Friday, November 18, 2011

Schools, national exams... and unconditional love

As academic year 2011 came to a close, we received good news: Andre managed to get 3rd in class!

For those of you who have been following my blog, you will probably understand why this is such a happy surprise for us. Academics has never been Andre's strength and this prize was all the more unexpected because we've been so busy moving house that I haven't been breathing down his throat as much for the final SA2. My friend Lilian pointed out that Andre seems to perform better when he's left to his own devices. Not sure if that's true but it certainly reduces the stress for both of us!

I'm unspeakably grateful for this prize, more so because I'm hoping it will motivate Andre to work harder next year - the dreaded PSLE year. I'm so not looking forward to it. If I could take a pill and fast forward time till after the exam, I would.

Recently, I ran into a friend, who's the father of Lesley-Anne's p6 classmate, Ryan. His younger son just finished the PSLE this year and he said it was probably the worst time in his life. Everyday leading up to the exam, the boy would bring home a thick wad of exam papers to be completed and both father and son would stare despairingly at the stack (father is expected to mark the papers - brings a sadistic twist to the phrase "partnering parents in education").

He said it was a nightmare, especially since his younger son is not half as motivated as his elder brother. In fact, he thought both Ryan and Lesley-Anne spoilt the market with their work ethic. As he was tearing his hair out, pleading with his second child, it dawned on him, "So THAT'S what PSLE preparation is really like!"

I sympathised with him and when he heard that Andre would be doing his PSLE next year, I'm sure he's sending sympathies my way.

We've all heard it before - the PSLE has become such a high stakes exam that the pressure to do well overwhelms everything else. No one can escape - the kids, the teachers, the parents. So intensive is the preparation for the PSLE that it leaves an indelible scar on everyone. I suspect part of the reason why IP schools are so popular is because we all remember vividly the horrors of the PSLE and want to avoid another national exam.

Ryan's dad told me that after the PSLE, he just had 2 goals for his son: to retain his self-esteem and love for learning. Coming from a school teacher, I appreciate the wisdom. It's so easy to lose both in our education system.

We were discussing how even some of the kids in the best schools, who are probably the top 2% of the cohort, still feel insecure about their own abilities. Eg, I've heard how kids from the Raffles schools feel inferior because they couldn't get into the Raffles Academy.

This is seriously screwed up. It seems like our education system constantly tells our kids that they're not good enough. I've said this before - some schools, particularly the branded ones, appear more interested in what the kids can do for the school, than vice versa. Consider this and ask yourself if this is what you really want for your child.

For a long time now, I've understood God's wisdom in giving me 2 kids with such contrasting abilities. If both my kids were intellectually gifted, I would never know what it's like to parent a child who can't always understand concepts immediately or remember things he'd just learnt. It's a lesson in humility - that our kids' giftedness is a blessing, not results of our own doing.

Please don't be mistaken, I know Andre is bright. But when you have another child who learns and absorbs ideas at the drop of a hat, it's easy to use that as a benchmark and forget that not everyone is the same.

I always take advice from parents with all gifted kids with a pinch of salt. I know they're well meaning but what works for gifted kids often doesn't work for regular kids. It's not just a simple case of reading more to improve their language, or teaching a certain method to improve their maths. It's a lot of repetition, a lot of simplification and a huge bucketload of patience - something I'm short of.

As Einstein said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

I don't quite agree with the everybody is a genius bit but I concur with the second sentence. Sometimes, I feel that Singapore and Singaporeans have such a narrow definition of success that anyone who can't climb a tree or climb it fast enough is made to feel stupid or inadequate.

Each child's needs are different - I can't emphasise this enough. I speak from experience (and mistakes) parenting 2 kids who are complete opposites of each other. While everyone else's kid may be aiming for the top 3 schools, yours may rejoice at getting into a tier 3 school.

What's important is not to let society or teachers or other parents bully you into thinking it's not ok. Because at the end of the day, some kids are fish. By constantly trying to teach them how to climb trees and scolding them for failing, we may be missing out on the fact that they are fantastic, natural-born swimmers.

I wonder about kids who say, "I must study hard so I don't let my parents down." I understand the sentiment but I think it smells of the implication that they are studying out of a sense of responsibility towards someone else and not because it is something valuable to be enjoyed. Are we a blessing to our kids or have we become a burden?

I don't know what I will be like next year. I keep telling myself that God has a place prepared somewhere for Andre, that I should not be overly kancheong. But I also know how easy it is to lose perspective when you're in the eye of the storm. If that happens, somebody nudge me, ok?

Even as we push our kids to achieve more, we need to show that we love them for who they are, not who we want them to be.

"Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him." - Psalm 127:3

PS We will be going on our family vacation so I won't be blogging here during that time. I will, however, try to blog about my holiday at my travel blog so do check in there!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

No more metal mouth

In the midst of moving, Lesley-Anne commented, "We're having so many highs, I'm too busy to feel excited anymore."

I knew exactly what she meant. These past couple of months, we have so much going on that we feel like we're in the eye of a tornado. Lesley-Anne, in particular, had a lot happening in her life. In addition to the family stuff, ie moving house and preparing for our upcoming holiday, she went through her year-end exams and rushed to embark on a three-day school trip to Malacca. So much so that another monumental event in her life became almost an afterthought... the removal of her braces!

Yes, folks. After 2 long years of enduring metal in her mouth, pain and inability to chew tough food, the braces came off last week! When I blogged about it 2 years ago, its removal seemed like a remote event far, far in the future.

She has to wear a plastic retainer for 6 months, but compared to wearing braces, she feels like a prisoner newly released from her metal cage.

I love looking at the lovely flash of perfectly straight pearly whites every time she smiles. Makes all the sacrifice worthwhile.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Movin' on

When we first found out that a neighbour moved out with 100 boxes, I laughed. "How can one accumulate so much stuff?" I wondered. Well, the joke's on me because when we called the movers, they estimated that we would need 120 boxes. "WHAAAT!!!" was my disbelieving response.

As it turned out, we didn't have to use 120 boxes... we used 114 (and this is after throwing out lots of things). All I can say is, when you've lived in one place for 11 years, you amass a frightening amount of stuff. So much stuff that nobody really needs or uses, yet we kept buying and hoarding. I kept thinking: we truly live in a world of excess.

We consciously decided to bring most of our existing furniture to the new place because we didn't want to add to the waste and growing landfills. What we didn't bring along, we gave away. Doing our little bit for the planet.

We started packing in a very systematic fashion:

Then as it became apparent that we were running out of time and space, all order went out the window. Amidst all the dust and exhaustion, Lesley-Anne and I succumbed to fever and a bothersome, hacking cough. I really thank God for my maid, she's a gem. Without her, we would never have finished packing, what with us trying to get the new house ready for moving in at the same time.

We had our very own Great Wall in our living room. This was the night before the move - to get to and from the living room, you practically had to jump over a series of obstacles.

The move itself was surprisingly smooth. I totally credit the movers. We used Soon Seng Transport Service and these are by far, the most professional movers I've ever used. Very punctual, no last minute haggling, no grumbles, about 8 guys did the job swiftly and to my amazement, cheerfully.

The furniture was wrapped very well and my piano survived the transit without so much as a scratch. They're not the cheapest in town (slightly lower than Shalom, the other folks we got a quote from) but very reliable. I think it's worth it for stress-free moving.

The last time our old place was so uncluttered was 11 years ago, before we moved in!

Andre in his old room.

Lesley-Anne in hers.

This was the only home my kids ever knew and they both grew up there so we have many lovely memories of the place. It's nostalgic and a little hard to say good-bye but it helps to know we're moving to another great place. I'm sure in time, we will be as comfortable here as we were in our old place.

All we need to do now is to create fantastic new memories :)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Splish splash!

One of the advantages of this house was that the bathrooms were remodelled, so we didn't have to redo them.

There were, however, a few things we didn't like. The wash basins, for instance were made of glass and upon closer scrutiny, there were glue and sealer stains along the edges. Glass is extremely high maintenance.

So we decided to change all the wash basins back to good old ceramic. My brother-in-law advised us to go to Sim Siang Choon as they have lots to choose from. Lots is an understatement - Sim Siang Choon is like a giant Best Denki for bath products. I like that they display all their prices upfront and even have little paper measuring tapes and pencils ala Ikea for you to do your planning.

We chose two ceramic wash basins for the kids' and my mother-in-law's bathrooms, as well as other accessories such as toothbrush holders and toiletries wall stands. The original mixers (faucets) were in reasonably good condition so we retained them. The installation was done by our contractor. I think you can also engage Sim Siang Choon for the installation.

This is the kids' bathroom wash basin before:

And after:

Mum-in-law's wash basin before:

And after:

For her bathroom, we also installed grab bars for added safety, excellent advice by my friend.

For the master bathroom, we wanted a wash basin with a vanity so that we could store toiletries out of sight. Unfortunately, Sim Siang Choon doesn't carry many of these. So we decided to give Ikea a try, with their new Godmorgen bath series. It's very reasonably priced and like most Ikea goods, looks great. Whether it will last remains to be seen, am hoping for the best!

This is before:

And after:

The final change we made was the addition of a shower screen to the master bathroom. The previous owner used a shower curtain (right pic), which we thought was impractical and somewhat incongruous in an otherwise classy bathroom.

So we had a frameless shower door installed, to complete the look. This is what my bathroom looks like now:

My bathrooms before have always been purely functional and nothing much to look at. It's lovely to have one where I can unwind and wash my cares away. Taking a shower has never been so relaxing!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Window dressing

If there's one thing I learnt about dealing with contractors, it's what can go wrong will go wrong. But in the midst of all that went wrong, a couple of vendors came through with minimal hiccups. One of them was D'Zander, the curtains company.

I discovered D'Zander through the Internet when I was looking for recommendations. The name kept popping up with real users citing their quality, reliability and reasonable pricing. The lady I spoke to, Doris, provides excellent service and was able to give advice on what sort of fabric I should use, which I appreciated.

We wanted a neutral tone for the living/dining area. The walls are painted Barley White, which has a yellow tinge (it looks yellower in the picture than it actually is, due to the lighting). We used Nippon paint for the whole house. It's probably more expensive than the brand-less paint used by some contractors but we think it's worthwhile. We used Nippon paint at our current place and 11 years on, it still looks relatively fresh.

This is the living room:

And the dining room. We used sheer curtains as it leads out to the patio and wanted to extend the look of the area.

For the master bedroom, we also adopted a neutral tone. Doris was the one who suggested having the track all the way up to the false ceiling and tying the day and night curtains in opposite directions for the smaller window. I think the effect is pretty elegant, I would never have come up with this myself.

The wall colour is 8148 Peaceful (I'm noting down the colours for my own record, don't mind me).

We used the same fabric for my mother-in-law's room. Wall colour is 0012 Soft Sands.

For the kids' rooms, it was slightly more complicated. I find that most curtain companies stock very few fun fabrics, except for the very kiddy designs with cartoon characters. According to D'Zander, they're harder to sell, so not worth stocking up on.

For my kids, I couldn't find any design I liked so in the end, I turned to the quintessential fun company - Ikea. Ikea has many lovely fabric patterns - they're quirky and not too expensive. The downside is that they often run out of stock, especially for popular designs, and the quality tends to be inferior, eg. most of their fabrics shrink in the wash. So it's something you'll need to cater for.

Doris was very accommodating - she took the measurements of the windows and told me how much fabric to buy for each of the kids' rooms, then charged me only a minimal sum to sew the curtains for me.

Lesley-Anne wanted a room with blue accents so we picked out this rich blue fabric with white leaf patterns. Her walls are painted 8126 Comfort. It's a lovely creamy yellow, much nicer than it appears in the picture.

When I first asked Andre what colour he wanted his room to be, he told me "orange and fire engine red!" I'm not surprised - it shouts his personality - but I shuddered just thinking about such a gaudy room. So we compromised. I gave him one wall in orange and the others in yellow. The red would be accents in the form of his furniture. (His grandmother commented that she would need sunglasses just to enter his room, lol).

To contrast the orange wall, I chose a white cotton fabric with writing from Ikea for his curtains. It's very cute but it's a thin fabric so D'Zander had to line the curtains. The orange shade is 8117 Zing. Lesley-Anne commented that Andre's room looked delicious and was the "happy" room. It really is cheerful, which is great for a kid's room.

I recommend D'Zander whole-heartedly if you're thinking of making curtains. The number is 6276 9921. Ask for Doris.
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