Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Think Individual

Pictures speak a thousand words. I treasure those pictures taken of me in my younger days.  When I look at those old photographs, I try to recall my state of mind and the events around the period when the pictures were taken. I wonder what I could have been thinking and how my views had changed . I have always aspired to become an independent minded person and an individualist. Maybe some people are naturally more individualistic than others while some like  to  conform with  social expectations and naturally fit into the environment they live in. There are the others who are still figuring out things. Sometimes I wish I had figured out some things sooner. Perhaps it is better late than never.

When I left home to pursue my studies, my dad bought me a Canon camera . I believe it was a AE SLR and it was one of the must haves which I carried everywhere I travelled to. When I dabbled in some baking , my dad bought for our house a standing oven during one of my vacations. My dad bought both me and my sister  a treadmill and exercise machine in the early nineties. The camera, the oven and the treadmill are  representative of the interests that had become an integral part of my adult lifestyle. I  am not much of a cook but I am a foodie. I do incorporate regular physical exercises in my weekly routine to keep fit and feel good. I enjoy taking pictures and in this digital age, photography seems to inspire infinite possibilities. During our growing years, we were sent to piano and music lessons and the brand of our first piano was Pearl River and it was subsequently replaced by a Baldwin which my daughters used when they first started their music lessons. These were of course not the only purchases my dad had expended on. However there were some items which were not purchased but home made and I did not think I appreciated them then.

As a child, we do not want to be different from the others. Peer pressure is real. As far as my memory goes,  I was never given one of those paper lanterns which children  hand carry during mid-autumn lantern festival or commonly known as mooncake festival. Every such festival, children flock outside their houses  with their little lanterns brightly lit and they walk around their backyard or parade on the street  in the neighbourhood. These paper lanterns are usually in the shape of an animal e.g. a  rabbit, a bird, a dragon or whatever that is striking and colourful. These days the design of such lanterns may include those of the anime characters. My enterprising and innovative dad used to make ornaments for Christmas decorations; there was this one time my sister and I had asked for a lantern. Instead of spending money buying one of those colourful paper lantern which was  flimsy and probably would burn out after the season,  he made my sister and I each a wooden lantern with wheels which we had to lug along on the road; he had modified one of those Christmassy dollhouses which were left over from the previous year sale. If I remember correctly, it was a dollhouse with some glitters and sparkles. Instead of a paper lantern which is feather weight and can be carried around the neighbourhood, we each had a wooden dollhouse which we had to pull or lug along the road.  As a young child, I felt very self- conscious and awkward about my “lantern” which was significantly different from the traditional paper lanterns and  I certainly did not  ever ask for another lantern during subsequent years.

Looking back, I remember having a dad who was industrious and  had little time to idle around. For a living, he had to constantly think of producing stuff  to market. When he was in PVC plastic business, he made PVC bags printed with pretty pictures and printed stickers which bore meaningful and inspirational words which we now receive through our emails from our cyber friends . More often than not, my dad on his own   learnt the ropes of whatever business he ventured into, be it books printing or screen printing or plastic industry.  He also had to plan and strategize his marketing plan on his own. He had the ideas but he did not have the people to execute them. He was innovative but he was perhaps not sufficiently resourceful  to engage the right people to perfect what he wanted to achieve. He had very little financing so he had to make money out of these merchandises quite quickly to make his businesses sustainable. As my dad felt his way around and invest his time and  energy in making products which he thought were merchantable, he also found the time to play tenor saxophone in a music band which he had formed with his friends ; he arranged music for his band which took to perform in botanical garden during festive occasions as part of the community activities. He had married my mother and a decade later, fell for a woman who was poles apart from my mother. How he could have such contrasting tastes still baffles me till this day.

In some ways, my dad was an individualist. Somehow throughout the years, his aspirations for his children became pragmatic, conventional and earthy although  once upon a time he had cared more about virtues, intellect, artistic  and creative talents than money. Like all parents in the world, my dad wanted his children to have material success and a comfortable lifestyle. As he was caught in a race  juggling between his role as a breadwinner raising his family and his social obligations in fulfilling his commitments and responsibilities in the positions he had volunteered in various organizations, it appeared that he might have overlooked the essence of moderation . Maybe each individual will have to somehow figure out our own centre in order to find our balances. I figure it  is easier said than done.

Malapascua Island, Philippines

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Wonder Years

Like most books that I read or films I had seen, I stumbled upon the film ‘Tiny Furniture’ written and directed by Lena Dunham as I surfed the Astro channels one Sunday. It was a story about coming of age for a young female college graduate. Although our environments are not similar, I believe that some of us might have gone through similar experiences in search of their identities in their twenties just like Aura in ‘Tiny Furniture’. After finishing college with a film theory degree, twenty-two year old Aura returns home to her artist mother and  has to adjust living at home with her mother and sister. While trying to get over the breakup with her college boyfriend, she catches up with her childhood best friend who has never left home and has a quirky personality. She gets herself a job at the restaurant and quit when she finds it boring. She toys with a couple of romantic possibilities which the viewers can see that they are bad choices and are doomed to start with. As the film develops, the character can be endearingly homey although at times her naivety and passive aggression can be irritating. The character  and her restlessness between post college and adult life are well portrayed.

In ‘Tiny Furniture’, Aura found her mother’s old diary and read some of it. I  kept a diary when I was in secondary school and those years were probably the most awkward era of my life. I would not let it lie around for anyone to read. I feel abashed just thinking about the kind of thoughts that had gone through my mind. Through my jottings, I realized that  I had enough self-possession in some areas but not in others. The self-possession that I had was probably misguided since I lacked cynicism and was hopeful, idealistic and rather naive. I believe that one’s character is what one is  born with but with nurture, we can become either better or worse person than what we have started with. Environment can make or break a person ; the earlier we can recognize our strengths and weaknesses, the sooner we can gain a perspective about the kind of person we want to become. We all get what we deserve by reason of our personality traits hence the choices we have made.
When I was studying abroad, I did some growing but after I graduated, there was still plenty of growing to do. I feel that twenties were my formative years. How I miss those years when life was just about self-indulgence and a zest for new adventures. I wish that I had spent less time idling and were more motivated to make the best of those years. Marriage and motherhood must have made me grow up and give me the kind of grounding I lacked. 

A close friend who is the envy amongst us as she has been able to take time off to travel and dabble in hobbies which she now has time to indulge in since her son is grown up. She has an understanding spouse who seems to allow her the space she needs . When she talks about her wish to take a year off  travelling, we are appalled as she seems to be away all the time.  Despite all the trips she had been able to make the past two years, she dreams of taking a holiday for a year. I perfectly understand where she is coming from. Some of us long to take a year off from our present life as we crave for the return of those carefree days where we need not bother about our daily grinds, commitments and family obligations. While it is wonderful to have a structured and orderly life and the comfort of a life we have grown too familiar with,  we might want to get outside our comfort zone and venture into new territories. We sometimes yearn to break away from the routine and wish that we only have our very own needs to think of and not worry about anyone else at all. If it were just a notion, we will find out when we are so homesick that we just want to come home sooner than we think as there is no place like home. 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Growing years

Parenthood seems to make you nervous for the rest of your life. We do our best to give our children the opportunities to realize their full potentials because we want to prepare them for a good life ahead. Children grow up as separate individuals whose aspirations are not necessarily similar to their parents’. I shy away from commerce seeing how my dad led his life as a businessman although I was grateful that he had sponsored my tertiary education. I wanted to have a career and was rather  undomesticated seeing how unhappy my mother was as her life centered around her husband and her children.

In bringing up my own children, I care most about two things , “ Intuitiveness” and secondly “ Self Esteem”. I only hope that I have not said or done things that will affect their emotional well being and their self confidence. I believe that all of us grow up with baggage and issues, some have more baggage and issues than others.  Some of us spend most  of our adult lives working through some of the damage we have suffered growing up and gain a perspective  of things in general while others  carry on living and oblivious to how their particular behaviour may have been affected by some experience they encountered during their growing years.

Recently I watched the movie “Atlas Shrugged” Part 1 and was interested to read the novel upon which the movie was based on. When I was told that we had a copy of the novel at home, I looked through our collection of books on our book shelf in search of the novel written by Ayn Rand. I did not find the novel but to my surprise, I own books like “ How Your Child Learns and Succeeds” and “How to teach Your Child to Read”.  I must have bought them in my quest to be a competent parent.

Though my life was not exactly like the protagonist, Kate Reddy in “ I don’t Know How She does it” by Allison Pearson, amid all the school runs, errands and last but not least, court runs, my adrenalin juice was constantly flowing into my veins. I tried to read in between my errands whenever I had the time even if they were just  a few minutes while waiting for children to come out from classes. However there were certain books which never got to the finishing line. While I might have good intentions, I found myself getting lost in the wilderness as I ploughed through manual like “How Your Child Learns and Succeeds”. To my defence, I would argue that my girls were growing up and I should bask in those moments observing them rather than bury my nose underneath some parenting manual. I fetched the book “How Your Child Learns and Succeeds” from the book shelf and discover a bookmark inside the book. The book mark was drawn and made by my elder daughter for  Mother’s Day (around  ten years old then)  who obviously knew what her mother needed most. Bookmarks, plenty of bookmarks to mark all the half read books and still hope to reach the finishing line one day

As I flipped through the book“ How Your Child Learns and Succeeds” written by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias,  I fervently hope that  I had not done too badly as a parent since I had barely covered one sixth of the book. It is interesting how the author characterized people with different personality traits and accorded them with different learning styles to describe how our minds work. It is useful to identify the characteristics of certain personality traits with a view to understand the individual’s  innate abilities and learning styles. If I understand correctly the description according to the chart in the book, I identify myself as the Dominant Concrete Random type; according to Tobias, what makes sense to these people are inter alia  : using insight and instinct to solve problems, working with general time frames rather than specific deadlines , trying something themselves rather than taking your word for it. Dominant Concrete Random is often stressed by excessive restrictions and limitations and forced schedules or routines. I do get easily stressed when I am expected to conform and I still charge ahead with certain tasks  despite being advised against doing them. The book by Tobias is an interesting read that gives one some insight into our respective learning style. 

Since I feel passionate about reading, I really was eager to instill in my children the reading habit hence the book “How to teach Your Child to Read”. As a new mother, I was sold the idea of getting a child to read before  the child turned  three years old. It was amazing how these sale agents had a way of knowing that you had just recently given birth and you would be interested in any programmes relating to the child brain development. Besides going through the flashcards provided by Glenn Doman reading set, I was zealous to the extent that I actually made flashcards out of manila cardboards with words which were definitely not relevant to a two year old. It was a tall order to get a curious and restless toddler to sit still for a couple of minutes while you flashed the cards with red letterings. Apparently words are supposed to be like pictures and by flashing the words, the child learns to read as he or she identify the word like the way he or she identifies a picture. It was hard work for both mother and child and I did not persevere in building a  word bank which included words that were not applicable in my children’s world.

As prosperity and greater material success appear to be the common utilitarian goals, modern life has become increasingly competitive for the young generation. Employability  is  a criteria when  pursuing a particular college degree rather than passion and an  objective to broaden one’s mind;  getting top grades to gain a place at a reputable college or institution is an urgent task. The baby boomers did not have the same stress as what the current generation are facing. Not sure if it is the desire to live vicariously through their children for their unfulfilled dreams or the need to prevent them from living in regrets, the more educated parents (baby boomers included) seem to micro-manage the affairs of their children more closely than ever. We must know that even if the young ones  make any mistakes, they might not be the same ones as the ones we have made. We do not want our children to grow old before their years by emphasizing too much about  the importance of practicality and worry about what their future holds. As we try to impress upon our children not to take for granted the passing  of their youth, each child must learn to be truthful to himself or herself; he or she must also  become  self reliant without being self absorbed and we hope that he or she will have the courage to venture beyond the comfort zone with enough sense and sensibility.