Letting Children Be Children

It’s the December month and it has been wet and gloomy. Love the cooler weather but being kept indoors with the boys during the school holidays can be the surest way to drive me up the wall. Imagine them kicking ball in our little apartment. It drives me crazy and sometimes I think it’s their way to test my patience and limit. They are probably thinking, ‘if we make enough noise, Mom may just pass us the iPads!’

I have to admit that it works most times. Other times, I just let them wear themselves out. Occasionally they will surprise me with something pleasant. Like yesterday afternoon, when the younger one got too bored playing with his Lego men and fiddling with my new air diffuser that emits spiraling vapour. He pulled out his crates of wooden blocks and started building, yet another Rube Goldberg machine.

Rube Goldberg machine is a series of devices put together to perform simple tasks. They are linked together to produce a domino effect in which activating one device triggers the next device in the sequence. No, I didn’t introduce it to him, he learned it from YouTube.

As usual, his machine didn’t work well. It failed to set off the kind of chain reactions that he had in mind. We had a good laugh trying to take videos which were interrupted with failed trigger points. He was soon back at working on his next contraption as soon as we finished running through the first one. Sometimes he gets frustrated after multiple attempts but usually he would pick himself up, dust himself off and start again.

I’ve lost count of the number of contraptions he has made, every one is different, some more complicated than others. Sometimes he would exhaust using all his toys and rummage through the house for suitable materials. He could work at it for hours and it was a delight to see him so fully engrossed working at something, determined to get it to work.

It dawned on me that perseverance, grit and determination come naturally when children are doing something they enjoy. They learn through having fun and play give them a chance to practice what they are learning. 

How often do we have to tell our kids that they should keep on trying and never give up? I know I do and perhaps I should feel guilty.

Guilty for failing to realise that they probably aren’t very interested in the first place. Guilty for trying to mold a ‘perfect’ child, when we ourselves aren’t perfect. Guilty for forgetting that play and having fun is essential, even for adults as we get bogged down by responsibilities and routine.

Guilty for expecting the best effort at everything, in the name of character and value building. Can we do it ourselves?  Of course, there is no rules that say that parents can’t expect more from their children but to what end?

Ultimately I think it is not just about aptitude, it’s about passion. By doing what we love, we tap into our natural energy and become our most authentic selves.

So while it may be tempting to plan their days with meaningful play and purposeful learning this school holiday, perhaps we should first cast aside the fallacy that ‘Mom knows best’. More importantly, we should  grant them the space and time to play, to explore, to wonder and to be the children that they are.



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 they’ve learned 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



A Star Wars Party In Less Than 12 Hours

My younger boy turned 8 and we celebrated his birthday over the weekend. What was initially planned to be a simple gathering eventually became a Star Wars Themed party. The party decoration was put together in less than 12 hours!

I broke my own record!

The birthday boy who initially agreed to a simple celebration secretly read my whatsapp messages and found out that I was planning to get a Star Wars toy for him.

At 9.30pm the night before the party, he told me that a Star Wars party would be great. I told him it was too late because all shops were closed and shooed him to bed.

Yet, like all parents who couldn’t bear to disappoint their kids, I thought I should at least try. I listed out the things I needed to have. It was almost 11 pm and the party was next day lunch.

Skipping the customized invites minused off one huge item from my list. We wouldn’t need any fanciful party food with creative labels because the Dad already had his menu all planned out. In fact, his pot roast was already cooking in the oven!

I found out that I ran out of colourful cardstock paper and had to use normal A4 printer paper for whatever decoration I needed to print. Thankfully it was Star Wars and anything black and white seemed appropriate.

I printed out some black and white Storm Troopers to hang around the house and some alphabets to decorate the walls. The boys had recently made a wooden plane and I thought it would serve as some sort of a Star Wars flying craft. No?

After an hour or 2 of working at it, I could finally see the Star Wars Theme slowly coming together. It was almost 2 am.

The next morning, the birthday boy came storming into our room. He was so excited and thrilled to see the decoration that had been put up overnight. It was like waking up from a dream. The expression on his face was simply priceless!

We had a couple of hours more before the party started and I decided to work on a table centre piece.

I dug out some of the kids’ Star Wars soft toys, some Legos (mostly with missing body parts!) and an old light saber. Stuck a few more alphabets to the wall and brought out the Oreo cheesecake that the birthday boy had requested. While I was busy, the birthday boy had cut and glued some cardboard pieces and chopsticks together. He had built an Imperial AT-AT Walker which looked perfect on his birthday cake!

It was a simple set up where the Dad and the brother handled the food while I did the dressing up of the house. The birthday boy clearly had fun and couldn’t stop thanking us for the surprise.

I realised that if given more time, I would have the tendency of going overboard with the details. From designing the invites, decorating the place, brainstorming ideas for games to food list and cake design. It can get overwhelming when you do not know when to stop.

So I’ve learned that whether you start planning early or late does very little in reducing the amount of stress of planning for a birthday party if you do not have a clear scope.

The key to a relatively stress free birthday party is to keep it simple and don’t be greedy! It might just turn out to be a good way for the family to get creative and have fun together!


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