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Saturday, August 1, 2015

Making Memories: The Quest for a Fulfilling Childhood

Our two boys turned 5 and 3 last week; and they had a whale of a time! It all began two weeks ago when we had a simple birthday party with the boys' good friends. It was a lovely evening which started with a time in the pool, a dinner, a cake-cutting ceremony, and then a night playing with punch balls under the stars. The boys were in good spirits the whole evening, and talked about the event for days after it ended.
Our two happy children beaming in bliss during the cake-cutting ceremony.
Then there were the presents. Sue and I have been rationing them and getting the boys to open them one or two at a time each day. We have been blessed by the thoughtfulness of the givers, with interesting items such as Mr Potato Head figures, toy soldiers, Chinese books, finger paints, a Lego space shuttle and mechanised puppies - all the boys' current favourites!

This is also the first time that the boys are old enough to decide what they want to do for their birthdays. Our second son E asked for the simple treat of eating French fries and iced lemon tea at the nearby coffee shop; so that was what we did on his actual birthday - except that it was Texas Fried Chicken at Gardens by the Bay; a location that the older son Z requested for. His was a request to enjoy the supertree show there, with its glorious magical lights, all moving in synchrony to the music of favourite tunes such as "Under the Sea" and "A Whole New World".
Morning breakfast with the second son. Knowing that E loves to cook with Daddy,
I decided to spend the morning letting him cook an egg under my supervision.
The 3-year-old enjoying a bubblin' good time just before the supertree show.
Fried chicken and French Fries - the request of the birthday boy.
For Z's actual birthday, we headed to his favourite Prata Shop to eat his choice of "spicy rice" (known more popularly as Nasi Biryani). It was then a time of rest at home before an evening celebration with his grandaunts.
Although he didn't eat "spicy rice" in the end, our 5-year-old was so
pleased that he got to eat his "bread with spicy curry".
Birthdays are special days for children. Sue wrote a post on the meaning of birthdays last year, where she shared how important it is to cherish every moment of a child's life. For me, a birthday is an important occasion to create a lovely memory for a child. I remember my own birthdays with fondness. There was once when my mother prepared an entire black and white chequered cake for me, and then put my chess pieces on it - a real treat for a chess enthusiast. Then there was the time when I had a "magic" party, and my friends all received invitations in "magic ink", and they had to heat the letters under a toaster so that the lemon juice words would materialise. 

Childhood is shaped by the memories created by one's parents - whether these are intentional or not. For me, I know my childhood will always be clouded by my parents' separation and eventual divorce. An earlier post I wrote about childhood describes how things in the past can be blurred or distorted if they were not fully "seen". This explains how a child's memories are so strongly related to the intentional actions of parents. There are, however, the unintentional actions of parents - instances such as separation or divorce. 

During this year I have been pursuing a postgraduate programme in counselling and much of the course has been a reflection of my own childhood and aspects of personhood. This is an extract from my final paper for the Human Development module, which required a consideration of different views on personhood e.g. from the physical, emotional, spiritual, developmental and family perspectives.


"Family systems have a major impact on the nature of a person. One especially pertinent theory has been [Mary] Ainsworth’s “strange situation” concept as articulated in attachment theory. [Ainsworth's research showed that children who are more securely attached to the mother tend to be more comfortable with a strange or new situation when she is around. The children become more distressed and explore less if the mother is not around.]

As a result, close family systems tend to help a person to develop a stronger sense of identity and self worth; and a family system whose members are not securely attached to one another might result in persons who become less secure and confident in life. A person is therefore shaped by his or her family; and familial influence plays a major role in terms of defining an individual’s concept of personhood."

We are most comfortable when we are with the people closest to us - our family. Much of who we are results from our family background and culture. If we have had happy memories with our parents, it is more likely that we will want to take these memories with us as we parent our children. That's how family traditions are created and established. Conversely, if we have had sad memories in our childhood, we are more likely to want to forget them, or not to include these past practices into our present-day parenting.
Getting their feet wet at the mouth of the Margaret River. That's the stuff childhood memories are made up of...
Adventures in Mammoth Cave, Perth. The time that a family spends together
during a holiday is priceless, and children remember these memories long after
the experience is over.
We need to intentionally choose to build into our relationships with our children. I believe this is best done through the creation of lasting childhood memories, experiences that our children will remember for many more years to come - and some of these experiences will serve as defining moments for our children, shaping the person they will become. A case in point was one of my students Carol, who spent two years on board a round-the-world missionary vessel, the Doulos, stopping at various ports along the way. She shared how much her life had been impacted by her adventures around the world. My student now wants to become a writer, and her experiences on board the ship have defined much of the person she is, and the person she wants to be.

"Daddy, when are we next going to a bouncy bed?" asks the 5-year-old with a look of wonder in his eyes. (The children both love travelling and they refer to hotels as "bouncy beds" for the only reason they believe that beds are made for.)

"Well, Z, bouncy beds cost money. Daddy has to work very hard to earn money so we can go to another bouncy bed."

The 5-year-old nods his head wisely. "So we can have money to go on an aeroplane?" 

"Yes Z. Daddy has to work hard to earn money so we can go on an aeroplane and have an adventure together."

"OK, Daddy." The little boy heads to the living room and returns holding his little piggy bank in his hands. "Daddy, you can have this. So can we go soon?"

The father looks at his little boy with a deep love in his heart, hugging him tenderly. "Z, Daddy will do everything I can so that we will always have adventures together as a family ok?"

And the little boy nods.

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