Learning to fall on life’s bumpy roads


Just the other day, Isaac was standing on the bed, one hand holding up some brightly coloured toy he was gnawing on, the other hand grasping the bedrail, swaying somewhat precariously, when he decided that the inability to stand on his own should not prevent him from lifting the hand on the bedrail to better stuff his toy into his mouth, which led, immediately, to a swift fall with his face smacking against the bedrail.

And then, he sat there for a dazed second, before recovering in a snap, and pulling himself up again, just with the one free hand, because of course, one must never let go of a toy.

I was incredibly, incredibly proud.

The first time Isaac took a tumble — some minor bump of his head from a sitting position — we reacted like typical first-time parents with anxious arms reaching for him and (probably) utterly horrified expressions on our faces. And Isaac in return, went from simply being confused (he did fall from a sitting to a prone position, afterall), to bawling his eyes out after he saw us. Because if mummy and daddy look like they think I have just gone from baby Einstein to becoming a potential future serial killer (head injuries are one of the three traits of serial killers, but it is too macabre for me to share the other two), then surely it’s something worth me crying over right?

Only it usually turns out that babies fall over and bump their heads all their time, and while it’s good to be careful and check for serious bruises and injuries, they are mostly none the worse for wear. In fact, we realised that except in cases where the fall is genuinely painful and evidenced by a bruise, Isaac’s reactions were mostly based on cues he gleaned from us. If we exclaimed in horror, he would cry. If we remained calm and comforting, he too would keep calm and carry on.

So we began to make it a point to remain calm. After a tumble, we would say to him “Oh, you fell down! That’s ok, babies fall down!” Or sometimes we say nothing because he is so unfazed that there isn’t even time for us to say anything before he continues with whatever he was doing last.

And we became so into this falling business that we progressed to  “falling drills” with Isaac — we would stand him up, release him, and let him fall. Um, not because we are twisted parents who enjoy watching our baby tumble, but because without ever falling, how would he learn to keep his balance? And more than that, we wanted him to learn how to fall safe, that is, on his bum instead of face-planting. So we put him on a soft surface, cushion up all the hard edges, let go and just let him fall. 

Which really is the most we can do as parents for our children isn’t it? We do our best to make the world cotton-candy safe, but it just won’t be. So the next best thing is to teach them to fall safe, to fall right, so they can get up again.

Isaac always gets up, quickly, matter-of-factly, and without a fuss.

And I think, all children learn to sit someday. They learn to stand, they learn to walk. It’s not how quickly they achieve these milestones that makes me proud.

It’s all the tumbles in between, all the falls and scrapes and bruises, and how at the end of it all, a child can remain unafraid to try again. That is how I want to raise my child, that is what makes me proud.






A life of beautiful things

We were discussing a recent article we read over dinner one day — in the article, one of the common regrets cited by retirees was over-spending on their children’s education and enrichment activities. That got us thinking about our plans for Isaac and what we really want if we did spend anything on “education and enrichment”.

And the truth is, children are terrible investments. If the purpose of sending your children to the costliest pre-school, to the mostest and bestest enrichments there ever were, is to hothouse them into some kind of super-genius over other children, then the vast majority of parents will be disappointed. Because if giftedness and genius is determined on a scale — like it is in our society — then only a small percentage of children will ever be that. Perhaps in a time when most children do not go for such enrichment, then those parents who did send their children may see their children getting an edge over others. But by now, it feels more like an education arms race where everyone is going for everything just to keep up. And then, if the ultimate game of nurturing super-genius children is for them to be financially and materially successful in the future, all the more parents may find themselves disappointed — because who knows what the future holds and what makes success decades later?

I told Ning, what I want, is to give Isaac a life of beautiful things. I don’t care if the classes I send him for, the money I spend on him, makes him any more intelligent, or likely to be wealthy and famous and successful in the future. I care that he loves the world more, becomes a happier, and a kinder person as a result.

What is beautiful in this world? Science is beautiful, mathematics is beautiful — the deep eternal truths about the universe, and how an apple always fall down from a tree. That in every place in every time on this planet you can create crafts to ride the waves and sail the skies from these truths, that is beauty. That is what I want Isaac to appreciate and love and learn.

What is beautiful in this world? Language is beautiful, art is beautiful, music is beautiful — the changing truths found in words and sounds and colours. That in every time and every place, someone will always come upon the same notes may love or abhor them, that two persons who love the same words may not love them the same, that the same person chancing on the same painting can be touched in different ways. That is beauty in a kaleidoscope.

And what of these beautiful things? They are things that are indivisible, that we do not possess in the way we possess material things. I don’t want to give Isaac a car, or a house, or a large bank account. I want to give him wealth in the way he views and engages with the world, the way he sees and appreciates it. I want to give him the eyes and ears and heart and mind to be open to all the beauty that already is, all around him. That is the infinite infinite riches that he does not have to fight with anyone else for.

And that is why I want him to go to a school that lets him play, messily, with scrapes and falls and bruises, openly, without a curriculum. That is why I want him to know art, and music, and poetry, and sports.

This having-children thing, it’s a terrible investment to begin with. Icky financial calculations aside, I think the secret sorrow and sacrifice of every parent, is to know that their child would never love them as passionately or profoundly as they do their children. But my child is a beautiful thing. I want to give him a life of beautiful things — but also, he already is the beautiful thing in my life.

Educating Isaac: Hothousing

One of the dilemmas we face as new parents, was how exactly we should approach Isaac’s education.

We both grew up in time when packed tuition and enrichment schedules were not quite the norm yet — in fact, I have never attended a single session of tuition in my life. So we both started out somewhat wary of becoming hot-housey type of parents who send our children for a thousand and one enrichment activities in the quest to nurture “gifted children”. Added to that, Ning and I were both academically inclined (Ning more so than me, of course) so we figured growing up in a household full of our geeky discussions and books (which are already spilling out of my newly bought shelves since we moved!) would be sufficient for their intellectual development.

That said, we also want Isaac to be able to engage with the rich world of senses and activities out there in an engaging and rewarding manner — and neither of us are accomplished musicians or artists ourselves. (I do try to read poetry to Isaac though, but he has not shown a keen interest in this so far. Perhaps babies aren’t interested in Neruda or Agha Shahid Ali =P) So we decided that a balanced approach for us would be to:

  • Be generous in exposing Isaac to the wide array of activities out there. We truly believe that there is more to life than intellectual accomplishment and some of our most beautiful experiences are composed of music, words, colours, sounds and movements. We want Isaac to grow up exposed to these.
  • Aim for appreciation and accomplishment, and not achievement. If Isaac turns out to be a prodigy in any area, great! But that is not our objective in sending Isaac to any form of enrichment. We want Isaac to enjoy art, language, music and sports for their own sakes and not to give him a competitive advantage over anyone else. But we also say “accomplishment” because it’s not about being better than his peers in any activity, but we hope that when he discovers his interests later on, he would develop the self-discipline and tenacity to pursue the interests, even if he will never be the best at them.
  • Give authentic support as parents. Something I have learnt over the years is that children will inevitably do as their parents do, and not as their parents say. If we force Isaac to practice a musical instrument but vegetate at the couch and watch television ourselves, what is Isaac likely to want to do? So we decided that if we want Isaac to have a wide appreciation of the aesthetics, we would model the behaviors ourselves. If we want Isaac to read, we read to him and we read with him! (Ditto for a healthy diet and lifestyle!)
  • Make it fun! As long as Isaac is having fun, we won’t be evil parents stressing him out!

Now that Isaac is turning six months old, I am beginning to look into playgroups for him next year (I know! For all I said about not hot-housing, this seems like such a kiasu parent thing to do right? More about that when I write about pre-schools!). While researching the different pre-schools, I realised that there are a number of parent-accompanied programs for little ones from six months old. I’m quite eager to try out a few, especially now that we have a second car and I am a bit of a pseudo tai-tai for the next two months. Two that I am looking at now are The Garden House Pre-School and The Blue House. Very exciting and I shall write about them after I’ve tried their programmes out!