17 November 2012, by Tan Yi Lin
Every parent wants the next generation to be better provided for and to live a more comfortable life than they had.
Both my grandfathers were immigrants from China. My paternal granddad (whom I have never met) was a coolie (yes, my gene pool hails from humble beginnings in the field of construction and hard labour.) He died with $200 to his name, or rather, under his mattress. My maternal grandfather, being the owner of a shoe shop and pre-war shop house, was better off materially but housing seven children under one roof and having to provide for them was still quite a feat financially.
My parents built a life for themselves that was better than their parents’ and in turn, equipped their children with the tools to help us live a more comfortable life than they had. So prepped by years of quality local education and armed with the requisite paper qualifications, I landed myself a decent job that lets us afford a pretty comfortable life for our little family of three-going-on-four.
Of course, we aspire to do the same — and more – for all our children. With Coco, we have already invested in health insurance policies and endowment funds to safeguard her access to medical care and good education in the unfortunate event that we are unable to continue providing for her.
However, beyond material welfare and university degrees, beyond being smarter, healthier, stronger and richer than her parents, I hope that Coco will be better than I am in terms of character: More Loving. More Caring. More Generous. More Courageous. More Adventurous.
More of all things Good and Beautiful and Wonderful.
More of everything that I am; and everything that I am not.
She may be only a year old but there are many things that I can learn from my tiny daughter. I’m not saying that my parents didn’t do a good job in bringing me up. They did. But with the onslaught of adulthood, we tend to forget some of the good things that are innate and/or inculcated in our younger self.
Every day with Coco is a reminder of how good human nature, well, naturally is. And I’m grateful for every lesson that I receive from my Little Teacher.
(1) Lessons in Generosity
Coco absolutely enjoys sharing. It’s a joy to see her offering her food, toys, books and even the iPad to others.
With food, she insists on feeding you by either placing a biscuit or piece of fruit in your palm and firmly shoving it towards you; or pushing a spoonful of porridge or tidbit into your mouth. And woe behold if you decline or resist her generous offers: she protests with a loud “Ummmmmmmmmm!!!” and insists that you take it. While playing at Fidgets, she went around popping her little Gerbers fruit puffs right into other children’s mouths. We had to stop her, for hygiene reasons, and the poor girl was perplexed as to why the other mums would not accept her offers of snacks for their kids.
We had some kids over at our house recently. I was initially very disconcerted to see Coco going for every book that our little guests picked from her storybook collection, until I realised that Coco wasn’t snatching her book back — she simply wanted to show the other kids how to lift the flaps or point out her favourite illustrations to them. Wow.
Similarly, with the iPad, while we’re happy to let her have full reign over it within her precious ten-minute quota, she often takes our hands and tells us to participate in the activity with her.
It’s the same with grooming: She powders her chest — followed by my face. She applies moisturising lotion on herself — and my nose. She offers to comb my hair, brush my teeth and even clean my mouth. To top it off, she perches her sunglasses on my nose.
All this is a reminder that I could be less self-centered, more caring, more willing to share. Heck, all Singaporeans could do with a daily reminder to share, not just their money and possessions, but in the smallest ways that won’t cost them a single cent. Such as sharing space in a crowded train by moving to the centre of the carriage; sharing their seat by giving it up to commuters who need it; sharing their table at a hawker centre; sharing the use of public roads by driving considerately. The list goes on.
(2) Lessons in Sociability
Coco makes friends with everyone wherever she goes. She makes eye contact, gives a friendly wave and smiles to adults and children alike. She walks up to complete strangers and gently touches them on the arm or admires their clothes and shoes (especially little girls’ outfits with flowers or star designs!) At the airport, she charmed her way into a free balloon from a kind lady, even though I think it was intended for the lady’s own child! (Thank you, Kind Lady) She takes house guests by their hands and leads them to her play corner to read or play together.
I was a cowardly kid who hid in my parents’ shadows and shied away from strangers and even acquaintences. It wasn’t until I received training in stage perfomance in my secondary school ECA and when I started working that I gradually felt comfortable enough to make conversation with strangers and speak confidently to a large audience.
I wish I had been more comfortable in my own skin as a child.
(3) Lessons in Humour
Coco has a really good sense of humour and the fact that she’s easily amused makes it easy to entertain her. She laughs out loud at the silliest things, such as when we pretend to make Kermit the Frog walk into a closed door, and even has some of her own tricks up her sleeve. Sometimes, she would offer people a bite of her snack — only to fake them out by quickly withdrawing it at the last minute with a cheeky cackle. What a tease. She creeps up on sleeping people and yells at them. Knowing full well that she’s prohibited from standing up in her high chair, she would crouch in it and pretend to get up — all the while watching for your reaction with her bright eyes and an impish look on her face.
I could learn to be less serious and take the time to relax, have a good laugh and connect with other people through some lighthearted humour.
(4) Lessons in The Spirit of Adventure
Why is it that we tend to pick up fears as we grow older? Fear of insects, rodents, tiny creatures that won’t do us any harm; fear of heights or danger; fear of getting hurt. We pick up dislikes — dislikes of certain foods, or people, or places — and along the way, we lose our open mindedness and sense of adventure in trying new things.
Coco is truly fearless — now that she’s gotten over her initial aversion to fur. She paws at all sorts of animals that she spots around the house or on walks around the neighbourhood: dogs, cats (who usually glare and hiss in a most unfriendly manner and won’t let her go near them), fish, lizards, toads, snails…
She is adventurous with food, even pungent ones like durian, and eats her vegetables. I hated all vegetables until I was sixteen and didn’t acquire a taste for durian until I was well into adulthood.
I wish I had been more open to new experiences, more brave, and not have shut myself off to food, people or places that were out of the ordinary.
(5) Lessons in Love
I love it that my daughter is such an affectionate little person. I love her little (wet) kisses on my mouth, her hugs, how she rests her head on my chest and tummy every night when she sleeps and every morning upon waking. I love how she snuggles up to me and hugs my arm tightly to sleep. I love how she welcomes me home from work every evening with a (sweaty) embrace, gently pats or strokes my arm then leads me by the hand to her play mat.
Even non-human characters are the lucky recipients of her generous show of love. She hugs and kisses the characters – on the pages of her books — that she likes and gives them a friendly wave. Elephants, lions, frogs (yes, she has this thing for frogs — and we haven’t read her the story of The Frog Prince yet), butterflies, dogs, fish and rabbits are the most saliva-laden amongst her paper animal kingdom.
I could certainly afford to be more generous in my show of love, especially by taking the initiative to say a simple “I Love You” to the husband more often.
I never really understood what people meant when they said that you can learn so much from children.
Now I do — and I’m grateful for every opportunity to humbly learn from my baby girl. I hope that Coco never loses all these beautiful traits and behaviour that she exudes so naturally.
And may God help me remember this wonderful space that I’m in during the onslaught of the Terrible Twos and the Teenage Years!