One Night at Grandma’s (Part 1)

Dear Xander,

Your relationship with your cousin Andre is at best a tumultuous one. There are days when the both of you will laugh and play like best friends, and then things can suddenly turn ugly, when Andre refuses to play with you or share his toys, or you decide to do the same.

Andre is about a year older than you, and communicates in spoken English at a level we feel is well beyond his age. He lives mainly with Grandma, which is also where you and Andre get to interact on a weekly basis. One thing that Andre hasn’t quite got the hang of is playing well with others over an extended period of time, being an only child, much like you. More importantly, he sees you as a competitor for the otherwise unadulterated affection and attention he usually enjoys from his mother (your mother’s sister) and Grandma; a sibling rivalry between two children who aren’t siblings in the traditional sense.

Which is why you surprised everyone in Grandma’s house last Friday night.

The night had expectedly come to the point where Andre was beginning to irritate you by not playing with you, and snatching toys away from you. You got fed up, and tried pretending to sleep on the sofa with a grumpy pout for a while (your mother and I have never seen you do that before), before walking over to seek consolation from your mother.

Andre was with his own mother in the middle of the living room reinforcing the fact that he “doesn’t want to play with Xander”, and “doesn’t want to share”, when you turned to him and suddenly said, “I want Andre to come play at my house.”

Your mother and her sister started looking at you in bewilderment. Your mother then tried to confirm, “You want Andre to come play at our house? With your toys?”

You said, “Yes. I want to share my toys with Andre.”

Andre was stunned; he sat in the middle of the living room, mouth open, not knowing how to react. On your behalf, I further extended the invitation, reasoning with Andre that it would only be fair that he come to Xander’s house to play with your toys as often as you come to play with his. Through the turn of events, we could see he wasn’t able to reconcile your offer with his intentional bad behaviour towards you, though; he declined the offer, then hid in a corner, apparently in shame.

Andre’s mother puts the incident down to a heartwarming generosity unexpected of a 3-year-old. I likened it more to an equally unexpected play of reverse psychology. Either way, you stunned everyone in the living room, and your parents were immensely proud of your big-heartedness/the most impressive psychological counter-manoeuver I have ever witnessed by a 3-year-old.

This would usually be the point where I would sum up the lesson to be learnt, a moral of the story, so to speak.

Except that this story hasn’t ended, and the lesson had yet to begin.

To be continued.

Thunder Is Afraid of You

Dear Xander,

The recent spate of heavy lightning storms – in particular, the sound of thunder – had you spooked.

Uncle Mark’s sister, Felicia, tried to explain to you that thunder occurs because “the clouds in the sky are having a traffic jam”, and the rain banging into each other makes a fair bit of noise. I added that the motor insurance agents also add to the noise as a result.

We understand that at your age, your sense of hearing may be a lot more sensitive than us old fogies, and the low rumblings of nature clearing its bladder may be playing on your sense of securities.

Nonetheless, it became an opportunity for your parents to learn about raising your confidence.

One Saturday afternoon, in calmer weather, I taught you what you should do when you hear thunder.

Me: Are you scared of thunder?
You: Yes.
Do you know what you should do so you are not scared of thunder? Everytime you hear the thunder, you must raise your finger to the sky and say “Thunder! I am not afraid of you!” Then the thunder will go away.
You: Okay.
Me: Okay, try it. Say it.
You: Thunder. I not afray o’ you.
Me: With conviction!
You: (raises finger to the sky, with a smile) Thunder! I am NOT AFRAID OF YOU!”

The following Sunday afternoon, the skies grew heavy and as we were headed out to dinner, it started to pour. Your mother and I started to get worried as we made our way to the car, but surprisingly, as you walked a few steps ahead of me, you turned and flashed us a smile, saying, “I not afraid of the thunder now.”

These are the moments that make me proud to be your father.



What Society Wants (Updated)

Update 1: I received a text from my wife, having enquired with the teacher about the assessment book. The text reads:

“Teacher say no need to filll in. Read can ler.”

“The written work is for K1.”


The anxiety continues…

Update 2: We’ve pretty much pinned down the issue to a communication breakdown with the school (which, unfortunately, is quite common with this school). I guess this will serve as more conversation fodder at our next parent-teacher meeting.

Dear Xander,

We found out that your school was putting textbooks and assessment books into your school bag for us parents to guide you through your homework. Over the weekend, your mother decided to give it a go with you.

Homework for a 3-year-old. Wait, it gets much worse.

After a failed attempt at getting you to take a nap at 4pm on a Sunday, your mother then proceeded to dig out all your school material and started flipping through your school material, consisting of 2 Chinese textbooks, a Chinese workbook, asp spoken word audio CD accompanying the workbook (in the voice of your school principal and her daughter, no less) and what I can only assume is a parent’s/teacher’s instruction manual of how to go through the lessons.

The workbook was what started the evening’s disaster. It was a book of Chinese idioms, with one page listing 8 idioms, and the flipside of the page with the same idioms but with words missing for you to fill in the blanks. Never mind that your mother and I didn’t know the meaning of half the idioms listed, even though the audio CD took care of the reading for us. As time wore on, your mother got increasingly frustrated when she realised you weren’t recognising and reading the words in the textbook; you were reciting from memory the contents of the audio CD that must have been played and replayed over during your classes.

Your mother tried getting you to write the Chinese characters on a blank piece of paper, without much success. Sensing something was up, she asked you to write your name in English; you went as far as X and A before finally exhibiting what you were only capable of writing at 39 months of age – crooked lines. Your mother started wondering what you’ve been taught in school since you enrolled back when you were 18 months old. Then she started getting angry, then anxious, then worried.

She started to cry.

You realised what was happening, and went up to hug her. you took some tissue nearby to wipe off your mother’s tears, and then started stroking your mother as you would always do whenever you think she’s sad. You started crying as well, and in between breaths, you said to your mother, “Mummy, don’t cry.” confused and not knowing what else to say, your mother replied, “But you’re not writing your words.” And then she cried even harder.

In a bid to soothe your mother’s emotions, you immediately reached out for the workbook, picked up your pencil, and filled in every blank on the page. The result of your tense, urgent need to finish your homework under pressure was this:

I had gone out to get dinner for the family during the entire time. When I reached home, I saw your teary-eyed mother on the sofa looking defeated, and you sitting next to her, watching television. She told me what happened, and I, too, started wondering what the school was trying to achieve, and how they were expecting you to deal with such an advanced level of learning.

Later in the night, I read about children’s milestones between 36-48 months whilst perusing through the Internet. Most of the web articles I read seem to hold the same agreement: that children will only start learning to write at 5 years of age. Your father then understood why many of his friends decided to migrate with their children.

I didn’t intend to write a follow up to my last letter to you, but as a relatively new parent, the overly advanced, competitive nature of the local education system has only now begun to slap me – and your mother – in the face. I always wondered why I never felt I had an enjoyable childhood; and if it was a lot simpler back then, I dread to wonder what the future holds for you here.

What our society expects from its children quite honestly does not sit very well with me.



You Are Your Father’s Son

Dear Xander,

Based on feedback garnered from the readers of this blog (in other words, your mother), I shall keep my letters to you shorter and sharper.

Your mother also has some opinion of your character development. Besides some of the other characteristics and behaviour you exhibit that take after me, she has noticed in recent months that both you and your father (me) seem to get into trouble with your mother at around the same time; she finds herself scolding you about something, and then scolding ME about 2 or 3 minutes later, for an unconnected yet related incident.

For example:

Your mother (to you): “XANDER TAY! Why did you throw your dirty clothes at mummy’s face?!”

(3 minutes later)

Your mother (to me): “Oi! Why are your clothes on the floor and not in the laundry basket?!”

(Your mother has dispensed with calling me by name some time ago, but bear in mind, you aren’t allowed to call any of us “Oi”.)

That being said, your mother and I are now very glad that we can have much more intelligible conversations with you over the dinner table, a phenomenon that developed just as you turned 3, but the one chain of Q and A you learned from your Auntie Susie (my 2nd sister) that will always melt our hearts (extended family included) has always been this:

Your mother: “Do you love mummy?”
You: “I love you.”
Your mother; “How much?”
You: “Forever.”

We are going to hold you to that promise, kid.



The History of Your Name

Dear Xander,

I Not Monkey Tay!

Just before you turned 3, your parents had a tendency to compare your disobedient, uncooperative self to the behaviour of a monkey. Your mother, in particular, would ask you if your name was Monkey Tay (among other personality disorders evidenced in the audio recording above) instead of Xander Tay whenever you misbehaved, to which your response would always be an angry “NO, I AM NOT MONKEY. I AM XANDER!” (I should, at this point, extend my apologies to our primate cousins for such a discriminatory remark, in case one day scientific progress allows the events documented in the various Planet of the Apes to become reality, and a monkey should inadvertently chance upon this blog post and take offence.)

It got me to thinking we probably did right by choosing this name for you since you like it so much as to happily (or, in this case, angrily) take full ownership of it. Your dad never felt the same way about his own name for a long time (particularly my Chinese name, because it sounds like a girl’s name, and many times in my youth friends used it to indicate I was “full and round”). So in the hopes of giving you a much better idea of how we chose your name (both English and Chinese), I hereby present you with The History of Your Name.

We didn’t actually firm up the decision on your name until maybe half a day after you were born, but we did come up with some ideas which I documented in my own blog. Your name is taken from not 1, but 2 fictional characters of the time:

  • Xander Harris from the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer circa 1997-2003
  • Xander Cage from the movie xXx circa 2002

The Buffy character was my favourite from the series, for his quick wit and dry humour. He was also very resilient and able to overcome much diversity such as surviving numerous vampire fights, living with a demon girlfriend and not getting into college (that last one I’m hoping you don’t follow in your namesake’s footsteps).

Xander Cage was played by Vin Diesel, your mother’s all-time favourite musclebound hairless actor with the sexy deep voice. I’m planning on putting up the movie banner in your room to commemorate this fact.

We also chose the initial “X” because it is believed to be the most marketable letter of our time. Notable examples include, the X-men, Xena: Warrior Princess, Windows XP and more recently, The X-Factor.

It was your Chinese name that gave us a bit of a problem. We finally settled on giving you a single-character name, and initially we were going to go for “义”, transliterated as “justice” (not to mention it’s got an X in it), but just to be sure, we sought the professional advice of former local Mandarin pop singer turned frozen dim sum distributor Ken Tay (郑展伦; look it up). The entire process – done over SMS – went something like:

Me: “Hi Ken, would like some advice on choosing my kid’s Chinese name. Is ‘义’ okay?”

Ken: “A single character name?”

Me: “Yep.”

Ken: “Too literal, how about ‘宇’ (yu: universe)?”

Me: “Cool, thanks.”

And thus, your Chinese name was officially endorsed by an 90’s celebrity.

Your aunt, my 3rd sister, who also thought of using 宇 before Ken came along, said we could play around with your dialect name and name you after a video game console; hence, Tay Wii. Unfortunately, we couldn’t reach Nintendo for a sponsorship agreement on that decision.

And that, my boy, is the story of your name; the culmination of 4 uber-famous entities centered around the marketability of a single alphabetical character.

Love, Dad

Auld Lang Syne 2012

Dear Xander,

There’s a whole lot of things you’ve said and done in the three years of your life that we wish we could continue hanging on to. For example, we attempted to make a plaster mould of your foot to remember how tiny you were at 3 months old, but you refused to co-operate for 6 months. We did, however, succeed in using a picture of your 3-month-old sleeping self to recreate an Ip Man movie poster with your name on it, copies of which now hang proudly in our and your respective grandparents’ households.

In fact, part of the reason why you have this blog is so we can document some of these things for remembrance. It’s quite amazing what a 3-year-old can say and do, and many times your mum and I are left wondering where you learnt all of it from. For instance:-

1. When you yawn, your mum and I cannot help but smile, not just because it’s one of the cutest things we get to see on a regular basis, but also because it means half an hour after you do, we finally get to have a few hours of peace.

2. Since you were 3 months old, you have almost always managed to sleep through the night, something your mum and I are told is rare and should should be considered a blessed gift from the heavens, though never to be taken for granted.

3. You have days where you actually volunteer to go to bed.

4. The days that you don’t volunteer, we enlist the help of a hypothetical Mr Thunder to scare you into submission.

5. Back in your old daycare centre at Guillemard – before you turned 2 – you managed to score 3 girlfriends in the span of 5 months, and 2 of them were actually pretty (the 3rd we suspect was trying to force herself on you).

I cannot explain why, but this photo always makes my hair stand.

6. In your current daycare centre, you have 1 girlfriend, although your mum and I suspect that this relationship is also not your idea.

7. You either really liked CSI, Criminal Minds and Cold Case, or you didn’t have a choice because you were 6 months old and were not emotionally or linguistically equipped to protest.

8. You inherited your mother’s patience (none) and my speech habits (loud). You also have a violent streak of which we have yet to determine the source.

9. You never liked eating candy; you liked asking for them, but they wouldn’t stay in your mouth very long. Your liking for chocolate was a rather recent development, though.

10. You have a penchant for secondary underdog characters in movies and television shows (albeit strongly developed ones); your favourite Care Bears are Grumpy and Oopsie, your favorite Cars character is Mater the Tow Truck, in Monsters Inc. it was Mike the one-eyed green thing (I agree; Billy Crystal stole the show), and you named your stuffed Ikea labrador Pluto. On hindsight, you may have subliminally understood that you were named after a secondary character from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (we’ll elaborate on that later).

11. When you were 2, you took ownership of the vampire teddy bear your mother bought from a Godiva store in Belgium, and haven’t returned it since.

12. When things don’t go your way, you disavow all like or love for anyone that stand in your way, including your parents. This usually works for you when you’re dealing with your grandparents, but your mum and I never gave you a choice in the matter anyway.

13. Your reply to any “why” question was always “Because” followed by repeating the context of the same question, i.e. “Why you don’t like Daddy?” “Because I don’t like Daddy.”

14. You actually like Teresa Teng songs. For that matter, anything Chinese you see (lion dances, red lanterns, Buddhist temples and pagodas) gets you excited; we would call you a true-blue Chinese boy.

I will endeavor to consolidate an annual list for every New Year, not so much to embarrass you on a publicly accessible forum, but for you to know these are the things your mum and I will remember of you growing up.

And possibly use as reference to explain any future psychological patterns you may develop.

Love, Dad.

Happy Birthday, Son!

Dear Xander,

Happy 3rd birthday!

The Celebrated Master of Baby Kung Fu
The Celebrated Master of Baby Kung Fu

You should at some point realise the significance of your birthdate. Of course, not only is it Boxing Day, it is also the day after Christmas, and also falls within the December holidays. This is all good… on the surface. Because as you grow older each year, you may come to realise the drastic drawbacks this birthdate will have on your wanting to celebrate it.

Before I go into the technical issues with your birthdate though, we feel you should know the technical issues leading up to your birth.

Your parents would like to clarify one thing: the fact that your birthday falls on the day after Christmas was your choice, not ours. When the gynecologist told your mum and me that your expected birthdate would be on 26 December, within 17 seconds both of us were already hatching a plan to try to get you out on Christmas Day instead (after running it through with the ob/gyn, of course). You being in your mother’s belly in the ensuing months is probably the most wonderful feeling your mother will remember for the rest of her life, but the tail end of her being pregnant with you wasn’t something I’d forget anytime soon either.

Close to midnight of Christmas Eve 2008, I drove your mother to the hospital on my barely 2-week-old driving license (I figured as a father-to-be, the least I could do was learn to drive a car and drive your mother to give birth to our firstborn son, rather than, you know, take the bus or something), and in the hospital, your mother was prepped with labour-inducing drugs. Your mother started contracting in a couple of hours. By then it was already Christmas, and our hope grew with each passing hour.

And then Christmas went. The look of disappointment in your mother’s eyes was heart-wrenching, but we soon focused on just having you out safe and sound. We had hit Boxing Day, and your head was barely peeking through. The nurses had been coaching your mother through pushing you out. After a while of intense huffing and puffing and trying to blow you out, you were still contentedly just airing the top of your head, so at 2.45am, the doctor ordered forceps to try to extract you out of your mother’s womb, but then you were in an awkward position and the forceps couldn’t be inserted properly without poking your eye out (not the doctor’s words); so much for that idea. At 3.30am your mother was wheeled into the Operating Theatre for a C-section and at 4.30am, I managed to stay conscious long enough to see you born. That’s 30 long hours for us to get you out, going through every standard birth procedure in the book (induced, natural, assisted and Caesarian) and slowly realizing the lesson you were teaching us: that you were coming out on your own terms, not ours.

Since before you came out till now, both your mum and I have pondered the implications of you being born in possibly the most party-prone holiday period of the year, not to mention the one holiday when celebrations run akin to a gigantic birthday party for any country in the world that has a healthy retail industry. The fact that you eventually chose to miss that by a day kind of just makes it worse, you know?

For starters, you need to know it takes not a little effort for your middle-income parents to throw 2 celebrations in 2 days. To that end, our plan to mostly get away with it consists of attending someone else’s Christmas party and then throwing you a birthday party the next day. If we’re really financially strapped, we may even attend 2 Christmas parties and tell you one of them is your birthday party, but on the latter idea, you’ll probably see how the issue of sincerity may play against you.

Xander's Birthday Invite, circa. 2009
Xander's Birthday Invite, circa. 2009

And then there’s the presents. A few years from now, you’re going to find some people in your life cheaping out and giving you just the 1 present on the presumption that Christmas and your birthday are a combined entity. Your mum and I don’t want yo to be shortchanged, so we try our best to ensure everyone who wants to give you presents knows to get you 1 for Christmas and 1 for your birthday, but should you encounter anyone who is hoping to sneak by with counting 2 thoughts into 1 present, Dad’s gonna teach you what to say to these people: tell them you were born on Boxing Day, not Christmas, so you are entitled to go Muhammad Ali on their red and white bottoms if they think they can sneak a 1-for-2 combo on you (mum is signing you up for Taekwondo classes next February).

While we try to take care of your Welfare during these 2 days every year, there’s unfortunately more bad news. Your birthday also happens to fall deep into the end-of-year school holidays. While you’re probably not going to feel it now (your current daycare centre/school is open throughout the year), once you reach primary school, you’ll find those mini-birthday celebrations your classmates are going to have in class during schooldays won’t be happening with you. Your dad fully understands your predicament; I was born in November. Every year from when I was four until I turned 19, just as I was about to happily tell my friends it was my birthday, school would shut down for the rest of the year; it’s like you’re working right up to the point of the climax of a sneeze, and then… you don’t.

Possibly the final blow would be when you and your friends reach drinking age and beyond. The day you chose to be born being the day after Christmas, there is a high likelihood of your friends nursing hangovers from the previous night, therefore rendering any notion of a birthday celebration right after Christmas quite moot. The widespread post-Christmas hangovers don’t last long though. Depending on the tenacity of your friends’ perception of their youth, the phenomenon may last anything from 2 years to 25 years. If you have any friends who still exhibit post-Christmas hangovers past age 40 though, maybe you should refrain from inviting him or her to your birthday party (your parents being the exception, of course).

There is one perk to having your birthday on the 26th of December: it’s real easy to remember.

And since remembering that is easy, we ask that you also remember this: your mum and I will always be trying to make your birthday your birthday.

Love, Dad