Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Parenting by Default

These past couple of weeks have been crazy for us. First there were the assignments that I had to complete for my postgraduate course, then there were the workshops that we were suddenly asked to conduct, and finally there were the bazaars that we attended to sell our online store items. It was an extremely busy season, and many of our working hours were occupied with meaningful things; that included taking care of our two little boys and managing both their learning and non-academic needs.

One morning, my older son came to me after I had just returned home from an early class. "Daddy," he said. "I'm so glad you're home. Can we go to the Gardens by the Bay?" he asked hopefully. With a sadness in my heart, I replied, "Sorry Z. Daddy has to go back to work later. Maybe after I come back? Oh. Actually Daddy and Mummy have an important meeting tomorrow and we need to prepare. I don't think we can go today. Er.... How about another day?" "OK," said the little boy as he walked away, almost as if he had his tail between his legs. 

And I felt a deep sorrow in my heart; I felt as though I had failed him completely as a father.
One of the happier moments with our boys during this busy period.
Why do I work so hard? The answer seems obvious. I am living in the most expensive city in the world (according to the Economic Intelligence Unit). As such, I need to work hard to maintain a certain standard of living in order to match up with the rising cost of living. So I spend most of my waking hours engaged in work. I need to build up my business, I tell myself. Hopefully one day I would have earned a sufficient amount of money in order to spend more time with my children. Oh well, my kids will understand if I don't spend so much time with them now. There will be time later, I console myself. And so I live each day in autopilot mode, and even my parenting appears to be operated by default.  

There is one small problem when you are parenting by default - our kids don't grow up by default! Yes, you can pacify the kid who presents you with his drawing, acknowledging his presence with a slight nod and a cursory look that screams, "Go away now. I'm busy and I don't have time for you and all your little unimportant things." Or you can farm out your playtime to the domestic helper, charging her to manage the menial task of ensuring that the kids are safe and entertained at the playground; of course not realising that your domestic helper is herself preoccupied with the hand phone that she takes out every time she is alone with the children.

I note that the above examples may be extreme, but I believe I am not presenting a fictional account of life in Singapore. On the contrary, these instances are so close to real life that they have jolted me back to reality. I have to tell myself that I do not want to ever become the parent in those scenarios; I don't ever want to parent by default. After all, that's the reason why we are working so hard in the first place! It would appear as circular logic if we were to say that we need to spend all our time working hard in order to earn enough money; especially if the primary purpose was to enjoy time with our kids. Yet so many Singaporeans buy into this fallacy. There was a recent tongue-in-cheek statement identifying a Singapore in the following way: "You know you are a Singaporean if you go to work before the sun goes up and leave office after the sun goes down." 
Spending time with our kids in their play.

There are many people who do not become parents by choice; they get married and before they know it, they have a child. Yet there are many others who go the extra mile to ensure that they become a parent. Regardless of the circumstances through which you became a parent, you are never a parent by default. Yet many people end up parenting by default, simply because they do not choose to be intentional parents. That's the difference between parenting by default versus parenting by intent

When you parent by intent you take the time to listen to the heart of your child. You notice which colours he chooses in his drawing, and then take the time to understand the reason for his choice. You listen to every detail of the long story that she tells you, and then painstakingly ask her questions to either draw out the details, or to help her develop her narrative. You turn to the little child whose general body language screams out to you that he or she had a tough day at school, and then connect to him or her in an empathetic manner, giving the child the physical and emotional space to be real with his or her emotions.
Parenting by intent means to allow kids the freedom to express themselves in drawing and other creative means.

Looking at my current season in life, I long for the times when I can set aside the busyness of my work, and spend time to connect with my children once again. I know that I need to work, for this brings financial security to my family; and as a man, my work is so much linked to my self esteem and my sense of identity. Yet a wise man once said, "There is a time for everything, and a season for everything under heaven." I have received a brief respite in this season of busyness, and I know that nothing would bring me more joy than to be able to listen to the heart of my children once again. 

To my Dearest Sons: 

Daddy longs to listen to you each time you present an account of how your day went. I love to listen to your stories of how you were the brave little boy David who conquered the mighty Goliath with your light sabre. I love to look at your beautiful paintings, to enjoy how you have chosen the cool colours of emerald green and turquoise to create a lovely forest landscape. I love to be your "Daddy-horsey", to piggyback you all around the house, and then to end off our adventures with a royal tumble on the bed, everyone rolling in deep laughter and bursting with tears of joy.

I know there will be times when Daddy will need to be busy at work. But I promise to always take time to listen to you; to put aside my computer and to simply share a smile with you. I will try my best to listen when there is a sadness in your voice, and to comfort you in a way that you understand. I ask for your forgiveness for the times when I was your parent by default. I know that I am only human, but with God as my help, I hope to be the parent that God intended for me to become. 

I love you so much. 

Love, Daddy.
Always loving you! 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Sound of the Bellz: A Review of Singapore's First Sensory-Friendly Concert by Ministry of Bellz

It was a concert with a difference. The lighting was at 50 to 70 per cent of a regular concert setting; the sound was at 40%. But the melodic chimes of the handbells echoed on. And all of it was music to our ears! Featuring music from famous musicals such as "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Lion King", and celebrating the efforts of students around the country, the concert was put together by local music group Ministry of Bellz (MOB). 
The melodic chimes of the handbells. A delight to the ears.

Creating a sensory-friendly environment to help children with special needs enjoy the arts.
What was so special about this concert was that it was Singapore's first sensory-friendly concert; intended to help children with special needs appreciate theatre and the arts. Damien Lim, Founder of MOB, wanted the show to be inclusive so that children with special needs could enjoy the concert. He worked with the National Arts Council and removed elements from the concert that could be potentially challenging for children with special needs - settings such as a dark concert hall or overly-loud acoustics. And, to help children anticipate what was going to happen next, the organisers displayed the song titles of the upcoming items. This was to help children who are anxious, and to prepare them to deal with uncertain incidents.
The happy children in the audience. 
MOB gathered a strong team of volunteers to serve as ushers. And unlike other concerts where "disruptive" concert goers would be asked to leave, the ushers were instructed to provide assistant to any children who had difficulties in regulating their emotions. MOB also provided pre-concert activities, and space was set aside outside the theatre for a sensory space where children could go to when disregulated. 

Our online store, Sensational Play, was pleased to support the concert with the equipment for the sensory space. We provided items such as peanut balls and sensory tactile balls, to help children get the required sensory input that would help them become more calm. Sensational Play also sponsored bendable toys for all the children in the concert. The toys, which served as fidgets, were intended to serve as stress toys, and children can manipulate them when they feel anxious or upset.

Setting up our Sensational Play booth outside the show.

The "genie" of the show, R. Chandran from ACT 3 Theatrics. Fond memories
for this writer, who was at Chandran's first ACT 3 performance many moons ago
As in all concerts, the proof of the pudding is in the eating; and judging from the happy faces in the audience, this writer believes that the experience was all worthwhile!

Friday, May 13, 2016

White as Snow: Giveaway of "Snow White" at the ACT 3! Festival for Children

When the Brothers' Grimm first published the tale of a beautiful princess and her encounter with seven vertically-challenged individuals, they did not expect the story to be a resounding success the world over; with numerous adaptations of the tale, not least by the great animation spinmaker Walt Disney. Indeed the German tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwalves has been retold countless times, with several modern adaptations hitting the big screen in recent years.

ACT 3 International has chosen to bring in a Canadian version of the tale for this year's ACT 3! Festival for Children. Elaborates the Artistic Director of ACT 3 International Ruby Lim-Yang, the festival is imbued with themes that are "relevant for today's children", but yet do not "lose sight" of the "artistry, craftsmanship and beauty of live theatre, as well as the fields of visual and literary arts".

Snow White, to be run daily from 24 to 29 May 2016, will be produced by the “Nearly World-Famous” DuffleBag Theatre. The company has been performing since 1992 and is based in Toronto, performing over 600 shows a year across Canada, the US and the rest of the world. The group is known for their extremely interactive retellings of original fairytales and Shakespearean classics.

ACT 3's media release observes:

"There is never a dull moment at a DuffleBag production, where new adaptations of fairy tales and Shakespearean classics meet plenty of humour and with a dramatic twist at the end. Audiences are always invited to join in the action and feel the excitement of living a fairy tale. Armed with an original script that is sharp, well-paced and full of surprises, the talented actors are very adept at changing characters and engaging a young audience."

Parenting on Purpose is pleased to partner ACT 3 International to present 2 tickets for the 2pm show of Snow White on Sunday 29 May 2016.

How to qualify for the giveaway:

1) Like the Parenting on Purpose Facebook page.

2) Share this blog post on your Facebook Wall and tag three friends (not including the friend who had tagged you. Remember to ensure that privacy settings are set to "Public".)

For an extra chance to win:

Comment on this post and share with us why fairy tales are so popular in today's modern world.

The giveaway will end on Sunday 22 May and entries must be submitted by 10pm.

And the winner of the giveaway is Jason Chew! Kindly email us at with the following details as required by Act 3 International: 

Full name, IC Number and Mobile Number. Ticket collection will be at the Drama Centre (100 Victoria Street - National Library Level 3) this Sunday 29 May 2016 at 1.30pm.

The ACT 3! Festival for Children will run from 24 May to 5 June 2016. Shows are all internationally-acclaimed, and come from countries such as Argentina, Sweden, the United Kingdom and Italy. For more details, do refer to the ACT 3! International festival website here.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Beauty is Fin Deep: A Review of I Theatre's "The Rainbow Fish"

What happens if your BFF suddenly declares that you are boring and not worth her attention? What if this was the same friend that you had always looked up? I Theatre's 15th Anniversary Production, "The Rainbow Fish", takes you to a world of adventure and exploration; of friendship and of community.
Under the Sea. The fishy community welcomes you to the show!
Enter Rainbow. She's a dazzling display of beauty; especially given her lovely shiny scales. And she's no less than a celebrity to all the other fishes, which makes her proud and arrogant. But the final blow is when Rainbow decides to insult her long-time fan and supporter, Small Blue, leaving him... well let's say our little friend was feeling more than a little blue.... What if no one ever talked to her again? Is it too late for Rainbow? Will she live a forever friendless life?
"Bubble Bubble...." says the Starfish. "I can't hear you...."
I Theatre's Brian Seward is nostalgic about this production, given that it is one of the company's groundbreaking plays, and that it has been staged a grand total of seven times! It is indeed evident from our viewing of the show that I Theatre has gone to great lengths to ensure that "The Rainbow Fish" encapsulates what the company has learnt over its fifteen year history.

What catches your attention at once is the black light theatre effect. The ocean scenescape is gorgeously beautiful; complete with floating seaweed and luminous rocks. And if you layer in a pageantry of delightful fishy puppets, the impact is at once stunning as it is breathtakingly beautiful. I Theatre has also masterfully melded in the actors, so that all you see are the talking (and singing) fishes, and the player become one with the puppet; creating a spectacular illusion of an ocean wonderland in all its dazzling glory. Credit must be given to Set Designer Yu Hsien Chia and Puppet Creator Paul Pistore for their imagination in bringing to life the lovable characters created by Swiss author and illustrator Marcus Pfister.
Be dazzled by the spectacular visual effects of black light theatre!
As in all I Theatre productions, scriptwriter Brian Seward always injects a moral into the story. An educator at heart, Seward has chosen this production to infuse the value of sharing (with a song to highlight how Sharing is Not Stupid), and of teamwork (how a common enemy can be defeated if friends choose to share their resources). There are also deeper concerns related to narcissism and identity as well as loneliness and self esteem, and these are skilfully imbued into the storyline. 

For many of the children in the audience, it was humour that won their hearts. For instance there is a pun on what being "unique" means, and there is also a Squid which makes a funny explosive sound in order to escape from the scary Hammerhead Shark (our almost 4-year-old E was particularly tickled by the Squid and the funny noise that he makes). And being a Japanese food enthusiast, this writer especially enjoyed the Japanese-accented Hammerhead and his exclamations of "sushi" and "sashimi" whenever he attempted to catch the fish. As for our almost-6-year-old Z, his favourite character in the play was the wise Octopus, saying that the creature was very large and very beautiful. Perhaps that's what a good theatre production is all about - being larger-than-life, and transporting the audience to a different world, one where they can be fascinated and awed all at the same time!
"Sashimi! Ha Ha Ha! I love seafood!"
An encounter with the Wise Old Octopus.
The Rainbow Fish runs from now to 15 May 2016 at the Drama Centre Theatre.

Parenting on Purpose was provided with show tickets for a blog review. All opinions expressed here are solely ours.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Way Home: A Review & Giveaway of Squirky the Alien #4 & #5

Snow, snow and more snow.... That's what the travellers Squirky the Alien, Emma his Sister and Mr Quentin their friend, find on Planet S, the next planet in the quest to find Squirky's birth parents. And then, they find the huge letters written in the snow.... 


Where is My Mama, the fourth book in Melanie Lee's series, The Adventures of Squirky the Alien, deviates slightly from the main adoption plot, and turns to how children can learn to consider the interests of others before themselves. This, says Melanie in the forward, is what she had been learning in the months prior to writing the book, that "helping others is often an indirect way of helping yourself". 
Our little boys Z and E posing with Squirky 4 & Squirky 5. The boys love the Squirky series!
As a parent and an educator, I am in strong agreement with Melanie. There are many students whom I meet who adopt a "me first" attitude towards others when in school. And, observing some of the young kids with their parents in shopping centres and food centres, I can understand how this attitude of self-centredness can take root and grow.

Squirky's decision to help a friend on Planet S provides him with more clues that would eventually lead him closer to his birth parents... which brings us to Squirky 5...

How Do You Get to the Garden Galaxy? is the most dramatic of the series. Melanie shares in the forward that the ending to this book was tweaked in a major way following her own reflections regarding her son and his adoption story. She provided some insights into the nature of disclosure and how it is not some "great reveal", as what she had previously expected, but more like "brief mentions in everyday conversations".

"The only constant so far is that we try our best to be honest and to pay close attention to his emotional state."

Squirky 5 is one emotional roller coaster ride. We hold on tight when the travellers come as close as they ever get to finding Squirky's birth parents. And we hold our breath as the little blue alien makes arguably the most important decision regarding his birth family. There is laughter, and there are tears; and Squirky reflects on what he holds dearest in his heart. 
Z and E couldn't wait to get their hands on the books and to find out
what happened to Squirky.
Possibly one of Squirky's youngest fans?
Melanie's writing takes on a certain richness in the penultimate of the Squirky series. As an avid fan of the blue alien, we have travelled together with her on this incredible journey as an adoptive parent. Indeed the depth of her experience and the rich conversations with her son have coloured the Squirky books, and we have gained so much from these personal encounters. Through Squirky, we get to catch a precious glimpse into the heart of an adoptive mum, and we are also witnesses to what an adoptive child's search for his birth parents might be like.

When then does the search end? Squirky #6 promises to provide an answer to that question, something that most adoptive parents and children are also most eager to find out about!

Parenting on Purpose is pleased to provide one giveaway for Squirky #4 and Squirky #5.

How to qualify for the giveaway:

1) Like the Parenting on Purpose Facebook page.

2) Like Squirky the Alien's Facebook page;
2) Share this blog post on your Facebook Wall and tag three friends (not including the friend who had tagged you. Remember to ensure that privacy settings are set to "Public".)

For an extra chance to win:

Comment on this post and share with us why you think some adoptive children choose to embark on a search for their birth parents and what we can do to help them.

The giveaway will end on Tue 10 May and entries must be submitted by 10pm.

And.... the winner of the Squirky giveaway is Karen Low! Congratulations! Kindly message us on Facebook with your mailing address!
The boys were thrilled to receive a personalised note from author Aunty Melanie.
So thrilled to meet illustrator David Liew at a recent fair. His lovely drawings bring Squirky to life!
If you would like to purchase copies of any of the books in the series, please refer to this link from our Sensational Play online store.