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Tuesday, 28 August 2012

37. Not so good at being led

So a few weeks ago, I mentioned that Matt and I had starting training for a run in Angkor Wat.   It was going relatively well -- to begin with.  And then as Matt’s runs started getting longer as he worked towards his half-marathon, I started opting out, preferring to concentrate on trying to improve my time for the 10km. Perhaps concerned we were not spending enough time together, Matt decided to come along to one of my ‘lone’ runs, saying he had checked it out on Google Maps and was going to lead me on a different route (but of the same distance) to ‘challenge’ me.  Okay.  I like challenges now and again.  So off we went. 

Up, down and around we went along a route different from my usual path to the Botanic Gardens.  It was relatively uneventful.  That is, until we grappled with the varying routes within the Gardens and found ourselves having to double back a few times.  As it felt like we were constantly getting a little lost, I pointedly asked my ‘fearless leader’ if he knew where we were going.  Matt’s overly confident “of course” was met with my exasperated, “You are so stubborn! You NEVER admit it when you are lost!”  Needless to say, he was not happy with me.  We continued the ‘meander’ (an ‘adventure’ in his mind!) in silence. Finally, I spotted something familiar and it looked like we were back on track.  “YAY!” cried my now-weary feet.  That’s when Matt signaled we should veer off the bloody beaten trail -- AGAIN!  By now, fed-up and tired, I could barely hold back and serendipitously chanced-upon a sign pointing home (but was contrary to the direction he wanted us to head).  When I brought it to his attention, he snapped, “Just go your own way!”;  to which I mumbled a cuss and ran off. 

A similar thing happened when Faith was a new-born.  As first-time parents, we were pretty clueless and poor Faith was not easy to ‘settle’.  One particular time, my mother-in-law said I was probably just holding the baby wrong, insinuating it was my fault.  Relieved for some expert advice, I gladly handed Faith over to her, eager to learn the ‘correct way’.  She wasn’t able to calm Faith.  I think I mumbled something along the lines of, “If you are not an expert, then don’t pretend to be one” and walked into my room, slammed the door, and had a cry.   Harsh, I know.

And here lies the problem:  To begin with, I am RUBBISH at being led.  I like to chart my own course.  Simple as that.  If you insist on taking over, telling me you have the ‘knowledge’ and I choose to let you lead me, but it transpires that actually, it was just an overstatement on your part, I find it very hard to deal with.  As such, I try to not put myself in a situation where I have to rely on someone, preferring to be the person relied upon.  And yes, it can it a problem.

Last night, at the end of a curriculum talk, I found myself leaving Faith’s new school with an unexpected passenger.  As we left the hall, and I led us towards the direction of where I thought my car was, my new traveling partner stopped me and pointed out where the garage was.  My explanation of where I had ACTUALLY parked my car was met with a skeptical “really?” and as we continued along, she kept loudly suggesting taking varying routes to my car and continually referred to the ‘OTHER’ car park.  I should mention this woman is not only as NEW to the school as I was, but has only just arrived in Singapore, didn’t drive, had NEVER navigated through ANY of the three garages the school housed AND was NOT with me when I parked my car in the first place.  But somehow, she believed she knew better in this instance!  Luckily I found my car minutes later, but with a now-pounding headache, could not wait to offload my ‘expert’ rider.  As it turned out, she was an ‘expert’ on quite a wide variety of things – which I learnt ALL about, throughout the very long 10-minute drive.  Sigh. Surely NOBODY can be the expert on EVERYTHING!

So I will end my rant by accepting that while I readily confess to ignorance and often admit liability so that expectations are managed, not everybody feels that way.  As such, I will simply have to work harder on my trust issues, and learn to let others ‘captain’ my path now and again without expecting perfection, as well as becoming more relaxed about just going with the flow.  Oh, and stay away from  people who are ‘experts’ on everything – if only for my own sanity!


Wednesday, 22 August 2012

36. Finding balance

One of my readers shared his concerns after reading “Shooting for the moon”.  He spoke about the sacrifices ‘achievers’ have to make and how relationships can take a back seat in the journey to attainment and vice versa.  I wrote back, “Ah.. But ‘balance’ is another mantra I constantly drum into my children”.

When we first started our family and up till the day Faith started primary school, Matt and I were very relaxed about education, in the mistaken belief it would benefit her.  Our thought was along the “Ah, but she’s still so little!  Plenty of time to get serious later.”  And for a time, we let our toddler lead us in what and how to occupy her.  When she started school, she showed little interest in books and trailed far behind her peers.  Worried, we had her hearing tested and then wondered if the lag was because she was the youngest in her year and therefore a late bloomer.  We even had educational experts test her in case there was a more serious problem.

When we moved to London, after a few weeks at her new school, Faith came home one day and declared she was the most stupid person in her class.  It broke my heart and I felt I had failed her.  But still, we didn’t want to resort to tutors and just encouraged her to ‘do her best’.  A few years later, a year before all the girls’ sat their critical 11+ exams, I found out the smartest (and very well-rounded) girl in the year had regular tuition.  That’s when I thought, “Holy!  If the smartest girl is getting tuition, I am doing Faith a great disservice by not employing the same support for her!”  I found a really wonderful tutor and watched Faith’s confidence and grades rise dramatically.  My main satisfaction came from the lessons Faith absorbed: a. she wasn’t ‘stupid’; and b: nothing was impossible without some elbow grease.  Yes, she had to make sacrifices for two hours on a Saturday and more often just before  exams.  But in return, she gained offers from all three schools she applied to and was in a position to choose the one most suited to her personality.  She continues to flourish and we are filled with pride as we watch her navigate different situations with grace and determination.

I know, I know.  I am yet to get to the ‘balance’ bit.  Today, we still let the girls lead us in what they want to do BUT, by monitoring their natural talents, we gently steer them, and employ support to nurture and develop if required.  And as I look at their outside-of-school schedules, I see they have a balance in sports (tennis and swim training), music, language (French and Chinese).  Yes, it is busy.  But besides the ‘must do’ (language, music, tennis and swim), the girls have picked activities that interest them (dance and voluntary service for Faith, choir for Tia, and clay making and science club for Paige).   I now feel like I am protesting too much so let me just stop now and instead insert a section of the book I am working on which I feel is relevant to this piece:

Balance: I can almost hear you all sigh as I bring up “balance”.  I don’t know how old you will be when you finally read this but remember how I’ve been telling you guys about the importance of balance in your lives?  I still hear you cheekily asking me if “too much homework is also bad for you”.  My answer then, and my answer now, is “yes”.  Too much of ANYTHING is bad for you.  Too much food.  Too much sleep.  Too much alcohol.  Too much tv.  Too much work.  Too much play.  The list goes on and on.  Point is, too much OR too little of anything is not  good.

Throughout your lives, at different points in time, due to whatever is happening, you will find that you are either doing too much or too little of something.  That is  normal.  What you do next is important.  If it is impossible to adjust the glut or deficit right there and then, make a commitment to address it within a certain amount of time.  Be realistic with your timing but make sure you stick to it.  Don’t wait until its too late and the imbalance takes over your life.

And so, for now, our ongoing dinner table discussions about ‘balance’ seem to be working relatively well for the girls as I watch them make healthy choices; and though I am sure it will be an ongoing trek where they will veer in all sorts of directions, it is my hope this coaxing will endure and develop into a natural tendency. 


Friday, 17 August 2012

35. Shooting for the moon

In a previous piece, I had babbled on about being disinterested in competing with others, preferring to pit myself against self-determined motivators.  But that however, has never ever curbed my somewhat absurdly (now that I think about it!) over-enthusiastic compulsion to sign-up for all sorts of teams during my school years.  Various sports, debating, etcetera.  Perhaps it stemmed from my view of how dire things were at home and a rationale that went: if I am not at home then nobody can pick on me, be malicious or manoeuvre me into barbed corners.  Anyhow, I developed into a compulsive ‘joiner’ – putting my name down on sign-up sheets all over the school, regardless of what the ‘sign-up’ was for. Oh, and I never let a lack of experience or any sort of physical or cerebral limitations deter me either! 

Two memories quickly come to mind:
I think I was 9 and not tall by any stretch of the imagination.  Anyhow, I saw the sign-up sheet for BASKETBALL and thought, “Yeah!  I could do that!”.  Undaunted by my lack of height, I turned up on the first day of tryouts.  Had I ever played OR watched the game before?  No, but I knew how to bounce a ball!  Did I have any clue to the mechanics of the game?  Not really.  Did everyone else turn around to gawk at little-midget-me (compared to everyone else) and stifle a snigger?  Yes.  And yet, I still scampered onto the court and bounced my little heart out.  Did I get a spot on the school team.  Are you kidding?  But hey, I had spunk!

Fast-forward to when I was 16.  Saw the sign-up sheet for the school tennis team and thought, “Yup, I could do that!” and eagerly turned up on the said-day.  Had I ever played tennis before?  Nope.  Did I have any clue to the mechanics of the game?  Well, I DID play “Pong” on the Atari when I was younger and I thought, “Ping pong, tennis.. same-same.  Just more running, right?”  I borrowed a racket and hung back during trials to watch the other girls.  When it was my turn, what I lacked in knowledge and skill, I made up in sheer gung-ho-chasing-the-ball all over the court.  Did I get a spot on the team?  Surprisingly, yes, if only on the B Team!  And I STILL don’t know how I managed it!  Think it was one half fluke and the other half of maybe-the-coach-felt-sorry-for-me!  Ahh, good times.

Globally-treasured prolific wordsmith T. S. Eliot wrote: “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find how far one can go”, and as I delve into my memories while writing this, I am reminded of how time and time again, those words have liberated me from insecurities and propelled me to venture further than what I would possibly have dared if not compelled by life’s circumstances (not that I was aware of his wise words at the time, having only stumbled across them 10 minutes ago while researching for inspiration for this piece!).

And so, at 40-something and a mother of three spunky girls, I now actively rally my girls to ‘give things a go’; to be undaunted and courageous in the face of obstacles and most importantly, to dream big.  As such, Faith aspires to be an architect who sings, write books and songs AND dancers on the side; Tia wants to either own a veterinary clinic or become a paediatrician AND write novels in her spare time; and Paige wants to create art that touches the world.  With such big ambitions, I counsel them that as long as they know what they want and are prepared to work hard and stay focused, nothing is impossible.  As author and motivational speaker Les Brown once said, “Shoot for the moon and if you miss, you’ll land among the stars”.


Saturday, 11 August 2012

34. Allergic to competition

Olympics fever has people all over the world glued to their sets, cheering countries and athletes on.  As for me, the only real interest I’ve shown these past so-many-days was for the Opening Ceremony.  Now THAT brought a lump to my throat.  Why the general lack of enthusiasm?  For starters, the time difference, PLUS I am rubbish at sedentary viewing (too fidgety!).  And, if I was honest, whilst I enjoy the celebration of sportsmanship and the personal stories, I am not one for competition where for every winner, stands a whole posse of defeated souls.   Yes, I’ve been found out:  I don’t enjoy competition and the angst and agro that comes with it.  Its an 'allergy'.

I grew up in a very competitive family and when I was a child, life seemed to revolve around discussions about who got the best grade, the most As, was the most loved, etcetera.  It didn’t help that my aeronautical engineer father placed a ridiculously high value on As for science and mathematical subjects and was hugely contemptuous of everything else.  He regarded history, literature and English as disciplines introduced for the morons of society.  Much to his angst, owing to the slant of his viewpoint, I belonged to that particular group.  As such, my killer grades for what I excelled in were routinely dismissed with a “any idiot can get an A” whilst my paltry marks for maths (especially!) invited humiliation and sometimes a beating.  When my literature teacher wrote of my “tenacity” in a report card, my father interpreted the remark that I had been stubborn – so I got beaten up for that too.  I should mention I was confused at the time of the beating, wondering what I had done to invite such a ‘terrible report’ (as per my dad’s reason for the walloping) as I could have sworn I was one of Mrs Grainger’s better students seeing I routinely topped my class.  It was only years later when the memory re-surfaced that I realized my father did not understand the real meaning of ‘tenacity’.  Ah, but I digress.  

As I was saying, unfortunately for me, next to one brother gifted in Maths (now a shipbroker), another a natural with language and the written word (now a professor), plus the two extra brothers who went on to become an anesthetist and a lawyer respectively, I was officially the dummy of the group – by HIS reckoning.  But that’s okay with me --  just as long as I didn’t have to participate in stupid mind games and soul destroying politics.  And so, with such a 'stellar' introduction to the mechanics of ‘competition’, it is little wonder I am not a fan of rivalry, no matter how friendly.

But of course, it is inevitable to go through life without crossing paths with people who are competitive about EVERYTHING!  From racing to the traffic lights (even if they are red), to being competitive about jobs and earning power.  Unfortunately, much as it pains me to typecast, women (as a whole), can be the biggest culprits.  Sorry girls, but you know there is truth in what I am saying.  

It starts early, with competition revving up around the 10-year-old mark: an unspoken contest to be the smartest, the prettiest, the most sporty, the most popular.  Developing into a race for the best boyfriend, record-breaking college results, the better job, the ultimate wardrobe, etcetera, etcetera.  And then, the ultimate whammy: motherhood!  Who’s baby was the best sleeper or the best eater.  I’ve even had a woman demand why her daughter did not have the same curly hair as the waves my three daughters sport (and NO I do not colour or perm my children's hair!)!  Bizarre!  And then, when Faith was applying for schools after sitting her 11+ exams (in London) came the “Oh!  Which schools are you applying for?  Well!  Six schools have hinted at a promised-spot for MY daughter!  We just have to decide which one will provide the best contacts for her later on.”  Seriously?  BLEH!   

Don’t get me wrong, I am fiercely competitive – it is in my DNA.  I am stubbornly determined and rarely give up.  But the only person I compete against is myself, constantly setting targets and goals, always trying to improve on my last efforts.  I don’t, however, feel the need to be consumed by anything or have the desire to possess a killer instinct; nor do I have a ‘win at all cost’ mentality.  For me, my mantra revolves around balance, being true to myself and having integrity. 

My girls will have make their own decisions about how they feel about competition and while I encourage them to give things their 100 percent and tell them nothing is impossible; I also talk to them about the importance of enjoying what they do, balance, fair play and being gracious – regardless of whether they end up victorious or not.


Sunday, 5 August 2012

33. Going 'off-piste'

For some unknown reason, whenever we have a dinner party, I find myself not only trying a new recipe, but also going ‘off-piste’.  Depending on the disparity between how the flavors come together and what I think a dish should taste like, dictates what seasoning (if any) or extras I add.  But it is quite possibly the ONLY instance where I routinely veer off the ‘beaten track’ and become rather adventurous – which is quite the opposite of my 40-something ‘everyday self’.  

Take my training for example.  Matt and I have signed on to tackle a running event in Angkor Wat in December later this year.  Not a fan of running more than 45 minutes (yes, its THAT precise!), I only said yes due to my romantic notions of the location of the race.  And so, I thought I had better take a good look at my weekly routine to determine how much my ‘game’ needed raising. 

Mondays is a cycle circuit up, down and around Mount Faber to strengthen my 40-something-year-old knees for the week ahead; Tuesdays is a 7km run; Wednesdays and Fridays see me at the gym doing weights, a small cycle and a shorter run; Thursdays is a 10km run; Saturdays is interval training involving 2-minute sprints (BLEH!); and Sundays sees me COLLAPSE in a heap!  All in all, if the route is unchanged, I can tackle it relatively comfortably as I am familiar with all the twists and turns of the course (quite often letting gravity pull me along!) and I distract myself by pondering about what to write about next -- never mind all the limping when I am done (but that’s for ANOTHER story)! But, when Matt decides to come along on my run AND THEN takes us on a different route (just for the ‘adventure’!), I struggle mentally and lag far far FAR behind; my labored panting peppered with “You’re killing me!” and “Argh!  Where are you taking me?!”, complimented by “I’m sloooooooooowly dyyyyying!” and “Please can we walk for a few metres?”  Just as well I have a patient husband who reminds me its ‘all in my head’!

I look back at my past and wonder if I was always like this.  After all, I couldn’t be THAT risk-averse if having decided to live life on MY terms, I left home at 17, penniless and with nothing more than a bag of clothes; or when I took off to Japan to sing on a cruise ship without a single word of Japanese; or all those times I started little businesses from scratch; or fell in love?  Risks?  I’ve taken aplenty!

But I find that the combination of becoming a mother, age and time constraints brought about from the children’s schedules have morphed me into a bit of a control freak, constantly in a state of micro-managing possible challenges that may lay ahead.  Choosing safer options, with plans B and C tucked in my back pocket in case plan A doesn’t quite work out.  And it has its pros and cons.

I find this inherited quality comes in useful when I have to juggle this family-of-five’s schedule (six if you count Buddy!) because it enables for majority of the elements that make up our crazed lives to fall into place – most of the time.  And so, I am accepting of the necessity of being more circumspect than my younger self -- life is no longer just about me.

And so, yet another reason why I am lucky to be married to Matt: he who reminds me (and the girls) of the importance of going off-piste every now-and-then and the fun in being spontaneous – which is why every so often, I allow myself to be led on his crazy adventures to venture into the uncertain; to stay young, find new reasons to laugh, create fresh memories and learn something new.