Getting Older

Dear Xander,

You’ve always been a lot closer to your mother than to me. It is a perfectly reasonable bias, admittedly; she is much more better-looking than I am, for one. And she does treat you better than I do on most occasions.

I do envy your mother sometimes for the attention she receives from you. Perhaps it is because we spend so much time together, that I can’t help but use her as the superior parenting benchmark and wonder where I went wrong.

One evening when I was giving you a shower, you taught me where I went wrong.

I was just recovering from a gruelling bike training session the night before, and my body was still aching from the exercise. So when it came time to soap you, I let out a groan as I knelt down to your height and started lathering you up.

“Daddy, why you pain?”, you asked as I grimaced at the feeling of my aching thighs.

“Sigh. My body is not as nubile as it used to be. So after I exercise, I will feel pain when I kneel down. Daddy’s getting old already,” I said with a smile.

You froze, your eyes fixed on my face with a look of concern (despite not knowing what the word “nubile” means), and you maintained that stare despite the water and shampoo trickling down your face.

I returned the stare, albeit in confusion to your reaction. “What?” I asked you.

You contemplated my query for a second, then said in a measured tone, “Daddy… don’t die.”

“Huh?! Why do you think I’m going to die?” I asked.

“Because you say you old already. I don’t want you to die,” you replied. The concerned look never left your face the entire time.

I laughed. “Don’t worry. Daddy’s gonna be around for a long time.”

That one moment we shared – just between you and me – was a profound one. That moment, I learned I was important to you too. And i was competing against no one; you only have the one dad.

And I’m gonna be around for a long time.

Love,

Dad

Mornings

Dear Xander,

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This has been part of our morning routine of late: a 2-stop bus ride from the MRT station to your school.

You might not realise it because I always look like I’m distracted by other things when we travel in the mornings, but I do look at you almost all the time, quietly walking with me, trying to keep up behind me, sitting with me on the train or the bus, and sometimes, resting your still-tired self on me.

You make me feel like a dad.

And then there are these moments, when you try to learn about the world around you, taking in the surroundings as they fly by with your eyes as big as you can muster.

You might not notice it, but your innocence infects me, and makes me wonder why I can’t be as accepting of the world as you are right now.

You make me feel like I should be better than who I am now.

When we finally reach your school, before we say goodbye, you’d wipe your mouth thoroughly with your sleeve before puckering up your lips to give me my goodbye kiss. I wrap my arms around you and give you the biggest, tightest hug I can muster. And then we say goodbye for the morning.

You might not know it, but every morning, I give you that hug becauseĀ  when we part ways every morning, it feels like a piece of me is being ripped out of me, and I don’t want to let it go.

I feel like my day has already ended before it has begun.

These mornings are getting fewer, because you’re growing up. You might not realise it, but I cherish every single one of these mornings with you. Every. Single. One.

Because you make me feel like you’ve given me a purpose to live.

Love,

Dad

TimSam

Dear Xander,

TimSam

This is TimSam. TimSam is a grasshopper, and probably the largest one your mother and I have seen live (about 4-5 inches long; we didn’t think to get a ruler to measure him at the time).

TimSam landed on your godma’s car one afternoon, and someone thought it would be a good idea to catch the big guy, put it in a plastic box, and give it to your mother to bring home to you.

I disagreed. But by then it was already en route to our home. So TimSam became your pet… for a good 24 hours.

It wasn’t a smooth introduction, though. For the first 3 minutes upon meeting the gigantic grasshopper, you freaked out. “But I wanted a cat!” you said.

Then another 20 minutes later, you decided maybe we should keep it.

I still disagreed. But in the spirit of good fathering, I said, “Well, if you want to keep it as your pet, you should name it.

“How about Tim?” you asked.

“Sure,” I said. And then when your mother came out of the shower, I instructed you to let her know the name of your new pet.

“What’s its name?” your mother asked.

“Sam,” you said.

“But you said it was Tim!” I protested.

“Oh. Then TimSam lor,” you replied. Then you went to bed.

The next evening, your mother and I talked about letting TimSam go free. It was a huge bugger, and we imagine it must be getting on in grasshopper years. Being used to living in the wild so long, it just seemed wrong to keep it caged up, much less name it after a mis-spelling of steamed Cantonese cuisine. So when we got home, I said to you, “Xander, TimSam wants to go home.”

“Home? He’s at home what,” you said.

I explained, “TimSam’s home is outside in the grass; we don’t have any grass at home. If we keep TimSam here, he won’t survive. Besides, you too scared of him to hold him anyway, right?”

“But I love TimSam leh…” you protested.

“This is what we can do; we can bring TimSam downstairs into the garden, and he can live there. TimSam will be living just downstairs our block. How’s that?”

You gave it some thought, then said with slight disappointment, “Okaaay.”

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And so we brought him downstairs. The entire time I was struggling with removing the masking tape that sealed TimSam’s box, you were clutching tightly to the back of my t-shirt, peering over my shoulder as if TimSam would jump out at any time and attack your face.

And TimSam was eager to come out. Upon realising we were opening the box, he banged against the walls of the box so hard it felt like there was a much bigger animal in there. But when the lid was finally opened, I saw TimSam slowly climb out on the edge of the box, then turn to look at me for a good five seconds, before turning around to fly into the adjacent bushes. TimSam was safe, and free.

As we walked away, you repeated, “But I still love TimSam leh.”

“Well, you can always come downstairs and visit him,” I said. I am quite optimistic that way. “Say goodbye to TimSam.”

You half turned and waved half-heartedly into the bushes. “Bye bye, TimSam.”

Just before we reached the lift landing, you said, “But I wanted a cat leh.”

Perplexed,

Dad

Lessons Learnt From a Stubbed Toe

Dear Xander,

If change is the only constant in life, then the human capacity for learning is the one constant that will not only reinforce change, but allow us to embrace it. And the lessons we can learn can stem from the simplest and least expected situations.

When you managed to stub your toe last Tuesday, your experience created not one but three lessons, learnt by not one but three different individuals.

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It happened at your grandmother’s house, after school and just before I came to pick you up. You were bawling — hard — in front of your dinner bowl by the time I arrived, and your grandmother felt absolutely helpless (even though you were shoveling rice into your mouth in between sobs; I guess nothing can stop you when you’re hungry, even a stubbed toe.

“I don’t know how to pacify him,” your grandmother said helplessly.

“Let me see,” I replied, and sat down in front of you. When you saw me, you howled harder than before.

“Okay, Xan. Let me see where you’re hurt.” You stuck your left foot into my face. There was blood, so that pretty much voided your mother’s standard “no blood, no problem” response.

“He was jumping on and off the steps and stubbed his toe on his last landing,” your grandmother said to me in Hokkien. I nodded.

“Does it hurt?” I asked you.

“(Sob) Yes… (sob, sob),” you said.

“I see. Don’t worry, Daddy will fix it right up.” You continued to cry, so I continued, “Xan, when you were jumping up and down before you hurt yourself, do you remember if you were having fun?”

Your crying went down a notch as you contemplated the question over the pain you were experiencing. Then you nodded, “Yes (sob).”

“Okay, do you remember if you were happy?” I asked.

You replied, “Yes.” And you stopped crying, almost instantaneously.

“Good. That’s really what matters, isn’t it? That you had fun, and more importantly, that you were happy,” I said. You continued with your dinner, this time with no more tears marinating your rice.

Your grandmother, who didn’t understand English, was absolutely amazed. “What did you say to him?” she asked. I told her I got you to remember he was happy, so he’d forget to be sad.

Your grandmother learnt something that day.

***

As we drove home, I asked if you still wanted to ride your scooter (that was in the boot of the car), considering the pain from your stubbed toe.

You thought for a moment. “Mmm… yes. My toe is not so pain any more.”

“You sure?” I asked.

“Yes. It’s not painful any more,” you chirped.

“Okay.” I wasn’t sure you’d be able to, but I wanted to see how you were going to pull it off.

I parked the car, and offloaded the scooter. Then you mounted and started pushing off with your injured foot — slowly, and with a look of hopeful concentration on your face. I knew then that you took my words to heart, that as long as you were happy and having fun, you won’t let any pain stop you.

I saw that you learnt something that day.

***

As you slowly rolled yourself closer to our lift lobby, you dismounted and started pushing your scooter. “That’s enough for now,” you said to no one in particular. I could tell you were making an effort not to emphasise that you were injured, because you were visibly trying to walk as normally as possible, albeit a lot slower than you normally would, and with a very slight limp.

Looking back on last Tuesday, I realised it only took a stubbed toe, a few words and the joy you found in riding your scooter for you to understand something I’ve taken my whole life to try and understand — to never let pain get in the way of your happiness, and always be happy such that you feel no pain.

I learnt something that day.

With happiness,

Dad

The Star

Dear Xander,

Last Saturday, at a birthday party hosted by Mummymoo for her 2-year-old son, you managed to score a big bunch of helium balloons, 5 normal coloured balloons topped with a gold star-shaped balloon.

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You always had a love for balloons of any sort, but that evening you were particularly infatuated with the gold star balloon in that bunch. But after the party, as we were driving, I noticed the star balloon was losing its volume slightly faster than what one would usually expect from such balloons, so I said to you, “Your balloon’s losing gas. You know what would e a good idea? If we let it go while it’s still floaty.”

“Why?” you asked, not quite understanding the concept of a helium balloon losing gas and hence its ability to float. So I changed tactic.

“Because stars belong in the sky.”

“Okay,” you said. “I want to let go of the balloon.” Your mother, who was sitting next to you in the car, was surprised when you said that; you have never ever volunteered to give up a balloon before.

We decided to stop over at Raffles City for some coffee before making our way home, an it was there that we found a suitable clearing where your star balloon was able to float up into the sky without obstruction.

As you prepared to let go, I said to you, “Now, you got to make a wish on the star before you let it go. Tell the star what you want and after it reaches the sky, it will get you what you want and make your wish come true.”

“Okay,” you said. You brought the star balloon right down to your face level, and said right into it, “Star, star. I want you to float up into the sky and make the Earth happy, so it won’t be sick any more.”

Your mother and I both paused in bewilderment upon hearing what you wished for. Then you turned to me and asked, “Can I let it go now?”

I nodded. And you let go.

Letting Go

About 30 seconds later, you were bawling your eyes out, saying you wanted it back.

Regretfully,

Dad

***

Dear Star,

You better bloody do what you’re told.

Xander’s Father

Year One: Xander Writes Back

Xander celebrated his fourth birthday today (and yesterday, and last Friday too, as 4-year-old kids usually do with their various social circles), and Dear Xander the blog celebrates its 1st year anniversary as well. As we wind down for bed tonight during this holiday season, Xander has asked to write a letter to me.

A letter. To me. And up to this point, he has no idea this blog exists.

So here is his letter, dictated to his dear old dad (who sneakily logged in here to transcribe his words), addressed to both his mother and I, completely ad verbatim.

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Dear Daddy, and Dear Mummy,

I love you daddy. Because I love you so much. Do not go outer space. And don’t take pictures of the animals in the farm. Don’t go exploring in Wonderland (where we saw all the animals).

You can decorate the Christmas tree but it’s already decorate. Don’t decorate the Christmas tree any more.

It’s my birthday today. Don’t make another birthday cake for me, because I’m going K1 next year. So fast.

Don’t go to Wonderland. And don’t take the train to our house. Don’t go to Mummy’s office, and don’t go to your office, because I’ll miss you.

I miss you.

Thank you,

Xander

To all our well-wishers on Facebook and beyond, he’s been a wonderfully good boy for Santa, and he’s had a great birthday celebration (that isn’t over yet!).

And from Xander, Mother of Xander and The Blogfather, we wish you all happy holidays.

Talking To Strangers

Dear Xander,

As a by-product of teaching you it’s okay to talk to strangers, you have become a very social little boy. It’s always a joy for your dad to bring you through public transport, because I never know what to expect from you.

Just last Friday night, you managed to put smiles on 2 whole busloads of people with your chirpiness and social smarts. And it all started when you were offered an empty seat next to an Indian auntie. The ensuing conversation you had was nothing short of jaw-dropping for your father, who could do nothing else but stare with an awkward smile the entire time.

You: (crawling up the seat) “Thank you!”
Auntie: (surprised) “Oh! You’re welcome!”
You: “Hello! How are you?”
Auntie: (doubling back with a smile) “My, you’re such a bright child! What’s your name?”
You: “My name is Xander!”
Auntie: “And how old are you?”
You: “I am 4! No, no,… I mean, I am almost 4!”

At about this time, my jaw was already half dropped. I was not expecting you to carry a full conversation with me, much less a stranger. Auntie continued the gleeful conversation.

Auntie: “And which school are you from?”
You: (with a bright toothy smile) “I am from XX Preschool!”
Auntie: (getting up) “Oh, auntie has to get off now. Goodbye Xander!”
You: “Bye bye!”

Auntie reaches the exit door.

You: (louder) “Good night!”
Auntie: “Good night!”

Auntie starts walking off the bus.

You: (even louder) “Take care!”
Auntie: (stops for a second to turn back with a gigantic smile) “Oh, you too!”

By this time, about half the bus has noticed you. The ones who were on their phones looked up. The ones who were observing just had these big wide grins as they looked at you.

But it didn’t end there. Soon you were talking to another passenger, a younger Indian woman, standing in front of you.

You: “Hello!”
Woman: “Hello! Where are you going?”
You: “I am going to my grandma house!”
Woman: “Oh! That’s nice! What’s your name?”
You: “My name is Xander!”
Woman: “Oh, Xander is it? That’s a nice name!”
You: “What’s your name?”

In my head I was thinking, “Who is this boy?”

Woman: “Oh, haha. My name is Pinky.”
You: *giggling* “Heeheehee! Pinky?”
Woman: “Yes. Why you never say it’s a nice name also?”

I decided to play along.
Me: “Ya, you have to answer the question. Is it a nice name?”
You: (to me) “Okay.” (to Pinky) “Is it a nice name?”

The conversation went on for a number of stops, ranging from jungles in India to braving the sights of lions and tigers and you never having gone to the zoo. Finally, Pinky reached her stop, and then you exchanged goodbyes the exact same way you did with the Auntie from before.

By this time, the entire bus was awash with a quiet brightness from having heard your louder than usual voice conversing about lions and tigers in India. It happened again when we transferred to a feeder bus when you decided to engage yet another random passenger, this time an elderly Chinese lady, with your bright smile and by-now signature loud almost-4-year-old voice, “Hello, Grandma!”

Your mother and I now need to figure out how to teach you political correctness.

Love,

Your very impressed Dad

The Fight

Dear Xander,

So we sort of had a fight, you and I. As father and son, these things happen. In the history of you and I, these things usually happen. But I’m noting this one down as unique because of how this ended, and because you’re only 3 3/4 years old now, I want to make sure you know what happened.

We had just gotten off the bus near your grandma’s house when you saw a food stall. I knew you were hungry because you hadn’t had dinner yet, but I also knew your grandma usually cooks for an army when she hears you, your mother and I were coming over, so I told you, “No. Grandma cooked for you already, so we need to have dinner there. You can’t snack before.”

Naturally you started throwing a tantrum. You got angry with me for insisting, you shouted at me, you even hit me with your right fist. And I have taught you before, if you beat anyone, you must expect to be beaten back. Your father is no exception.

I understood that public displays of parental discipline tends to attract unwanted attention, particularly in an old HDB estate with a number of feisty elderly residents, so I removed ourselves from the bus stop into a quieter corner and proceeded to “time-out” corner you. Your mother was not around at the time, so I took the opportunity to see if I could resolve this situation with you by myself, where previously she would have stepped in to reason with you.

You were stubborn, as expected. As you stood there, I tried to reason with you, but as a man, I know I don’t tend to go soft and my voice was coming across as stern chiding more than compromising. Your anger got worse, and you hit me again a couple more times before I took your right hand and slapped it.

Of course, you cried. Loud. Then you said the words any three-year-old boy would say to unintentionally break the heart of any parent.

“I don’t like you any more! I want you to go away!”

Of course, it wasn’t the first time I heard it, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t mind it. I replied, “Fine. Let’s go find mummy now and I’ll just leave you with her for the night so you don’t have to see me. Will you be happy then?”

You didn’t answer. I started packing up the bags we had so we could set off to grandma’s house.

Then you bolted. And you were heading towards the main road.

I dropped everything and went after you. Times like this make me very glad you’re only three, because my legs were much longer than yours. I caught you by the arms and swept you back into the same place we were before. Then I looked you in the eyes and said some things that almost immediately turned the tables on our disagreement.

“Don’t you ever run away from me like that. Look at where you are. We’re right next to the main road. Look at all the cars. What’s going to happen if one hits you? I don’t care if you’re angry with me, or I’m angry with you, I will protect you. As long as Daddy lives, if you run away from me like that, I will catch you, because as long as I live, I will do everything I can to make sure you do not get hurt, do you understand? Even if you’re angry with me, or if I’m angry with you, I will still love you. Even if you beat me, I will still love you. Even if you say you don’t like me any more, I will still love you. Do you understand?”

You remained silent. But you were no longer angry. Your eyes softened as you looked at me, and I knew you understood every single word I said.

I started picking up the bags again, and this time you didn’t run; you just continued to stand there, looking at me. When I was ready, I turned to you and asked, “So? What do you want to do now?”

You took a step closer to me and said, “I want bao-bao.”

With one laptop bag slung to my side, and your 2 schoolbags on each arm, I lifted you up on my chest and you clung on me like a koala bear. And we Walked the rest of the way to grandma’s house.

Now I know you understand parental love.

Dad

The Family Vacation

Note: I understand Nuffnang sent out an e-mail inviting bloggers to First World Genting in July. I’d just like to clarify that this isn’t a participating blog post. We went on this trip before Nuffnang sent out its notification, so this isn’t a tie-in/advertorial/sponsored post (mainly because I didn’t think very much of the place, unfortunately).

Dear Xander,

I’m writing this at 3am, at the lobby of the First World Hotel in Genting Highlands.

The 3-star hotel, together with its theme park, shopping mall and just about every amenity it holds in its autumn-temperature environ, is truly a step back in time – the whole place looks and feels like a not-very-maintained 70’s bourgeois retail complex 40 years past its prime yet still stubbornly hanging on to its vintage grandeur.

Your mother and I, as well as the rest of your mother’s family that are 20 years of age and above, are barely surviving with our sanity intact, having to make sure that the parts of our family that are aged 20 and below are having the time of their lives this school holidays.

You and your cousins have hopefully had the times of your lives this school holidays, though it is evident that through your sore lack of sleep amidst all the fun activities, screaming bouts with each other and crying fits to go home that things aren’t quite as rosy as we would hope.

Experienced parents of pre-schoolers will know and understand that family vacations are as great a gamble as the entertainment that the casinos in this grand dame of a resort offers; we walk into the whole thing hoping for the best, despite understanding the odds, and often don’t quite get the results we expect. Sometimes we win something, sometimes we just get more grief out of trying, but always leave with a little more experience in the pockets we burn in the process.

But the same experienced parents will also have accepted that from the day their first child is born, the word “vacation” will never be the same again. Your mother and I made the commitment that you are now the reason we do what we do and live how we live. We put our own time, endeavours, and lives into ensuring you learn, experience and live in the safest, most enriching and most enjoyable childhood that we can humanly provide. Parenthood for us is knowing, accepting and acting upon the reality that you are the future. You are our future.

Your dad is not a gambler of money; I have never put my finances on any form of high-risk investment game, not even 4D or Toto. But I do gamble with my parenting methods when it comes to being your father, because it teaches me much more about how being your dad works than I teach you how the world works. And unlike the consistency of odds in any casino game, the odds I get better at being your dad get better and better at every single turn.

I’ve walked through every inch of the casino here at First World Genting, and I never once saw a single smiling face. but just coming back to our hotel room and seeing your face makes me smile, as does every other moment spent with you. You’re the biggest gamble I’ve ever taken in my life, and the payout’s been bigger than any jackpot prize any machine in any casino anywhere. Better still, this payout will last your mother and I a lifetime; we just have to keep doing what we do best.

Love you.

Dad

And Justice For Dad

Dear Xander,

Your mother was invited to a mommy blogger gathering which I was allowed to tag along, if anything, to keep an eye on you while your mother mingled with the other mommies.

It was decided that we would meet up at Fusionopolis, where a new indoor playground called Happy Willow opened 6 weeks ago. I was heartened to find that adults were allowed into the playground which boasted a large ball-pit, to ensure the safety of their playing children. In my head, this effectively meant I was paying $18 for your entry, and I got to play for free, and when your father is pushing 35 years of age and he’s told he can go into a ball-pit, he isn’t going to waste any time.

20120502-011303.jpgAs we entered, the ball-pit was filled with kids of various ages, doing target practice on a couple of hapless domestic helpers. Being a former kid with experience in ball pits of varying sizes, I knew some of these kids might play rough, so a little way into the ball-pelting, I had the idea of drawing the kids’ attacks on me so you wouldn’t really be harmed during the play.

The last time I played so hard in a pool of plastic balls, I was 12 years old.

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K (Catch Forty Winks), Isaac (Tan Family Chronicles) and Xander going all Hunger Games on a poor maid.

And those kids were rough. They dished out everything they could on me; from ball pelting to shirt and limb tugging, and at one point they even orchestrated a 6-kid pile-up on top of me to keep me from getting up when I was fell flat in the ball-pit from trying to get away from everyone. It was a riot, and you had fun following the crowd, attacking daddy in good fun.

But then it got rougher. In the midst of playing, 3 of the larger boys got carried away and decided to corner me, then started hitting me on the head with their hands, kicking me and even grabbing at me and scratching me.

While I was shielding myself from the over-enthusiastic onslaught, I managed to see you suddenly position yourself between me and the boys, arms raised and hands open wide, shouting, “Stop! No more beating! Cannot beat!”

There was a little pause, and I placed my hand on your shoulder. You turned around and I could see the brave, determined look on your face, accentuated by your furrowed brow and angry 3-year-old pout. There was also a hint of fear in your eyes; I realized then that you were instigating a stand-off with the boys, in an effort to protect me.

I said, “Don’t worry, Xan. Daddy’s okay. You want to help Daddy chase away the boys? Grab some balls.”

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This was before you decided to switch allegiance.

And you did (just the plastic ones, though, thank goodness). You threw those balls at the boys as fast and heavy as your body allowed, and together, we managed to force the boys further from us.

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Eventually, we won the battle, together. The boys scampered off to seek shelter from the shower of blue balls that you and I blasted on them, and every time they creeped towards us, we’d make sure they didn’t get close enough to get physical with Daddy again. Your mother had to call a timeout – on me – when she couldn’t decide if I was capable of taking care of myself, much less you, and the battle of the balls was called off after about an hour.

It’s times like this – when you gave me a chance to relive my childhood in a ball-pit – that make me so glad I am taking every opportunity I can to spend time with you.

It’s times like this – when you stood up to protect me, when you stood up for what was right, and when you stood up for justice – make me feel your mother and I must be doing something right.

It’s times like this – when you fought alongside me through the rest of that fun-filled evening – that make me so proud to be your father.

Love,

Dad

This story being the product of a Singapore Mommy Bloggers FB group event, I’d like to thank Susan of A Juggling Mom with her husband and daughter Sophie, for organizing this meet-up and inviting my wife. Also, a shoutout to the following mommy bloggers I’ve had the privilege of meeting:

  • Pamela of Tan Family Chronicles with her smiling husband and 3 beautiful children, Isaac, Asher and Shawna;
  • Regina of Mummy Moo and BabyMoo (special thanks to Mr Moo for helping me find my lost iPhone in the ball-pit after the fracas);
  • Rachel of Catch Forty Winks, who came with her bright son K and her husband; and
  • Joce of sliceofadventure together with her husband and kids E and C.

Not to mention Jesse, Marcus and Shane (if I got all your names correctly), the 3 boys who inadvertently made my son a hero in my eyes.

If I missed out anyone, sorry. I blame the boys in the ball-pit.