Last year, one of Andre's good friends was diagnosed with advanced bone cancer. Even as he underwent surgery and juggled chemotherapy, he insisted on attending school when he could. The school arranged for his classes to be moved to the ground floor so he could get around more easily and he is determined to sit for the PSLE with his friends this year.
Just before he was diagnosed, he had come over to our home to play with Andre and so when I heard the news, it struck me pretty hard. It's difficult to believe the active, happy child (with the most gorgeous dimples) I had just seen running around like any other 11-year-old boy should suddenly be afflicted by such a nefarious disease.
Whenever I hear of such cases, I feel like I'm being doused with a bucket of reality check. It hits home especially when it's not the vague image of some unknown, hypothetical child, but is actually happening to someone you know. It's sobering and there's always the nagging question "why them, God?" Then inevitably, there will be the chilling realisation that such a misfortune can befall anyone, which will trigger the pressing, secret plea, "please not us, God."
Because it's difficult enough being the friend of someone going through such a trial, we simply cannot imagine being that parent, having to deal with such unbearable anguish. Sometimes God's design seems so random that we're tempted to try and manipulate or bargain with Him, so that our kids can bypass all the major calamities in life.
In another instance, Andre's best friend successfully overcame leukemia as a young child and looking at this strapping, boisterous boy now, you would never be able to tell he suffered from this disorder. But according to his mother, when he encounters pain in his limbs, he would still ask her with trepidation, "is it the cancer coming back?"
It's not unusual to be moved by such experiences, particularly if the kids fight their conditions with such courage and spirit, as I've witnessed. For me though, the biggest takeaway is that of perspective. Even as we parents angst over our kids' inability to ace an exam, get into the top school or enter some special programme, there are other parents who would rejoice over something as simple as their kids being able to run, to go to school, or to live to see adulthood.
I will clarify though, that I don't subscribe to the "there are always people less fortunate than you" mentality because it implies we should not aim to live beyond the lowest denominator.
Having said that, there's something to be said about appreciating what you have. When we hear of the plight of others, it's not for us to rejoice over how lucky we are in comparison, but to pause and remember how much our kids are a blessing to us. Then we'll scream less at our kids over their minor misdemeanours, annoying habits or unsatisfactory test results because in the larger scheme of things, these blips really are insignificant.
The next time we're unhappy with our kids and think "if only...", it might help us to remember that for some parents, the "if only..." is much more basic and urgent.
Go hug your kids today.