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The taxi driver was befuddled.
“Wah, you one hospital not enough ah?”
I had to explain that my father-in-law was gravely ill and I was off to visit him.
I think that was what started me thinking. Sarah was due any time, and dad could go any time too. Imagine the pandemonium if both started at the same time. Since my birthday was coming very soon, I thought I might as well suggest an induced labour for Sarah. That way, at least her birth was scheduled and I would have a twin. My gynaecologist was agreeable and so on the morning of the 24th May 1990, Alan drove me calmly to the hospital. Before long Sarah was born. It was largely without much fuss and fanfare. Of course I was thrilled to have another baby girl, but I think the most critical moment was when Alan left the hospital and nearly did not have enough money for the car park fees! The fees came up to almost $50!
It was a good call. Dad was so excited about this grandchild. He knew she was the last one he would have a chance to see. I broke all traditional Chinese maternity taboos and within a few days, I brought her to see her grandfather. He was thrilled. I lay her next to him on his bed. On June 10 1990, he passed away. Sarah always reminds me of Dad and how he loved and waited for her.
I would have blogged about Sarah in May, except I was so tired after Chemotherapy. Blogging about her in June is also appropriate, since I can also use this to remember dad.
Anyway, more about Sarah.
Sarah was well-loved by her siblings. Whereas Jonathan and Samantha used to fight, they both thought of her as a living doll. Samantha would spend hours baby-sitting her. Even Jon was rather thrilled by the baby.
Sarah’s name means princess. Now what on earth made me name her that! I have no patience for the princess syndrome. For a start, we wanted an “S” name for a girl. Furthermore, I like the fact that Sarah, in the bible was the recipient of an amazing miracle. I wanted that for my daughter – a life of favour and miracles from the Lord. Fortunately, she hardly exhibited “princess” tantrums…or else!
The only thing that spoilt her was Alan’s silly rule. We believe the children ought to learn to fend for themselves. So Alan’s rule was you could bully one another til the other party cries. When that happens, you’re in trouble. Trust me, Sarah learnt how to cry very quickly to the chagrin of her siblings!
Sarah was a really fun little girl. One of her favourite books is Howie Huge Mouth. It was the story of a little boy with very little volume control in his voice and was often shouting.
“HELLO BIRD!” Howie huge mouth would shout and that tickled Sarah pink. Even to this day, she might occasionally imitate Howie and shout loudly at her sister, just for the fun of it!
The other thing about Sarah is her love for ditties. All my children are musical, but Sarah loves to compose her own little songs. She would sing about her activities all the time. For instance, she could be playing and she would sing to her own tune, “I am playing, I am playing…..” and on it would go. When in New Zealand, we found a little metal kiwi with its beak stuck to the metal base plate. Sarah immediately composed her little song which went,
“I’m a little kiwi, my beak got stuck!”
Sarah has an extremely sensitive nose, and perhaps the funniest incident was when she went to the toilet. She was merrily singing as usual,
“I’m on the potty, I’m on the potty…”
“Why are you crying?” I asked.
“It’s so smelly!” she wailed!
Haha. Even when on holiday in New Zealand, and she was happily tripping along, she suddenly stopped in her tracks and started crying!
“Why?” I asked.
“The cow dung is so smelly!” she cried!
I wonder what would happen when she has children and has to clean up after them!!
Sarah is a very determined girl. She decided she did not want any Chinese tuition. I allowed it only if she could pass every test and she did it. I know that this girl will be able to achieve what she sets her mind at and that is great consolation to me.
One of the things that touched me the most was how she would spend time with me. Alan often worked overseas, and I usually watched news on my bed at night to lull myself to sleep. Sarah would often creep in and lie next to me. So I asked her whether she found the news boring. Her reply melted me.
“You like to watch what, and I want to spend time with you.”
I’m convinced that quality time measures very highly on her love language. She’s so sociable, she’s seldom home early. But when she’s home, she’d go to her sleepy father, and wake him up.
“Daddy, wake up! Let’s watch tv together.”
Or she would harass her sister.
“Jie Jie! Talk to me!!”
Sarah is fiercely loyal to her friends and would take leave just to spend time with them. My wish for her is that she will find a soul mate who shares this same loyalty.
Sarah is a bundle of energy and fun. If there is a weakness, I think she might drink a little too much for my comfort. Still, she is as sensible as they come and sensitive to the needs of the people around her.
For my Sarah, I know she will do well in life and in relationships. Be blessed my princess twin! May her life always be filled with favour, and whole some adventure. May she find real relationships that matter to her. Ours have been a life of adventure! Just check our Pakistan photos. May Sarah’s continue to be so full of fun and life too!
Filed under: Cousins three, Family Stories and tributes | Tags: family realationships
My cousin Sze Meng has been painstakingly updating the Chew family tree. While I was looking at the tree, memories, childhood memories gripped my heart. Sometimes I wonder if the Chews had not lost its fortune, whether the tales and the skeletons in the closet could become the theme of a Chinese soap opera.
In this family there were three of us who were born in the same year. I think I was the oldest. Sze Sing and Khuan Foong were the other two. All three of us carried heavy emotional baggage – at least I know that it is true for me. I assume, given their family background the other two did not have an easy time either. My emotional trauma stemmed from my being adopted. You can read about my struggle with adoption here Pretend or Real. Also my parents’ marriage left a lot to be desired. The other two, well…
Sze Sing and Khuan Foong, Sing chye and Ah Foong as we used to call them were half siblings. My mother was possibly the most tight-lipped of the siblings so my knowledge of family history is possibly the worst amongst my cousins. What information I gleaned, I learnt through eavesdropping, and mainly at the dining table. So of course my take on family history is far from gospel truth!
From what I gathered, my second uncle had a major setback in his career. If I’m not mistaken, he had a rather cushy job at the bank. Somehow, there was a case of embezzling?? One of his staff I believe. My uncle was scapegoated and that ended his banking career.
As far as I could remember, I was afraid of him. He was always in a bad mood. Later, one of my other cousins told me he was suffering from depression.
Anyway, I remember his second wife – Ee Kum to me and Ah Yip to my aunts and mother. She was a marvellous cook and made the best love letters I’ve ever eaten. What I remember of her was she was quite a cheerful lady and was always eager to please the aunts. Looking back, she was probably trying to establish good relationships, given her lack of status.
From my intel, ie through eavesdropping, Ah Yip was my uncle’s first love. The second world war separated them and they lost contact with each other. My uncle got married, but later found her again. The timing of their reunion suggested to me that she probably reappeared at the lowest point of his life. While I do not condone unfaithfulness, there must have been a lot of push factors that made him start an affair with her. Sing Chye was the product of that very difficult period of his life.
Ah Foong was also born in that very same year. I can barely imagine the level of betrayal her mother must have felt. First her husband’s career was shot and she must have felt so insecure with so many children. Next to find out that her husband not only had a mistress but another child to boot. I have no idea what happened, but her in-laws, my aunts and first uncle seemed rather antagonistic towards her. Growing up, even though my mother barely said anything, I could sense her disapproval and my relationship with cousins from that branch of the family was largely frowned upon.
So there we were, three cousins of the same age, and Ah Foong was really quite the stranger. Sing Chye and I on the other hand were friends. We went to the same kindergarten. He was always laughing and light-hearted. Not sure what he hid behind that cheerful façade. It could not be easy to the son of the second wife. Not only that, financially it must have been quite a struggle too. I remember Ee Kum having to work as a washer lady to make ends meet. Moreover, I always felt guilty towards him. While I shone in school, always in the top ten, if not five, he was languishing at the bottom. My family set a huge store by academic results, and I hated it when they compared him with me. I felt horribly guilty for he was always in trouble because of me.
As I remember, both Sing Chye and Ah Foong were very good looking. I was the ugly duckling that did not quite turn into a swan! Ah Foong was the apple of my second uncle’s eye. Even at that age, I sensed his excitement and love every time he saw her. The family had gatherings to celebrate Grandma’s birthday or 1st uncle’s birthday. Attendance was a must. Those were about the only times I saw Ah Foong. I remember her large round eyes and her very fair skin. Each time she arrived, she would strut off to look for her dad who was always delighted to see her. She would ignore us and always seemed angry. Of course as an adult now, I could understand that anger. On our part, we would ignore her – something that would please the adults. And we were all eager to please.
My husband asked me what the purpose of this story was. I suppose it was to alleviate the guilt I buried about never giving Ah Foong a chance to be my friend.
I mean as children, we were really pawns in the hands of the adults and their biases. Whatever happened to the adults, we were not the ones at fault. We really needed to give each other a chance. Still the tensions in the family would have made relationships difficult if not impossible. I do not know for sure, but Ah Foong must have really disliked all of us for her mother’s predicament. I cannot say for certain that her mother did not push my uncle into the arms of another woman either. The stress of my uncle losing his job could have played havoc with her emotions as well.
Still, regardless the circumstances that embitter us as adults, for the sake of the well-being of our children, we need to learn how to shelter them. We cannot enlist them in our battles. I must say in this my mother did try her best, simply by not saying anything. Still the disapproval, the mistrust was unmistaken and as a child who was trying her best to fit into a family I knew was not flesh and blood, I too was trying hard to please.
What have I learnt from these childhood episodes? Well the “truth” does not always set us free. There are times that as adults, to keep some secrets, secret may be better. If the truth has to be told, or if it is out, we need to exercise damage control for the sake of the next generation. This means we need to forgive and to seek healing from the pain. More often than not, we allow unforgiveness to embitter our souls. We even pass on these hurt feelings to our children and encourage them to harbour bitterness. In so doing we can cause irreparable damage to the generations after.
I’m very glad that Sze Meng has endeavoured to do up our family tree. To me, to see the family in a big picture is somewhat reconciliatory. We each have our tales, yet we are connected in one way or another. I wish us all the best. May the lives of our children be less complicated than ours! I suppose now that we are all split up, and have fewer family members to contend with, it will be easier!!
Happy 2015 and beyond, all Chews and Chew-in-laws!
Jan 17 2015
I do make politically incorrect statements (read spiritually incorrect since I was musing these thoughs within the Christian context). Once I asked, “Has it never crossed your minds that if all we do is to worship God in heaven, life will be kinda boring?” I do not recall getting a reply… more of an uncomfortable silence.
Have I stunned you yet? Then let me ask you another question. If heaven is so heavenly, are you in a hurry to get there? Cynthia Sng posted on Facebook once about her conversation with her young son Cohen. Cohen missed his grandfather, our late Elder Peter Tan. He was eager to visit his new mansion in heaven. Cynthia ended by saying that she still wished both she and Cohen, while destined for heaven, would still have many years here on earth.
So why aren’t we in a hurry to get to heaven? I hear description of heaven by pastors, even from the bible and from choruses and songs, about how heaven is a wonderful place, streets are paved in gold, how we each have mansions waiting for us.
Let’s begin with how beautiful heaven is. I have been to many beautiful places on earth. Table mountains in Capetown, South Africa is breath-taking. New Zealand, land of Lord of the Rings is magnificent. The seacoast of north Italy is awesome. Rwanda, land of a thousand hills, is beautiful. That does not make me want to hurry to these places, or to make my permanent home there. So honestly, mansions do not thrill me. Neither do streets paved in gold.
So the answer to why I am not in a hurry to get to heaven is really simple. I am measuring heaven based on what I define heaven to be here on earth.
For instance, a good bowl of assam laksa, the taste of the best Penang Char Kuay Teow and of course the wonderful aroma of the obnoxious king of fruits, the durian, will I get these in heaven? I mean the only heavenly food I read about is manna…and the stiff necked Jews got a little tired of it, didn’t they? Is manna all there is? Hey I’m Chinese, brought up in the land of heavenly cuisine, Penang and lived most of my life in gourmet paradise Singapore.
Then what about pets? Will I have an equivalent of Indie up there in heaven? I do not see any biblical references about dogs going to heaven – no matter the old cartoon with the title “All Dogs go to heaven” suggest.
What about K-dramas, TVB serials…even Netflix? Will I get soap opera withdrawals?
Most importantly, what about relationships? In heaven there is no marriage, no spouse. Family relationship is what makes life meaningful for me. What’s the point of living in a beautiful mansion, if Alan is not my husband, and my children are not really my children at all. We are all children of God. Is it really so wonderful to be just one of the other saints in heaven, to be fellow saints together?
As for worshipping God all day long, do not get me wrong, I enjoy worship. I used to sing quite a lot. I have moved congregation to tears with my singing to God. Jesus has even spoken to me, in His still small voice how He delights in my voice in praise. I have cried and have had spiritual encounters during deep worship. So if I have questions, I wonder don’t you?
As for being able to see Jesus face to face, to be in His glorious presence, I want to be brutally frank with myself and with you. I really do not know if that is enough for me. I am the sort who enjoy new things, willing to move house every few years, and took delight in overseas assignments with Alan – new countries, new adventures. Hence the description of what is available in heaven in petrifies me somewhat. It also makes me doubt if I truly love God.
I am reluctant to go to heaven just yet. I equate life on earth as a long term holiday. The main reason I am unwilling to go to heaven right now is that the people I love are still on this holiday. I do not want to leave them and go home first! I want to experience the trip with them.
I talked to Alan about my thoughts. I was especially afraid of being bored. His words enlightened me.
Alan: You’ll be surprised. People of old will never be able to comprehend how the technology of today has changed our lives. Even just a few years back, we do not have smartphones. When I first started working overseas, we had to communicate by fax! We really have no idea what heaven is really like, or how preoccupied we will be.
Yes! That makes sense. We are judging heaven by what we consider to be “heavenly”. By that nice bowl of chendol, that lovely log cake (thanks again Ruth) the friendships we cherish, the loves of our lives. Heaven is more heavenly than all that. It has to be, because I’ll be spending eternity there.
Many people are motivated to go to heaven early by negative reasons. Take myself for instance. I feel discomfort every waking moment. During my 5th hospitalisation in 2014, I told God to either heal me completely, or take me home. He has done neither yet, by the way. I tell my family that one of the reasons suffering is bearable on earth is because all suffering is finite. Life will come to an end. Heaven is eternal – and there is no suffering there. I want to escape the agony of suffering. Don’t we all? Isn’t that the reason we put our pets to sleep when we see them suffering? Yet, that is not a good reason to long for heaven is it? We want to anticipate going there the way we anticipate that long awaited trip to Italy (or as some say, Eataly) or to meet a long lost friend we have missed so much, or that first grandchild and new in-laws.
What Alan said has excited me somewhat. To be honest, I’m still not that eager to curtail by holiday here on earth yet. Perhaps that is not wrong either. Perhaps I feel this way because God does not want me to end my tour on earth. When the right time comes, perhaps I will feel the excitement. I was told Elder Peter was glowing as he left with Jesus. It was the right time for him. For my friends who feel like me, it probably means it is not the right time for us yet.
So let us continue to enjoy our trip here on earth, sharing our lives, our joys and our pains with our fellow pilgrims. And don’t forget the food either!! He he
First post in 2015. Happy new year.
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Every one predicted I was going to have another boy. My stomach was neat and sharp. I was determined not to know the sex of the baby beforehand… somehow I felt I wanted to keep that a mystery like the women of old. It did not really matter whether I had a daughter or a son. I just did not want to know beforehand. So during the ultrasound scan, I told the doctors to keep the sex of the child a secret. However, with everybody predicting a boy, I was prepared for a Timothy. After all everyone was spot on when I was expecting Jon.
Late into 22nd of Dec, I began to have labour pains. Alan drove me to NUH. This time he was allowed into the labour ward. I was hooked up onto machines which measured the contractions. My very helpful husband was glued to that screen.
“Oh wife! You just hit a record contraction.” That was repeated several times in the night. I was too weak to retort but frankly, did he really think I did not know how severe the contractions were? I was the one in pain, wasn’t I?
I was feeling hot and bothered. He was feeling cold. So he would rub his hands against mine to keep his warm. Very helpful to have a husband in the labour ward huh?
This experience was very different from my first labour. KK was dark and old and ominous. NUH was bright and cheery. Alan had read up on delivery beforehand, and he was delighted as Samantha twisted and turned coming into the world, just as the textbook had described. She was a textbook baby!
Samantha was all beetroot red and bald as Jon was. Everybody told me this baby would be very fair. Wrong again. This is my little hitam manis – a little dark beauty.
So since I was resigned to having a boy, it took a while to get her name. In the end, we settled for Samantha. It has an Aramaic origin and it means “listener”. With talkative parents, we figured we could do with someone who would listen. As it turns out, it’s a really good name for her. She learns by listening. So while I fret that she would sleep through the exam periods, she sailed through them. The reason: listening intently during lessons were enough for her to get by. She even made Dean’s list in the university – to the amazement of her siblings. They hardly see her studying!!
I have so many stories of my children. Sometimes it’s really difficult to know which to tell and which to leave out. In terms of temperament, Samantha is really gentle. The old folks loved her. My aunts adored her. As a little toddler, she would just hold their hands and yatter at them, never mind that they only spoke Cantonese and she understood nary a word. She was so chubby and cute and attentive that she was a favourite whenever I visited my folks back in Penang.
Needless to say, she was mama Tsang’s favourite too. This little girl would telephone her mama practically every day to chat with her. One of the most memorable conversations I happened to overhear happened when she was about 3. That day, an Indian colleague came to have a meeting with Alan. Samantha was busily on the phone and then called out to me and said mama wanted to speak to me.
Mum: Who is in the house?
Me: Alan’s colleague.
Mum chuckling uncontrollably: Samantha told me a black uncle is talking to daddy.
Indian friends please do not get offended. She was just giving the best description she could at her age!
Gentle she might be, she could definitely hold her own. Her brother used to love to irritate her. Even as a baby she knew how to protect herself. She would reach out with her little hands and scratched her brother’s face. He still has scars to show for this. For that we nicknamed her Sa-panther!
Samantha was a little chilli padi in her own way. Once she threw a temper tantrum. In my household no one gets away with that. So I shut her in a bedroom til she subsided. The minute I opened the door, she refused to look at me, ran past and went straight to the maid. She was all of 2 years or less!
Unlike her brother, she was quite a textbook child in terms of development. Like her brother before her, she loved to hide Alan’s car keys. In the morning, while rushing to go to work, Alan would panic as keys were nowhere to be found. If it were Jon, though sleepy, he could go straight to the hiding place to extricate the keys. Not so for Samantha. She could not even remember she took them. Fortunately, she only had a few favourite hiding places and we soon had that sorted out.
I suppose one of the funniest incidences in her life was when she hooked a man. We went to Pulau Seribu in Indonesia. It was supposed to be good for fishing. So we had some cheap, lightweight rods with tiny hooks. We were queueing to board the ferry to leave the island. Samantha was swinging her rod cheerfully. All of a sudden, a wizened man a few people ahead of us touched the nape of his neck and exclaimed in pain. My sweet little girl had hooked the poor man, who did not know what hit him. As nonchalantly as we could we hid the rod and tried hard not to laugh!
She gave us big scares too. Once we went to Sentosa. Back on the island, we had a quick meal at McDonalds before walking around World Trade Centre. Somehow she wandered off on her own. We could not find her. Imagine the panic – one of the biggest one was how grandma would never forgive us. We searched for her. Finally, we decided to walk back towards McDonalds. We found her being carried by a man. She had decided to go back there to see if she could find us, clever little thing. She was probably about 3 then. It was a real fright.
As for reading development, like the rest of my children, she could not read til about late primary 1. In the meantime, she had no clue what tests and exams were about. When it came to multiple choice questions, she thought it was a colouring game. Some answers would have more than one option shaded, while the others were left blank. No teacher could understand how someone who spoke English so beautifully simply could not read. Of course, once she started, there was no stopping her. She is my most avid reader to date. She got away with much in school, despite her supposed inability by simply being so cute!!
As for talent, she has plenty. She acts well and sings even better. I knew she could sing, but I did not realise how well until on Sunday during worship. I was singing then, and during altar call, I needed desperately to go to the toilet. I beckoned to Samantha to take over the mike. She was about 11 years old. As I made my way to the toilet, I was surprised at how well she did. She sounded almost like me. So I started her on vocal lessons. She has gotten distinction after distinction even at diploma level. Her genre is musical theatre. And I am so proud of her.
One of the things I will never forget is her relationship to her grandpa. Dad was dying and one of our most memorable family time together was a stay in one of the Changi Govt owned bungalows. Grandpa was still fit enough then to walk to the water’s edge. He carried Samantha to go for a little dip. Years after he died, every time we asked Samantha about what she remembered about Grandpa, she would say, “Grandpapa brought me swimming.” She was about 3 when he passed away.
Samantha was first called mei – short for mei mei – or younger sister. When Sarah came along, she became jie… or older sister. For me, it did not matter whether I call her jie or mei. She’s my favourite Jie which is part of her Chinese name – Wei Jie meaning purity.
This girl has grown up to be a caring young lady. She tolerates her sister’s nonsense all the time with great patience. She cares for me with love and understanding. She loves her father tons. As for her brother, the bullying never stops. Still they obviously care for each other. My four children – including my daughter-in-law, relate beautifully with one another, love alan and I, and love God. That is all any parent can ask for.
Happy birthday my beloved listener. May God give you every favour and grant your every desire, this year and in the years ahead!
Filed under: Specially for my daughter-in-law | Tags: daugher-in-law, Mother-in-law
I grew up on Chinese Movies. Mum was a movie buff, and I saw a movie practically every week. Almost all had a monster mothers-in-law, and I was kinda terrified at what my future held. God is kind, and my mum-in-law is really all any daughter-in-law can ask for. I’m hoping I will be that to Chris as well.
Like I said in my previous post, Diddle Diddle dumpling my son Jon Christel you were my choice too. And a real fine choice, I must add.
Chris, you will be 30 today. A milestone indeed. I just thought I want to write to you.
Chris, though I love you dearly, you will never be my daughter. And that is fine – no one can ever take mama zhu’s place in your life and no one ever should. I never saw you growing up, never understood your traumas and your triumphs. That is strictly the prerogative of your mother. No mother-in-law should ever attempt to take anyone away from their mother. However, not being there with you in your growing up years also means that there are times I do not understand you and could have caused hurt. If it ever happened, do forgive and understand that it is not intentional.
Also, because I am not your mother, I cannot expect the same methods of showing affection as from my children. I cannot even expect the same sort of love my own kids feel for me. Do not be pressured. Deeper love will come, different ways of expressing that love is ok too. Just let our relationship grow as we spend more time together. A mother-in-law is a very privileged position. It means i have a share in someone else’s daughter without the painstaking years of growth from baby til maturity. And you are a treasure.
What do I then expect from you? Well, you are now the primary woman in my son’s life, taking my place so to speak. Yet our roles are different. Mine is to help him grow, to be an authority figure, to discipline him. In other words, though we both love him, mine is a position of authority. Not so for you, which makes it harder for you I suppose.
For you are to be his helpmate. As a mother, all I want to see is you supporting him, loving him, being his listening ear. I expect both of you to comfort each other, be there for one another. As the wise woman, I hope you can also steer him away from wrong thinking or actions. Remember that every decision he takes will affect you and the family you might establish one day. As an authority figure, it’s easier for me to put my foot down. For you, as wife, it is harder.
I have been very pleased with what I see of your relationship so far. I see the both of you being soul mates to each other. I see communication channels that are open. I see love and affection and understanding. I really see how you support Jonathan, even when he bullies you! Ha.
Remember though that the devil does not stop trying to rob you of joy. Even though your marital relationship looks strong, be on the alert and guard it. He comes like a thief in the night, and where we think we are strong, we often leave the defences down. Never let your guard down in your marriage. He may be my son, but he is not immune to temptation. Neither are you. Always flee temptation. I do not think I’m particularly charming, but whenever someone of the opposite sex becomes too close to me, I flee. Never give room for another relationship to develop. Way too risky.
So Chris, enjoy your birthday. 30 is a wonderful age. You are mature without being old. It is truly the prime of your life. Enjoy this next decade and the decades after with Jon by your side.
By the way, i forgot to add in the previous post one wise Jonathan’s comment when he was all of 3 years old.
Qn: What do you want to be when you grow up?
I was expecting policeman, or fireman or something typical. Why do i do that?
His answer: Like Grandpapa.
Love you always.
Dec 14 2014
Diddle Diddle Dumpling, My son Jon
How to even begin writing about this boy? For one thing he was late coming into the world, by at least 2 weeks. My waters broke one evening, and I had to go to Kandang Kerbau Hospital at night. In those days, husbands were not allowed to accompany wives into labour and so my husband quite gleefully bade me goodbye and went home to sleep. Throughout the night, I heard other women screaming in pain, including one who shouted for doctors, her husband, and even her father. I was petrified. Still Jonathan refused to make his appearance, despite my being given an inducing agent. By early morning, my gynaecologist came to see me. One look at me, and she declared that I was too tired and I would probably have to go for caesarean birth. By that time, I was so exhausted that I declared, “Anything, doctor. Anything!” Of course, typical Jonathan who always timed things just so decided he had tortured me enough. Before I knew it, he was on his way. My poor gynae, Mary Rauff could not even stitch up her patient before rushing over to me. There he was this red, wrinkled and bald baby. Even as a mother, I could not describe him a beautiful.
This child is so different from many other children. So much so that a sociologist friend who specialised in children found him fascinating. John Ang was lecturing at NUS then. We used to visit him very often to John’s delight. To give you some examples:
John used to say that children will just repeat the last thing they heard. So for instance, if you asked them if they wanted orange or apple, they would reply apple. If you asked them if they wanted apple or orange, they would say orange. John tried it on Jon.
John: Would you like sweets or ice cream?
Jon: ice cream ( John was positively preening )… and sweets.
Other child educational tests would find Jon answering in totally unexpected ways too. For instance, one experiment calls for using two measuring jars showing the same volume of water. Make sure the children can see the volume is the same. Pour the contents of one into a short squat container, and the other into a tall and slender one. Children are then likely to choose the tall slender container as having more volume. So armed with that knowledge, I thought I’d try it with Jon. When it came to selecting which container had more volume, Jon selected the tall narrow container. Bingo! He’s finally normal. So I went one step further and asked him why.
“Because you spilled some water when you poured into the other container.”
So much for that.
Driving along the highway in Malaysia one day, Jon looked perplexed.
“Why are there no traffic lights on this road?”
That just confirmed it for me. This child noticed things absent, which is really highly unusual. Children tend to ask questions about what they see, not what they cannot see. This is a pretty high level skill and I knew he would be a handful.
Jonathan loved the book, “How many trucks can a tow truck tow?” By age 3 he memorised the entire book, and could “read” it beautifully with expression. Except he could not read. He only started reading at the beginning of primary 2. A huge problem in Singapore, trust me. Not that I did not try. He hated all readers, especially the Peter and Jane series. So I gave up. I figured that it would be like walking. When he was ready, he’d do it.
He hated kindergarten. When I asked him if it was fun, he said emphatically, “No!” Colouring within the lines was totally boring for this boy. The teacher spoke to me and said that Jon was very quiet and uncooperative. How to tell the teacher the child was bored stiff? I asked him, “The teacher says you don’t participate. What do you do in school then?”
His answer, “I was thinking.”
I cannot blame the teacher for wanting to tear her hair.
Back to reading. He was clearly very intelligent, but just could not read and spell. I yelled, scolded to no avail. Sometime in early primary 2, I lost my tether. I threatened him to learn his spelling or else. A few minutes later, he came back and said he was ready. Alan was with me so this story can be verified.
Me: Don’t bluff. Whole morning you gave me rubbish and you tell me you are ready now?
So we tested him and he got it all correct. Alan took a random envelop. It was from Phillip Securities so we tested him on that. He took one look and spelt it correctly. From that day onwards, spelling was a breeze and all he needed to do was to look at the list in the car on the way to school. Perfect scores every time.
Just to show you this boy’s logic, and how irrational some questions can be. A favourite style of questioning in maths is the following
…… is 2 more than 3.
Jon’s answer: No. Because 2 is not more than 3.
Teaching him pronouns was torture too.
Qn: I am Muthu. This is …………… ball.
Answer: His. Because I am not Muthu.
Me, with exasperation: You have to pretend that I am Muthu. So what is the answer?
Answer: Your ball …. Since you want to pretend to be Muthu.
I gave up!
This was the child who refused to give working for maths problems…why? Just by reading and working things out mentally, he could get the answer. He just could not understand why it was important to write down the steps. He was non-conformist in every way and it was so difficult to get him to adjust.
He understood multiplication at age 4. At that time he was suffering from eczema which affected his eyes badly. He had to put eyedrops which rather frightened him. So I promised him a sweet if he would do it without complaining.
Jon: I have two eyes.
Me: ok you can have 2 sweets.
Jon: But it is 2 eyedrops. So I should have 4 sweets.
That was the end of the bargaining. He was given none!
When told not to open ang pows in front of my aunt, he ran into the kitchen and shouted, “Can I open it now?” Sigh.
He was also very good at bargaining. When I finished my no pay leave after having Samantha and was going back to work, innocently he asked.
Jon: Last time you are not working so you are poor, right?
Jon: Now you are going back to work so you will be rich right?
Jon: so last time that toy you say was too expensive, you can buy now right?
He has always been small and could have been the victim of many a bully. Somehow he was blessed with really big friends. Don’t get me wrong though. He could give back as good as he gets. Once when I asked him about bullying, he told me that after a while they would leave him alone.
Me: How come?
Jon: I wait for them to go for recess then I will hide their things. They will not be able to find it, and get into trouble with the teachers.
That’s one way of doing it.
This boy has surprised us in so many ways. About the biggest shocker I had was when he came back from JC one day spotting an ear stud. This mother had to really bite her tongue and keep to her parenting principles … giving them room to be themselves. All I said was that he would have to get it removed before National Service because the army might not take kindly to mavericks. Not sure if my facial expression echoed the forced calm in my voice though.
As for music, he was musical from young. I remember him bopping up and down in perfect timing as I was practicing with my small singing group. He kept tune perfectly even though children were supposed to be tone deaf to a certain age. Of course like all dutiful parents, I signed him up for piano lessons. He was doing well in Yamaha Music Class until the class shifted to a different time slot. He just refused to go. Later I found out that the class clashed with his favourite cartoon, DarkWing Duck. Future piano lessons were too boring. Finally I gave up all lessons. He wanted to play the saxophone, but I refused to believe he was genuine. I regret that disbelief. When he passed his PSLE I bought him a cheap guitar. There was no looking back. After O levels I bought him something that was really what he wanted and he took off from there, basically teaching himself all the way. So when he asked me if he could go into music as a career, as a parent, I did feel uneasy. However, it is his life. Also, I felt that Christel was the one who had to journey with his decision. My answer to him was, “Mummy can only be with you just so many years of your life. Christel is the one who will have to walk with you. You have to ask her.” I suppose that’s why at his wedding, he thanked me for giving him the freedom to make decisions for himself.
One of the ultimate moments of my life with my son was when he jumped into my bed one night and as usual demanding mummy’s attention. I remember the conversation we had then. He was serving national service at that time.
Me: The girl you choose, son, must get along with mum.
Jon: Which girl do you like, from church.
Me, without hesitation and not that I knew anything: Christel. Not that I have even interacted that much with her.
Jon, surprised: Really? We have just decided to go out together.
So Christel, you are my choice, even as you are Jon’s. May you have a blessed birthday, and I hope you enjoy knowing more about little Jon.
I really appreciated Dr Kevin Loy’s message this Sunday past on the significance of faith in worship. His example of the ultimate test of faith – that of Abraham being told to sacrifice Isaac also provoked me into thinking about such tests that as believers we do face from time to time. Perhaps it was when Kevin said that God wanted to test Abraham’s faith that got me thinking. Who’s the test for?
The test cannot be for God, for being the omniscient God, He already knows the status of Abraham’s faith. So is the test for Abraham? If so, why?
As I pondered over this, my personal conclusion is God tests our faith so that we can understand the status of our own faith. So why is this important?
Suppose we “pass” the test, as Abraham clearly did. Abraham understood that the same God who demands is also the God who will provide. If in the midst of our testing, we can stand firm in this unshakeable faith in God, despite the suffering and the circumstances, our stories become examples for other people who may be facing difficult situations – to know that God can still give us the victory.
Another example of a biblical persona going through many trials is Job. Unlike the test that Abraham went through, Job’s trials were not directly from God. Rather, in Job’s case, satan was allowed to put Job through “hell” as it were. It was so difficult to endure that Job’s wife was enraged and she told Job to curse God and die.
The story of Job is a very uncomfortable one for believers. We want a triumphant God and a victorious life. We want our existence on earth to be as trouble free as possible. In the example of Job, we see that this man, clearly beloved of God, was not spared earthly trials. The story reminds us that we too are not exempt from suffering. Job’s story also resonates with many a sufferer whose well-meaning friends often counsel the obvious, or play the blame game (example surely there must be some unconfessed sin, hence you are going through this) Both of these scenarios are futile at best and adds nothing to the one going through the trials. In Job you see how to go through suffering, realistically. He complained about his life, his very existence but not once did he curse God, not once did he deny His existence.
This is an important lesson indeed. For if you are going through an extremely difficult time, or if you are at death’s door, it will be ultimate foolishness to curse God and die as suggested by Job’s wife. You can express your emotions honestly to God but to denounce him at your hour of greatest need is the epitome of idiocy. The God with whom you have walked for so many years of your life, the God who has given you multiple victories both great and small in the past, HE is the ONLY one who can make eternity bearable. Do you denounce Him at this hour or do you honestly tell him how you feel? The difference is that the former means you will reject His very existence, while the latter means you acknowledge He is still God even though you are bitter about what you are going through. That knowledge is still faith and that faith will ultimately give you hope and victory, even if that victory does not come in the form that you desire. For instance an illness could lead to death rather than miraculous healing. Yet death is victorious too, in the light of eternal life.
So coming back to who the test is for? The answer is surely for the believer who is going through the test and for those who will be reached by his testimony.
What happens if a believer should fail the test? Then that believer is given yet another chance to better his spiritual life. David failed many times but his repentance drew him back to God. Even failed tests are a testimony to others giving hope to those who are struggling.
So uncomfortable though we may be, desirous though we may be of a completely victorious life, understand that we do go through tests. We can pass the test or we may fail it. The important thing is what we do after the results are out. Those who pass will be an example for others to follow. Those who fail but yet try again are perhaps even better examples, for how many of us pass tests of faith the first round? We need to understand that in the school of spiritual living, we are given many chances to pass our tests.
This reminds me of the song by Steve Green, Find us Faithful. May that be true of us, we who are pilgrims on this narrow road.
1 Dec 2014