new water breaker that I have discovered a few days ago.

The place was deserted with only a few foreign workers in sight. They would be seen toiling under the hot sun, pruning and planting new saplings on normal days.

We took a short walk along the water breaker that seemed to stretch out to no man’s land. He found a stick to poke around and got curious over the air bubbles that filled puddles of water.

Apart from air bubbles, he found a rowing oar and a big piece of styrofoam which he initially thought of bringing home for craft. But a closer look showed that it was too filthy and it raised questions on how the trash got there. He decided to keep the stick and add it to the pile of ‘treasures’ he had amassed from all his outdoor adventures.

It started to drizzle and we decided to double our speed on our bikes before the rain got heavier. I couldn’t remember when was the last time we cycled in the rain but it was surprisingly fun and liberating! I was actually glad that the rain caught us by surprise because on a normal day we would never go cycling in the rain! It turned out to be such a refreshing ride.

When we finally reached the place to catch the flypast, there were already eager spectators all decked out with their umbrellas and cameras. Before long, 20 F16 jets zoomed by in the formation of 2 arrowheads and and they came around 20 minutes later in their 5-0 formation. The show ended with a finale bomb burst by the F15s. It was a great show but if you ask me, the highlight for that day wasn’t the flypast.

Our 3 hour adventure on our bikes left me feeling peaceful and relaxed. We had a simple afternoon where not much was planned and not much happened yet it was exactly what we needed.

It was a slow pace afternoon where we experienced the quiet, beauty and fascination of Nature. My little man’s innocent curiosity and vivid imagination reminds me of the beauty of simplicity.

The simple delights of being out in the fresh air where Nature is the best entertainer, stimulator and teacher all in one.