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My children, my mirror
by Joni Ong Updated 11:14 AM Jun 12, 2011
My husband, Kian, met an old classmate he had not seen for almost 20 years and they struck up a "catch-up" conversation.
Classmate: So, you are married. How many children do you have? Two?
Kian: Actually, I have five.
Classmate (incredulous): What? Five? And all with the same woman?
Sounds funny but that is true - how many women want to bear five children in this day and age? Childbearing is the fastest way to lose a svelte figure, while child-rearing is a 24/7 job accompanied by dark eye-bags from lack of sleep and a thickening middle from helping to finish the children's food.
But I did want many children. With Kian, we planned to have six. Married at 27 and still childless at almost 30, we gave the reproductive tubes a kick-start through in-vitro fertilisation and our twin bundles of joy, Kristi and Kathi, were born. Liz, Emme and Jon were conceived naturally. Five children in six years - thus began a terrific journey of love that has been mostly sweet and endearing but sometimes heart-wrenching and hurtful.
While Kian and I think that we have been great imparters of wisdom and values to them, in reality, they have humbled us and inspired us to continue to learn and be better people.
Lesson #1 from Kristi, 20: Independence
When Kristi was eight, she tried to run away from home because I scolded her for having "Hello Kitty" stickers in her school bag when they weren't allowed.
When she was 16, she was sent to Melbourne (with Kathi) for foundation studies in preparation for university. The decision to up and leave for Australia was made and executed within three days, with her parents in Melbourne and them in Singapore. Scary parents, some say, but I say, brave and independent children! Spontaneity and confidence reign in Kristi's life; she tackles challenges head-on knowing that she only needs to try her best and success is her own making.
Parenting is like flying a kite - we have to learn to let go of our child and yet pull her back when we see her falling by the wayside. It is hard but, from Kristi, I have learned to let go of my "kite" strings.
Lesson #2 from Kathi, 20: Character
From young, Kathi has suffered from major stress syndrome - she is that child with stomach ache on exam days. Fine with daily school work, she freaks out at tests. Not surprisingly, we were worried about her PSLE results. Would she score the requisite 200 points to continue at her beloved school?
The principal asked to see Kian and me before the release of results that afternoon. Our fears were founded: Kathi just missed the 200 cut-off but Kristi made it. On account of them being twins, the school offered to accept Kathi as well into Secondary One. Gratefully, we said the decision was Kathi's to make.
Kathi was devastated. When presented with the school's offer to stay, imagine our shock when she said, amid her tears: "Mum, I do not deserve to stay because I did not earn it. Every place must be based on merit." She was only 12 then but her response spoke of character and pride, which have kept her grounded all these years. No back door for her - she went on to another secondary school where she excelled in sports and made many good friends.
Lesson #3 from Liz, 19: Compassion
Liz is the classical achiever. She believes in working for the results she wants. It was thus no surprise when she excelled in her O and A levels, netting a place at Oxford University to read law.
Her teachers in junior college urged her to apply for the PSC scholarship. She came to Kian and me one evening, asking in a serious tone: "Dad, would you be able to afford sending me to Oxford?" It turned out she was in a dilemma about the scholarship application and in her words: "What if my application prevented another person from going overseas to study because her family cannot afford it?"
Liz's compassion and love for people shine brightly in all situations and I am constantly inspired by her. (Yes, Liz is on Daddy's Scholarship.)
Lesson #4 from Emme, 17: Joy
To borrow the lyrics of the song Maria from The Sound of Music: "How do you solve a problem like Emme? She'd outpester any pest. Drive a hornet from its nest. She could throw a whirling dervish out of whirl. She is gentle! She is wild! She's a riddle! She's a child! She's a headache! She's an angel! She's a girl!" Indeed, Emme is just plain happy, seeing the positive side of everything and everyone. Her enthusiasm is infectious and we have learned as a family to just go with her flow and be joyful!
Lesson #5 from Jon, 14: Resilience
Jon was diagnosed as dyslexic at age seven when he couldn't spell and read as expected of his age. With the necessary help extended to him at school and his positive mindset, he has coped with his studies, now reading well although spelling is still a challenge.
Dyslexia has never been a reason for him not being able to do anything - science and history are his pet subjects and he has a fantastic broad-based knowledge of many things in the world. A shy child, he has grown to be a confident youth, enjoying dance lessons and performing and choreographing hip hop in school. His "can do" spirit is uplifting and I have chosen to learn from my son this derring-do.
Lessons learnt with and from my children have strengthened our family life and established ties that will bind - for a lifetime. Children do what they see us do; they are, really, our mirror.
Joni Ong is, among other things, the president of I Love Children and deputy chairperson of the National Family Council.