Real Education, This Is Water

Both my boys aren’t the kind who would sit down and do colouring
I remember as a child, colouring was one of my favourite activity
It was my way of adding colour to my imagination, giving it life
I would sit down and meticulously fill up a picture with colours
It never occurred to me that that would require immense patience
I only realised that after watching my boys do colouring

I realised that when one is doing something one enjoys, hours feels like seconds
If one is doing something one dreads, a minute feels like a lifetime
Unfortunately, I only realised this after I became a mother

I learned to play the organ when I was young
Every week, I would diligently practise the song that I was supposed to learn and play
I remember dreading going for lesson because playing in front of the teacher made me really really nervous

I really enjoyed playing the organ, however, it didn’t occur to me that way then
My learning experience was more about fear than enjoyment

I did well for my tests though and even topped a couple of them but I eventually stopped the lessons after 6 years

I didn’t excel nor did I pursue my interest in music
I realised that fear could kill the joy of learning and testing did very little in cultivating one’s interest

In school, I really enjoyed art classes and dancing
I did fairly well in both and was the lead dancer for most of the dance performances
But I had never considered choosing the arts
In those days, only students with less than desirable results did arts and I was always in a science class
I grew up believing that my interest was in the Sciences and Maths

I continued to work as an engineer after I graduated from the University because during then, engineering jobs in MNCs were highly sought after
The top students secured lucrative and highly sought after jobs with MNCs even before they graduated

I never really knew what I wanted to do with my life, so I went with what everyone was vying for
I was a typical Singaporean, caught in the rat race the day I started school, a product of the system

If our education system’s objective had been to churn out workers to support the nation’s economy, then it has done really well
It had moved the country from 3rd world to 1st within a generation and in 2012, it was ranked among the top 5 best education system in the world with Finland and South Korea

If our education system’s objective is to teach me what they want me to learn so that I can pass exams, then it has been very successful
I scored well in my exams but I don’t remember half the things that were taught to me

Is it the education system’s job to help me find my passion ?
Perhaps not, because that wouldn’t guarantee that they would achieve their objective of generating non thinking workers to support the economy

Is our education system perfect ?
Obviously not, neither was it broken

I am grateful for what we have
Knowing that people will risk life to have just a fraction of what we have
Knowing that I am writing this post in spite of the less than perfect education system
Knowing that I came to to be self-aware and thinking now
Knowing that as a parent, I can compensate for the imperfections of the schools
Knowing that I can make a difference today by doing what I do, beginning with how I bring up my own children

Life is not so much about being given the best, but about making the best out of what we were given
Often it is through adversity that one builds resilience
And while we struggle with whether there is a need to reform our current education system, perhaps we should think about what is real education

And I shall leave you with a quote from David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech in Kenyan College in 2005, This Is Water

The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re going to try to see it.
This I submit, is freedom of real education, of learning how to be well adjusted.
You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn’t.
That is real freedom.
That is being educated and understanding how to think.
The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant annoying sense of having had, and lost some infinite things …

The capital-T True is about life before death.
It is about the real value, of a real education, which has (almost) nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness.
Awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight, all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves…over and over…this is water…this is water’

 

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Lantern O’Lantern

So I have to admit that my boys’ enthusiasm for recycled lanterns have worn off
My 9 year old is now at the stage of ‘why-make-lanterns-when-you-can-simply-play-with-fire’

It’s easy, simple and fuss free
All you need are some candles, a lighter and a pail of water, just in case something else caught fire besides the candles

I guess lanterns are for grown up moms, like me, who never really grow out of their childhood

Obviously, my preschooler follow suits because he can’t wait to do everything his elder brother does
And we let him do just that

I remember the look on my friend’s face when he realised that the hammer our 3 year old was carrying was a real one and not the Bob the Builder type

The horror on our parents’ faces when we told them we won’t be installing window grille in our home (we lived on the 8th floor)

And the disapproving look we get when people found out that we never child proof our kitchen. In fact, the kids love to play in the kitchen. I even set up an area for them to ‘cook’ with me

I could list down the things we allowed the kids to play with since young and I am quite sure many will shake their heads and I risked being labelled the ‘negligent parent’

I realised that it is a fine line between being neligent and letting go

We believe in teaching our kids to handle danger and not to wrap them up in cotton candy world
Falling and getting hurt is part of learning and growing and being a child, is the best time to so
You read all these in parenting books and blah blah blah

After being a parent for close to a decade, I realised that parenting is like shopping
You choose the best you can find out there, the one that suits you most
Often, what looks good on others, may not look good on you
You make a choice, live with it and learn from it
At the end of the day, there is only one person who is really responsible

Anyway, I digress

So I wasn’t quite ready for my preschooler to skip the phase of creating and playing with his own lanterns
And thus, I didn’t stop at our hungry looking lantern for Mid-Autumn festival

I went on to make what seem like the current craze
They are everywhere but the kids don’t even know who they are because they never watch the movie
But his friend came over for a playdate and carry a plush little one with him and so I thought I make him one too

Then we fell in love with Pete, the Cat who loves his white shoes
We love how he always look on the bright side of things
We love how good he is at embracing changes and always choose to be happy

It is such a simple book yet so meaningful
Even the adults learn something from him

We made one using our Almond milk bottle, blueberries container and plastic egg carton

then the other day, after a trip to the pumpkin patch, we got inspired
We gathered some mineral bottles, some plastic containers and made these ‘scary’ lanterns

We ended up with a lantern galore at our entrance hall to meet our guests and I am contemplating whether to add more to the collection

 
 

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My Favourite 4 Letter Word, SALE

So I confess, I am a shopaholic
but not the filthy rich kind who can close both eyes, sign off big ticket items in big designer stores without wincing a bit

When I was still working, which was about a decade ago, shopping was like driving
The satisfaction and freedom of spending your own money is similar to the feeling one gets when sitting behind the steering wheel

Liberating, empowering and in control
Financial independence is one of the hardest thing to let go when I chose to quit my job, stay at home and be a full time mother
Being independent is a big thing for me and being financially independent forms a large part of it

Then I quit my job, became a mom and had to move to the States for 2 years
Shopping was no longer limited to retail shops in big shopping malls

There were factory outlets, online shopping, ebay, amazon and garage sales
And without an income, satisfaction takes on a different meaning involving the lovely 4 letter word usually in red – SALE

You don’t just shop, you shop for things that are on sale
And the satisfaction comes from getting the best deal

I studied the best strategy to get the best bid on Priceline for hotel deals
I know the sales rack in Target like the back of my hand
The items that go from 30% discount, to 50% to 75% and that’s when you grab them and feel really smug about yourself
The rush and the sense of achievement, my husband calls it cheap thrill
I snapped back at him that I am helping him save money !

The truth is, I ended up buying stuff that I didn’t really need at really good prices
There were children’s toys, clothes, shoes, books, kitchen utensils, and scrapbooking materials that I was still struggling to finish after 5 years

During the few times we had to pack and relocate, I was determined to learn my lesson and not become a slave again to this alluring 4 letter word

My strategy so far has been abstinence

And having 3 boys in the family who simply abhor shopping helps
They often dictate where I go and what I do
So far I have been quite successful in keeping my shopping addiction in check except for a couple of occasions

Then last Saturday, there was a community sale in our neighbourhood, which was effectively a garage sale, the kind of treasure hunt sale without the red tag

I was hoping to get some outdoor furniture, so I woke up on Saturday morning, skipped my morning jog, hopped onto my minivan and was out of the house before everyone woke up

The thing about garage sale is that you can get really good quality stuff at a ridiculous low price especially in a good neighbourhood

There were 5 piece dining set that cost 50 bucks, book shelves that cost a dollar each, books that cost 20 cents and outdoor playset that cost 20 bucks

Depending on the items, I don’t usually pay more than 10 bucks for most things from a garage sales
The same item will usually cost more on craigslist or ebay, that’s how things are

So my heart raced each time I saw the balloons tied to a lamp post, an indication of a sale just around the corner
I slammed on the accelerator, swerved the car and came to a screeching stop, like a adrenaline junkie on a loose

3 hours into this, I was completely exhausted and was ready to call it a day
And I drove home with a full load that looked like this

Because I was such a sucker for wooden toys
I lugged home wooden baby toys, table, a shape sorter and a dollhouse although I only have boys and they are 4 and 9 years old who don’t really play with a toy sorter or a dollhouse!

But all these were all selling at 10 bucks or less and the sales junkie in me was reeling its head and I just couldn’t stop it
Yikes !

And the best deal for that morning had to be a complete Mizuno ladies golf set, probably older than my elder boy packed in a hand-stitched leather golf bag that cost me only 20 bucks !
I ended up canceling the one that I ordered on Amazon the night before, of a much inferior quality but cost 10 times more the price

You gain some, you lose some
That’s the real deal
And I am still trying to quit

Are you a shopaholic or a sale junkie like me too ?

 
 

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