Monday, 26 May 2014

Boring, Still Must Write!

If you guys have been faithfully reading my blog, you would know that Isaac, my 6 going on 7 year old, can write pretty well - for his age, at least. You would have seen his writing here, here and here. So, yes, he can write pretty competently. Thus, it has been very frustrating for me, when I noticed that his recent writing for his school journal assignments have been very badly written. I have had quite a few quarrels with Isaac lately because of this. Generally we start quarreling when I want him to rewrite or amend or expand, and he is unwilling to do so. What frustrates me, is NOT that he does not churn out grade A work, but that he is obviously not trying. No effort. 

We just recently argued about this, and at the height of our exchange, Isaac burst out:"I'm sick of journal writing! It's soooo B !!!" And, B stands for Boring. It's one of the words I ban the kids from saying in our household, so to avoid saying the forbidden word, Isaac says its initial. I instinctively wanted to scold him "Boring, still must write!!!" when he made that outburst. But I didn't, for he was right. It was boring, not the writing, but the topics he was told to write about. They went something like this, week after week:
- What I did during Chinese New Year.
- My Favourite Food
- My Favourite Sport
- My Favourite Sandwich
- My Favourite Hobby
- What I did during the Easter weekend
- What I did on Labour Day
- What I did on Vesak Day 

For basically what Isaac would do, is that he'd simply reply the question point blank, or list down what he did that day and he says he is done. We have had to give him hints and teach him on how to expand and write more about the subject topic in order to prompt him on. So far, we have let him slide so long as he does a passable job, but I wish he did try harder. For himself. For we would ask him "Are you proud that you wrote this? Are you happy to announce to the world that this is written by you?" He would look away and not meet our eyes, in shame. Then he would grudgingly say "Alright! Alright! I'd do it again!"
However, I do agree with him that the topics are quite B and very uninspiring indeed. BUT it's homework, you have to get homework done!? And if you get very unimaginative test or exam setters during actual examinable assignments - you still have to write!!! But I knew that right now, Isaac, a Primary 1 student for less than 6 months, would find it difficult to understand that. It is also fortunate that the journal assignments are not graded, nor does the teacher correct the grammar or spelling mistakes - it was obviously an exercise to encourage the children to write. That's not happening though. On the contrary....
Isaac generally enjoys writing... but I guess it is difficult when topics are uninspiring!

On a more constructive note, I decided to brainstorm and think of ways which I can suggest to Isaac, to help him write better, for his journal entries for his school journal, despite the B topics. Oh, why do I ban the word "boring"? Coz I always tell the kids "Don't let me hear you say something is boring. Don't ever say that. Since you know it is boring, then you should find something or some way to make it more interesting! Don't just complain and whine that it is boring! That does nothing to help the boring situation at all. Instead, think of something you can do to make things more fun and interesting. Say "why don't we do this ____ instead? That would make it more interesting!" And be open to suggestions!!!No saying "Boring!"" Okay, so maybe the kids abide by my rules not to say the B word just so they don't have to hear that entire monologue, but I say it anyway! Hah!

So what did I come up with? Not many ideas, I'm afraid. Think the B topics are weighing dead on me too...

Idea #1: Pick one funny or happy moment during that day that you were told to write about and expand on that.
Idea #2: Think of a funny story that is related to the subject topic and say that. (Though there is a danger of going off topic with this method"
Idea #3: Illustrate his journal entries with some drawings

Of the three ideas I gave him, he frowned at me for the first two and said of the third, wide-eyed "Can draw ah? Later teacher scold."  To which I hesitated for a split second before saying:"I think it should be fine to draw in your journal, but you STILL MUST WRITE." He rolled his eyes and sighed. 

So you can imagine my relief when I got an email from Monsters Under the Bed inviting me and my readers to a free writing clinic entitled How Your Child Can Be a Better Writer! Wow, what great timing! I'm going for this talk for sure!

Monsters Under the Bed are the good people behind the very fun writing camp - EnchantInk - Isaac went to in March. The writing clinic is meant for their existing students' parents, as well as their upcoming June camp MonsterHuntInk parents, as well as... Tan Family Chronicle readers! All you have to do is to register for the talk at this link.  And it's not just a writing clinic for the parents, you can bring your children along too if you want the trainers do an assessment for the kids. While you are listening to the talk, your children will be in the next room with the trainers who will assess your child, to explore their writing weaknesses and let them know what they can do to improve, as well as recommend books for them to read. Read more about this event at the registration link too.

How Your Child Can Be a Better Writer - writing clinic by Monsters Under the Bed
Date: June 1 2014 (Sunday)
Time: 1- 2pm 
Venue: National Design Centre (111 Middle Road) 
What to bring: Children's written work ( Can be either from school or home ) 

Places are limited, so be sure to sign up asap! I have already reverted with my RSVP and we'd be there for this talk this Sunday. I hope the talk is as interesting as their EnchantInk camp was, and I hope that the MonsterHuntInk camp Isaac is attending in the first week of June will be as fun as it sounds too! We understand that there are still a handful of places left for this camp for 7 - 12 year olds - sign up and we can see you at the camp too! Hunting Monsters sound like such fun! Wish we had such camps too when we were young!
Check out Monster Under the Bed's creative writing camp MonsterHuntInk

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

The Twins Favourite Ee-Ee

A few mornings ago, in the car, while I was driving the twins to school... We weren't even talking, just listening to the music playing... when suddenly Asher said:

Asher:"Mummy, do you know which is my favourite Ee-Ee?"
Mummy Me:"Which one?"
Asher:"It's OUR Ee-EE! The REAL Ee-EE! Not the other Ee-Ees!"
Shawna:"Yes, yes, that is our favourite Ee-Ee.  "
Asher:"The Ee-Ee who is the mummy of Natalie and the other cheh chehs."
Shawna:"Yes, correct. The mummy of Rebecca, Isabelle and Natalie. Those cheh chehs. That Ee-Ee."
Asher:"That's right. That one. Our favourite Ee-Ee."
Me:"Really? How come? WHY is she your favourite Ee-Ee?"
Asher:"Because she loves us."
Shawna:"And we love her."

Me:"So WHY do you love her?" 
Shawna:"Because she is our favourite Ee-Ee lah! "
Asher:"Er... because she has swimming pool"
Me:"Huh... you love her because she has a swimming pool at her house? What if she has no swimming pools? Then you won't love her?"
Shawna:"She doesn't have just one, Mummy! She has THREE swimming pools! The small one, the big one and the deep swimming pool where Isaac kor kor has his swimming lesson."
Asher:"Yes, so we love her three times. Because she has three swimming pools."
Me:"What?! You love her three times coz she has three swimming pools!?"
Asher:"Yes! So if she has one thousand swimming pools, we will love her one thousand times! hahaha..."
Shawna:"And if she has infinity swimming pools, we will love her infinity times!!! hahahaha"
Me:"But what if she has NO swimming pools at all?"
Shawna:"But she HAS, Mummy!!!"
Me:"I know!!! But what if she doesn't. I mean, do you only love Ee-Ee because she has a swimming pool?!"
Asher:"Of course not, Mummy."
Me:"So if she doesn't have any swimming pool, would she still be your favourite Ee-Ee?"
Asher & Shawna:" YES!!!"

What a relief! Good to know that my kids are not so shallow! :p

For those of you who are wondering what an "Ee-Ee" is, it's actually my sister they are talking about. "Ee-Ee" is what you call your mother's sister, in Teochew - our Chinese dialect. If it's your father's sister, she is called "Gou-Gou". So my kids have one Ee-Ee and one Gou-Gou, as hubbs and I have one sister each (and that's it - coz someone said to Stop at Two).

The kids have been calling their aunts Ee-Ee and Gou-Gou since they were born, so much so, that they don't know that the two ladies are actually their Aunties. If they see my female cousins, they are told to call them Ee-Ee as well - this is the reason why Asher is trying to say that there is only one REAL Ee-Ee for him - my sister. And if they see hubbs' female cousins, they are also told to call them Gou-Gou as well. As far as my kids are concerned, I am sure they also feel that they only have one real Gou-Gou :)

So the irony is... Do you know who is the kids' "Auntie"? The helper. She is known as "Auntie" and also, all the lady strangers that they see outside: the neighbours, in the lift, the park, and every other lady they meet who is not their relative. And same too for the males. The male strangers they meet are all Uncles, including the Bus Driver Uncle, the food stall Uncle and the Uncle who is their classmate's father. And I bet you 10 bucks the twins don't know that their Tio Tios - who are the respective husbands of their favourite Ee-Ee and favourite  Gou-Gou - are actually their Uncles. 

It certainly took a while, but the kids now know that their Popo and Nai Nai are their Grandmothers, and Gong Gong and Ye Ye are their Grandfathers.Perhaps the kids know, that if you are told to call someone some weird name which doesn't sound like English - that person must be a relative.

I wonder if this only happens in Singapore :p

There are NO Aunties and Uncles here, I tell you! None!!! :p
Picture by Orange Studios

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Day 11: Prayers for Those Who Need a Little More Courage in Life

Our guest poster today is Ms Agnes Lim. She's my secondary school schoolmate, and thus an old friend of mine. I have invited her to share her story with us, as I feel that she is a very inspiring individual. She was dealt a tough hand of fate, but she risen from it and with an amazing store of optimism, continued living life to the max. The picture below are recent pictures - pictures taken in the past one or two years. Definitely, way AFTER the fateful accident.

Let's hear it from... Agnes! 
Looking cool while keeping a look out for the Loch Ness Monster!

Day 11: Prayers for Those Who Need a Little More Courage in Life

Life on its own, is never a smooth sailing journey, and some, may have theirs filled with adversity. However, the choices we make in our life, very often determines how we can emerge from adversity to go on and lead the life that we really want. 

11 years ago, at a tender age of 23, I was involved in a near-death road traffic accident. As a pillion rider, I was the unfortunate victim that suffered serious injury from the impact of the accident. The force of the vehicles' collision had flung me metres away from the motorcycle that I was on, landing on the road with an excruciating pain that shot right up from the leg to the heart, cruelly severing my left leg on the spot. To cut the long story short, by the time I reach the A&E department, my leg was beyond salvation with nerves all fully damaged. With a few fractured ribs bone, a fractured femur and a severed left leg, I was grateful that I survived the accident and have a chance to live again. 
I still recall the moment when my orthopaedic surgeon JK, told me that we have no other options but to amputate my leg. However, a prosthetic leg will be fitted, and normal activities can resume. Not fully understanding what it meant, I asked if it means I can still run again, thinking that I will come out from the surgery, a “bionic woman”. His confident response, was “Yes” without a doubt. With that, I was wheeled into the operating theatre to perform the surgery that was going to fix me up.

Cycling on a two-wheeler at Marina Bay!
Of course, when I woke up from the surgery, no “leg” was fitted. Where my leg should have been, it is now just an empty space. The sense of loss hit me profoundly. 19 days in the hospital, from initial care in the high dependency ward till recovery in the normal ward, and subsequently the discharge, I have to prep myself every waking moment with the new fact that I had lost one leg. For the rest of my life, I have to embrace myself for a life reliant on a prosthetic leg or a wheelchair/crutches in order to be independent and move again.

From a “young and mighty” youth who had newly found her economic power as she transit from a financially dependent student, to an independent career woman, suddenly, daily activities like going to the supermarket becomes a troublesome chore as I depended on my family, the caregivers, to bring me out on my wheelchair. Not only did I lose my leg, I lost my independence and freedom. Coping with the frustrating changes during the entire recovery process, I told myself, that I can’t continue living in this manner. I had only 2 choices; (1) To give up and continue to wallow in self-pity, misery and lament “Why Me?”, or (2) Choose to be courageous and make the best out of life. I decided that it is time to live. 
JK’s words on being able to run again had stuck with me. I can’t see how I am able to do that, especially when I had not even been fitted with my prostheses yet, but I trusted him and choose to believe that life will go back to norm.
Riding the ATV on her own at Gold Coast
Coping with a physical challenge, I have to learn how to walk with my prosthesis. Simple things that have been taken for granted, such as walking up and down the stairs and slops, different terrain such as level ground and uneven grounds like the grass field, are all no easy feat at all. Even simple steps that I was making with the prosthetic leg, I recall chanting “big step, small step, big step, small step” in order to pace myself normally while learning how to walk. 

The physical recovery, wounds and physical injuries, as well as learning how to walk all over again, was challenging, but can be managed. The real challenge comes from the emotional upheaval, commonly associated with peculiar stares from the strangers, focusing on my leg. Firstly the stare comes from trying to guess if the prostheses was real. Secondly, they tried to determine where the prostheses ends after confirming that it was a prostheses. Thirdly, they check out the person wearing the prostheses, usually with disbelief that that it belong to a young person. By the time they gazed towards my face, they will usually be met by my eyes equally staring at them with curiosity before they awkwardly turned away. 
Diving (!?!?) off Gold Coast. You go, girl!!!
It was not easy to accept the fact that I was no longer “normal” in the eyes of the “norm” when all this while I have been putting in my best effort just to look normal and be normal. And on bad days, I decided to let it affect me so much that I stop wearing berms. Regardless of where I go, I will always be covered from top to toe. But overtime, I realized that this wasn’t me at all. Especially in hot humid Singapore, long pants at all times of the day? It was simply ridiculous, and I decided to get out of the rut and focus on living.

The physical challenge had allowed me to experience a different life that I would have otherwise taken for granted. I have had my fair share of running and jumping around with both legs before the accident. And now I have the chance to live life with some challenges, and experience what other able-bodied person may not have understood. It allowed me to understand what living with courage really means.

It saddens me whenever I speak to amputees like myself who told me that I will never be able to walk on the beach again as the sand may spoil the prostheses, nor swim in the sea as it is just too dangerous with the buoyancy of the prostheses. I have got professionals telling me that my pursuit of normalcy is not important nor realistic. I have got all sorts of people in life telling me that giving up is an easier route. However, it is all in the mind, and all you need is that little courage to live, and to pursue things that matter to you.
Family support rocks!!! "My Supporting Crew" says Agnes!
11 years on, I still cannot run (though I now know that it would be possible as long as I am fitted with the right prosthesis). But recounting back, I have been able to do so much more than I could have ever imagined. Over the years, I have learnt how to cycle again, I have trekked up the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, concurring the almost 45degree slope, trekked up partially to Mount Kinabalu, with the support and help of family and friends.  I have snorkeled in Phuket, did an introductory dive in the Great Barrier Reef, and recently survived a Shark Cage Dive in the South Africa. Thanks to the many great people around who had been urging me on, I have found the courage to live life the way it should be.

Despite so many years on, there are still fears within me that I am trying to conquer. Society without fail, always tends to pick out things that are sub-normal. Gawking at anomaly, is certainly one of them. While it is human nature to stare, most have failed to be sensitive to the feelings of their living subject. It does not feel good at the receiving end of the stare. Sometimes, it would really be nice to be stared at, if the stare is being accompanied by a smile and/or a nod. No words needed, all it takes is a smile to cheer one on. In the past, I seek to find answers to the question “why me?”. In the present, I have stopped searching, and I ask instead “why not me?” 

Today, I pray for all who are inconvenienced in life, be it physically, emotionally, or mentally, to always stay strong. The tunnel in front may be long and dark, but be brave and keep the faith going as there will always be light at the end of every tunnel.  
Agnes (and her beautiful leg) with Prosthetist Mark Woolsey of Dorset Orthopaedic
Thank you, Agnes for guest posting on Tan Family Chronicles! 

Now, I know you guys would be curious about how Agnes' prostheses look like. Hence I have obtained her permission to share with you the above photos of one of her prostheses. This is a beautiful one which she actually flew to the UK to have it done. It truly is a work of art, don't you think? Kudos to her Prosthetist Mr Mark Woolsey and his team at Dorset Orthopaedic!

Previously an executive with MOM, Agnes has been a financial services manager in the financial advisory industry for the past 7 years. She had just joined her current company Professional Investment Advisory Services, embarking into financial literacy, helping people to understand and manage their finances.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Once Upon An EnchantInk Time

Isaac is enchanted by the Monsters Under the Bed
Over the recent March holidays this year, Isaac was invited for a creative writing camp called EnchantInk conducted by a company called Monsters Under The Bed. I must admit I liked the sound of the company the moment I heard it's name. Yes, I'm macabre that way. Anyway, EnchantInk, a three half days creative writing workshop for primary school kids, themed on fairy tales and folklore, seems pretty interesting in itself, and so I readily agreed to send Isaac, and obtained their permission to tag along.

You see that picture of Isaac above? That's how he looks for most of the camp. I only managed to get one decent shot, as the rest were blur coz he was moving so much, quaking with laughter most of the time. And do you know why? It's coz of these guys below! They're the guys from Monsters Under The Bed - the trainers at the camp! They are hilarious! The trainers gamely dressed up for all three days of the camp, and were vivacious, sporting, and on the whole very entertaining. Thus, they did very well to engage the children and hold their attention, even during the short segment where they went through a powerpoint slideshow going through how the original fairy tales weren't as sanitised and saccharine sweet as the current day Disney versions.
Introducing... The Wicked Witch (in black), The Leprechaun (green), Snow White & Rose Red (in their respective colours), The Genie (purple), Red Riding Hood, Little Mermaid, and the dunno what Donkey. Wait, or was it Unicorn?
The kids learnt about protagonists and antagonists and were basically schooled on how having a bad guy in the story spices things up and makes a story more engaging and interesting. The kids are broken up into small groups for discussions which are led by a trainer in each group. The trainer also guides them on their writing.

They were also taught how plan their story by writing out mind-mappish sort of thing like what Isaac did below. I thought this was a good thing to teach, as it can serve as a brainstorming exercise cum outline of the story that the kids would write. This was a useful tool to have - to learn how to sketch out a brief outline of the story.
Isaac's plan of his story that features Robotic Crows?!
Isaac was so inspired by his plan (above) and all that happened on Day 1, that after he reached home, he actually wrote out his entire story, on one A4 page, crammed tightly with words, with arrows going here and there. Sadly, I didn't take a proper picture of it then, and Isaac has somehow misplaced it towards the end of the camp, but you can see him referring to his essay in the picture below. 

The "Battle of the Royal Birds" below is an excerpt of his whole story, as the kids were instructed to extract a portion of their work to showcase on their "scroll" (paper stained with coffee, I'm told! ;p How innovative!)

Isaac has always been a voracious reader, and through conversations with him, we know he has a lively imagination. He is also amazingly very proficient in his spelling. However,  he doesn't seem to show an interest in writing. Perhaps because at school, his journal topics given to them are mostly factual and needed him to write about himself (favourite hobby, favourrite sandwich etc), rather than write fiction.

This workshop, however, seemed to have fueled him with an interest to write. I would never have thought he could write what he did below. It was an eye opener for me as well, to see what Isaac could be capable of.
An excerpt of Isaac's long essay. I estimate this to be only a quarter of what he wrote, at most!
 And Isaac wasn't the only one who could write either. The rest of the kids were equally enthusiastic in writing, and when I peeped around, quite a few had long essays like Isaac's. It is highly possible that the kids that were attending this creative writing camp all had a pre-existing interest in writing.However, having an interest is one thing, but to be able to motivate and get them to write WILLINGLY... is another thing!

On Day 2, the trainers even managed to get the kids to get up and put on an impromptu skit. It was based on known fairy tales. But it was Isaac's first time doing something like that so he was having a grand time indeed. I was so busy laughing and taking photos of his group's skit, that I don't think I paid any attention to the story line at all. 
Isaac's group skit of The Little Red Riding Hoods & The Two Wolves
 Thus, halfway through writing this post, I suddenly realised I couldn't remember what the skit was about. So I asked Isaac... and did a "I write, you write" below with him. Words in black written by me. Anything else is written by him :)

I Write, You Write ~ Mummy & Isaac
The kids were told to dress up as a fairy tale character on the third (final) day of the camp. It was quite a sight. Isaac was dressed up as a Wizard. He wore a wizard cape and used his silver lightsaber as his magic wand.

After the class, I did a written interview with him. I typed out some questions and he filled in the answers. I thought it would be a good way to obtain his opinions, verbatim. Yes, that's the chronicler in me speaking! :p
What an EnchantInk time we had with the Monsters Under The Bed!
Read what Isaac has to say about Monster's Under The Bed's EnchantInk creative writing camp!
As you can see from Isaac's responses, he had a smashing good time at EnchantInk in March. So much so, that when the Monster Under The Bed offered us a preferential rate for Isaac to attend their regular creative writing course called StoryCraft, and I asked Isaac if he wanted to attend - he immediately said "Yes!" For a split moment, I actually regretted it. Now, I would have to bring him down to National Design Centre (opposite the Central National Library) at 10am every Saturday morning. I could see that my Saturday mornings would no longer be "slow" and "relaxing". But since StoryCraft is recognised under the National Arts Council's Arts Elective Programme, and Monsters Under The Bed actually teach StoryCraft in some primary and secondary schools... It should be a pretty good programme and worth our time, right? Well I certainly hope so!

Well in any case, dear Monsters Under The Bed, Isaac thanks you for inviting and having him at EnchantInk and is hoping you'd invite him back for MonsterHuntInk in June this year, because he says your workshops "interest me and also because it is FUN FUN FUN!" :)
MonsterHunkInk poster from Monsters Under The Bed


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