Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Waste not want not

It was Isaac's birthday yesterday but we celebrated it on Monday by bringing the kids, plus Isaac's friend P and his sister G out with us. I think the kids enjoyed their day out. We went for a morning walk at the new Admiralty Park with my ILs. Yes I spent a nice morning trailing 30m behind the group (roll eyes). I never feel quite comfortable with them and going on a walk through a nature trail, I would rather dawdle along, check out the flora and fauna and listen to birdcall (although there was more traffic noise than birdcall since the park bordered a busy road!!).

Following that, we ended up at my ILs house (again, no, all this was not planned by me since I would never voluntarily suggest any amount of time spent with them, but more like I was vetoed by my kids who wanted xbox time). So the kids played on the xbox while I hung out at the nearby mall for more than an hour. The day ended with a swim at the Yishun SAFRA club which had a very nice pool. I didn't swim - I never do (hate public bathrooms and changing rooms - ugh!) . So the kids - all 7 of them including Trin - went with KH.

He said people were giving him funny looks again since he had 7 kids with him, haha. I guess we're all immune to curious looks when we go out with 5 kids, but to have 7 and only ONE parent, must have been mind-boggling for the other parents.

The day passed pleasantly except for the morning. But I just wanted to record my observations about my kids - and his friends.

Having other kids around gave me a chance to see what these kids are like, how they behave, how they are brought up and to put my parenting, my kids into perspective.

P and G, Isaac's friends, are 12 and 8 respectively. They have no other siblings and come from a relatively well-off family. Their mother is an investment banker and the father dabbles in business. They are well-travelled and go to good schools.

I found P and G well-behaved generally. They're not bad kids. They were sociable, fit in well with my kids, interacted well with the adults. They were not spoilt kids. But yet, two incidents were telling.

The first happened when 8-year-old G complained of a stomach ache. We were in the car after the swim. And she was sitting in the back, groaning away really loudly. We were naturally concerned and asked if she was okay, did she need to go to the toilet etc. I was particularly worried since I do not want to offer meds to someone else's kid. Then I realised that the more concern we showed, the louder she would groan and clutch her tummy. Finally, I have to say I got a bit irritated. None of our suggestions agreed with her and the groaning was becoming louder and more annoying. So I said mildly, if you're so unwell, perhaps it might be best if we gave you a lift home. Your mum might be able to give you some meds for this.

Immediately the groaning ceased and she said: No, I don't want to go home.

After that, we had reached our home and the kids started setting up the DVD player, going on the computer etc and there was no more groaning and moaning. G played happily with the rest.

KH later told me that I was taking a risk, what if she was really in pain and tried to ignore it just to avoid going home. I told him that IF she was really in pain, she would WANT to go home. I have a built-in antenna when it comes to kids trying to pull a fast one for whatever reason, and I have no patience for attention-seeking or whiny kids. I hate molly-coddling people and especially molly-coddling kids. I especially hate pandering to attention-seekers (read MIL!). I think this just indulges them to whine more. My approach is simple: if it bothers you enough, do something about it. Otherwise, just be quiet!

Incident number 2 is really an amalgam of several incidents. It was breakfast. P had already had his breakfast. Nonetheless, he opened a full packet of bee-hoon. He ate half the egg, gobbled the chicken wing and left two-thirds of the beehoon uneaten. Said he already had breakfast, was too full etc. So we ended up throwing away that packet of beehoon. Then came lunch. He could not eat what my ILs bought so we asked the helper to cook a bowl of instant noodles. He said he wanted to include fishballs and veggies too. Barely ten minutes later, I heard him say: I can't finish. I'm not very hungry - still full from breakfast. He asked Gillian to eat this for him. Gillian complained of being treated like a scavenger but still ate a bit. Despite that, there was still a LOT left that had to be thrown away.

I, who cannot abide waste, really felt my hackles rising. So when incident three came, I was ready. He asked for oatmeal which the others were eating. I asked him to taste first and see if this was what he really wanted. He did and said yes. I gave him two spoonfuls of oatmeal and cooked it up. Added an egg. Half an hour later, he came to me with his bowl, three-quarters uneaten and said, you guessed it: Can't finish. Aaaarrghhh!!

Had it been my kid, I would have called him on the carpet! But of course it would not be my kids. My kids have been drilled from birth - take only what you need and finish everything on your plate. They know better than to embark on a deathwish like this by wasting food.

So faced with this boy, I really felt like tearing my hair out!

I have been brought up not to waste food and now I am imparting the same philosophy to my kids. How often have I heard the usual line about Ethiopians starving away and here we are throwing away food etc. Yes I used to roll my eyes too whenever my mom went on and on about this.

But now I say this to my kids too. Well, not about the Ethiopians but about the kids in Cambodia or in the Manila slums who rummage through garbage heaps to find edible scraps of food. My kids never ask me about the logic of this though - how could their actions at the dining table translate to actual help for those kids. But I believe in a karmic logic to all this - that if we respect the laws of the universe, respect what is given to us and be thankful for it and not waste, then somewhere somehow, it will be put right. We might have more respect for what is not ours, what is transient, rare, finite. We would appreciate better what we do have, appreciate the amount of work that it took to put food on the table and have better empathy and respect for our fellowman somewhere who has much less.

A friend told me that she's okay with food wastage - what matters is that the kid must enjoy the food and not force it down. But I think this is very undisciplined. It just means that I can do whatever I like as long as I like - never mind if there is wastage or excess or whatever. I can't do this. I don't believe in being this self-indulgent. At the least, its so disrespectful to Mother Earth! I don't want my kids to behave like this or think it's okay to behave like this.

I can't help but wonder if my family and I are anomalies. And is this because I am strict? Or are other parents lax? Does it have anything to do with the size of their family? I would imagine that with a larger family, one would be more wary of wastage since resources are so finite. I would also think that with a smaller family size, the kids are more likely to be mollycoddled and their every whim catered to. Is it necessarily bad that I don't indulge my kids? Is this what they mean when they say kids from big families suffer from the lack of parental attention? Well if so, I'm glad I have a big family then.

This sort of me-first, never mind the rest of the world attitude is not uncommon. Just on Sunday, the Sunday Times interviewed this undergrad who thinks nothing of spending freely on luxury items in a downturn. Its all well and good if you can afford it but it does reflect a distasteful disregard for the times and a lack of sensitivity for the people around you who may not be well-off.

If she wants to spend that kind of money, be my guest. But what gets my goat is the aura of insensitivity and callous attitude she gave off that smelled so bad in the article. (Note: there were some in the ST forum pages who defended her and said she was misrepresented in the article. They gave a URL to her blog. Out of curiosity, I surfed over. First of all, gosh if this was the way 1st year undergrads in NTU write, I think NTU's selection standards leave a lot to be desired! Second, she claims to be misrepresented etc, but when I surfed to previous entries, the same bad whiff of self-indulgence and flaky insensitivity came out. No smoke without fire they say...)

Were her parents overly indulgent? When did she start seeing them as an unending fount of funds? And with her mindset like this, what will happen to her should reality come crashing down? I shudder to think.

I hope and pray my kids will never be like that.

I don't think they will. There's hope yet. Yesterday was Isaac's birthday and we usually go out to celebrate as a family, treating them to their favourite food. Usually the request would be for sushi. But this time, Isaac surprised us all. He asked me how much a bowl of ramen would cost, if baby would share with Owain etc. He did the math and concluded that ramen was cheaper, so let's have ramen instead of sushi. When we asked him why, he said it was because times are getting harder and we're almost in a recession (actually we already are!) so better not to be so extravagant. Wow and double wow for my son!! Note that for the record, we ended up having sushi. KH and I thanked Isaac for being thoughtful, but since it was his birthday, we would treat him to sushi which was what he really wanted. During dinner though, I overheard him telling his siblings: "Eh, you all better don't eat so much ah!"

Then after dinner, he saw me withdrawing some cash from the ATM. I told him quite frankly that I was relieved to see my bank balance still able to last me through to the next pay day - 18 days to go! When he asked why, I told him the truth: every month is hand to mouth for me and I need to watch what I spend very carefully because on months when I am careless, there is literally nothing left in the kitty - zero! It's never a nice feeling to go to the ATM, try to withdraw money and realise you only have $20 left in there! But this happens practically every month for me, so I tell him its important to ration money very carefully.

Some parents might think this is too much information for the kids. But I'm quite happy to share the state of my finances with him. I think he is old enough to know, think for himself and join the dots. I don't believe in sheltering him or being an unlimited source of funds for him or the other kids (I can't!). Hopefully, my honesty will bring a huge dose of reality to them and let it sink home what we've always been saying: money does not grow on trees!


Rita said...

Pat, I don't see anything wrong with the way you are raising your kids -- we also raise ours to be thrifty. Remember my family's "only mineral water" rule when eating out ? ha ha ;-))

Rita said...

Pat, I don't see anything wrong with the way you are raising your kids -- we also raise ours to be thrifty. Remember my family's "only mineral water" rule when eating out ? ha ha ;-))

makeupmag said...