ALL’S FAIR IN LOVE AND WORMS

I’m pretty competitive, even if I do pretend not to be. I can’t help it and so, I’m gonna blame human nature. Yes, that’s it. Human nature. We are hardwired in wanting to succeed and if you believe what that guy — Freud — says about humans, we are inherently selfish twats with an innate competitiveness that drives our psyche. Something like that – don’t quote me, I did psychology 101 about a gazillion years ago and we all know I have the memory capacity of a goldfish

Anyway, moving along. The point of this drivel is that I am competitive, ergo, I don’t like losing. Losing gives me that slight twinge in the guts. Losing feels like there’s a mean spirited gnat buzzing near my ear telling me that I failed at something, no matter how insignificant it is. But of course, it’s not true and I know this to be the case. Rationally, I understand that “failing” is an important part of life and an integral part of learning and developing skills to achieve success. Failure helps us to grow. 

However, despite this, I’m still driven by my competitiveness and dislike of losing. Let’s just say I wouldn’t be happy with a participation award. Not everyone should be a winner. 

Suffice to say, our household is pretty competitive, but in a good way. We don’t condone smack talking and tall poppy syndrome is non-existent. We give merit where merit is due.

So when it comes to being a good role model for the children, it can sometimes get tricky. Why do you ask? Because I can be a bloody sore loser.

As we are in our sixth lockdown, we’ve started a routine where as a family we play games after dinner and most weekends. It alternates between Monopoly Deal (card game) and Worms W.M.D. (Nintendo video game). To my absolute embarrassment, I suck at both. Actually, that’s a lie. I am as good as my 4-year-old boy, and that’s saying something. We keep a score board for Monopoly Deal just for kicks and guess where I sit on the leaderboard. Yeah, bottom last, beneath the 4-year-old, who plays with his cards open on the floor for all to see. What does that tell you? That my strategy skills are so poor it’s a miracle I’m not homeless. I believe I’m at 6 wins to about 25 for the husband and daughter, and 10 for the son.

As for Worms, remember that game? You play as little worms armed with a bunch of artillery and the aim of the game is to kill your opponents. Whoever has the last surviving worm wins. It was called Worms Armageddon about twenty years ago. I was a gun at it back in the day, or at least, that’s what I keep telling my family but no one believes me. And I can’t even blame them given my track record so far. But really, how am I supposed to win when my worms are ALWAYS placed in precarious positions? My worms are always sitting on a ledge or at the base of a hill where they can get batted off into the ocean and die. I keep telling them of my suspicions that the tiny computer person inside the Nintendo game is biased towards me and that’s why I keep losing. That and because everyone keeps ganging up on me.

Do I sound like a sore loser? I do, don’t I? Sigh. I hate losing.

Anyway, after several months of this losing streak, I’ve come to a realisation and acceptance. Yeah, losing can suck, but there’s good in losing too. I don’t play to win anymore. I play to spend time with my family. I play to help my children develop strategic and critical thinking skills. I play to help them develop social and cognitive skills. I play to show them the value of family time.

So in essence, while my children are winning and I am losing like it’s my job, we are actually winning as a family.  

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WALKING THE LINE

My eight-year-old daughter and her classmates had one of their six summer swimming lessons yesterday at the local pool. I volunteered as a parent helper to assist in the change rooms and to make sure the children were safe on their walk there and back.

I like volunteering as a parent helper for school/kinder excursions, incursions and in the classroom. It allows me to better understand what my children are learning, see how they interact with their peers and teacher and shows them the importance of participating in a larger community.

I’m in a fortunate place where I am able to volunteer my time, and I’m grateful for it. Not all parents are able to do these things for their children.

As the class started their journey towards the local pool, I found myself supervising the children in the middle of the walking line.

One of the boys sidled up to me and asked, “What do you think of being a vegan?”

How do you answer that? You can’t exactly be upfront and honest with young impressionable children who aren’t yours! What if I said something that was contradictory to his parent’s beliefs or opened a can of worms I wasn’t meant to?

So what do you do when you’re like a deer caught in the headlights by a tricky question from a kid? You deflect. “Um, what made you ask that? Do you know what a vegan is?”

“It’s when you don’t eat eggs and meat,” he replied with a shrug of his shoulders. “I just wanted to know.”

“Well, I guess you could give it a go if you’re interested and see?”

Obviously, I need to work on my deflecting and diplomatic skills. I should have told him to ask his parents or given a non-response. They could be meatatarians for all I know, and my flippant comment on trying veganism could really anger them.

I had inadvertently dropped a think bomb. Trying to limit the damage, I moved away and left the boy to ponder his lifestyle choices.

I noticed a couple of girls walking behind me and slowed down to talk to them. “Hello, what are your names?”

The girls were terribly shy. They reminded me of when I was a young girl and would reply with one worded answers and refused to make eye contact. I started to feel bad when one of the girls unconsciously moved further and further away from me and ended off the footpath. I realised I was making them feel uncomfortable with the questions and so I moved away.

I wondered how I would have reacted to an unknown adult giving me attention as a shy child and came to the conclusion that I’d have done the same.

By the end of the journey, I was near my daughter and her buddy at the front of the walking line. Yes, my daughter hadn’t wanted to walk with me. Apparently, I’m embarrassing. Oh, have I mentioned that last week she took a proverbial axe to my heart by declaring she was too old to give me goodbye cuddles at the school gates? Yeah, that happened.

My daughter’s buddy decided a walking line was the perfect place to pounce on an unsuspecting parent.

“Can I have a sleepover at your house? Or maybe Mandy can come to my house?”

“Maybe. We’ll see,” I answered, not wanting to commit to anything because like elephants, children NEVER forget promises.

“Do you work?”
“Can we have a playdate during the school holidays?”
“Could you organise a sleepover?”
“Mandy and I would really like a sleepover.”

My daughter was suspiciously silent throughout the onslaught, letting her buddy steamroll me.

“Mandy wants a lot of things but it doesn’t mean she always gets what she wants,” I replied, hoping her buddy understood nuances. But like most eight-year-olds, they hear what they want to hear and it wasn’t a firm no.

“I’ll get my mum to volunteer next week with you, so you can both talk.” The kid gave me a stern look. The teacher and I made eyes, and I’m pretty sure she was giving me a sympathetic look that said ‘Welcome to my world’.

As I was leaving the school grounds, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was possible to predict a child’s future career using their personality traits and temperament.

The boy asking about veganism seemed inquisitive and thoughtful. Maybe he’ll become a philosopher or an activist. Perhaps he’ll become a scientist.

My daughter’s buddy was assertive to the point of aggressive and possessed debating skills that would make her a great lawyer. God help her parents in the meantime, though.

While it’s easy for us to imagine or predict a child’s future career based on obvious personality traits, it’s not as straightforward when it comes to shy and quieter children. No one pays attention to the shy kids, who are often unseen and unheard, let alone being noticed long enough for someone to predict their futures!

These shy girls might not have much to say now, but I hope that with time they’ll learn to believe in themselves and find their voice. Maybe it’ll happen soon or maybe like me, it’ll happen later in life.

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IGNORANCE IS NOT BLISS

Mothers. They always think they know better. Why is that? I’m almost forty-years-old, and my mother still thinks she can boss me around. It’s one of the reasons why I don’t visit my parents as often as I should. Every time I see my mother, it inevitably ends in arguments. It doesn’t help that we have a dysfunctional relationship. But I try for the sake of my children. I want them to have a relationship with their grandparents and by extension, have a link to their Vietnamese culture.

So on New Year’s Day, our family drove over to my parent’s place for a barbecue lunch. The plan was for my husband to leave afterwards and for the rest of us to stay overnight. My husband would get a small reprieve, and the children would get some quality time with their grandparents. I would get a headache, but it was a small sacrifice for everyone else.

As my mother over-caters for every occasion and has no reason or rhyme to anything she does, I suggested she organise drinks, bread and chicken wings, while I organised salads and barbecue meats. With only four adults and two children, we didn’t need too much food.

We arrived mid-morning to find a box of squid and a bowl of prawns defrosting on the kitchen counter. Next to them were a bowl of marinated chicken wings and a plate of enoki mushrooms and cabbages. On the stove top, a pot of chicken stock was on the boil as my mother was preparing rice paper rolls.

“I got the kids fried chicken drumsticks so they don’t get hungry waiting for the barbecue,” she said, pointing to a takeaway container filled with chicken from the nearby chicken shop.

There was no point arguing with my mother when her mind was set on something so I let it slide to focus on getting her to put away the excess food into the fridge.

“Uh, you might want to see what your dad’s doing with the barbecue.” My husband nudged me towards the backyard to investigate.

My dad was burning charcoal briquettes on a metal cooling rack on the stove top before dumping them into a miniature Weber Smokey Joe.

“Dad, do you have any fire lighters?” This man was a hoarder. He should have had a box of fire lighters somewhere among the junk in his garage.

“Nah, this will work just fine,” replied my dad, as he grabbed the leaf blower and started airing the briquettes in the barbecue.

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We left him alone to deal with the barbecue and prayed the fire brigade wouldn’t be needed for any wayward fire sparks.

By the time the food was ready, the children were full from all their earlier “snacks”. My mum refused to eat as 1 pm was “too early” for her. It was up to my husband, my dad and I to eat the half kilo of barbecued lamb meat, sausages and salads.

Just as we were about done, my mum brought out the chicken wings, corn and sweet potato to go on the barbecue.

“Everyone is full! Why are you cooking more food?!” I exclaimed in horror. There were already enough leftovers to last for days. I didn’t relish the idea of eating barbecue leftovers for three days straight.

“People might get hungry later. Might as well cook it!”

She was wrong. No one was going to be hungry later. This always happened. In fact, I’d go as far as to say she never learns from her mistakes.

My husband left to avoid witnessing further chaos and my dad sat down with the children to teach them how to play Dominoes.

“You have to strategise. Think about what everyone might have. Think about what you need to play to win! Okay?!”

The children have a hard time understanding my dad’s broken English most of the time, so they look to me for translations. I usually tell them what I think he’s trying to say in a more tactful and children friendly way.

My dad proceeded to lose every single game to my four-year-old son. I’d wager he was actually trying to win too! It was rather embarrassing to watch a grown man lose to a child who had just learnt how to play Dominoes.

That night, my son and I slept in my brother’s old room on his double bed. My daughter didn’t want to be squished between us, so she decided to sleep with my mother. My parents have separate rooms.

At half past three in the morning, my daughter crawled back into bed with us. My mother had sent my daughter off running with her loud snoring, so I ended up sleeping at the bottom of the bed with my body half hanging off. It was a sleepless night for everyone.

At half past six, my children woke and were sent to my dad’s room to watch TV. My dad was already up and preparing them breakfast. I rolled out half an hour later to see them with a bowl of salted air-fried potato fries on their laps.

“Why did you feed the kids fries for breakfast?!” I couldn’t believe my dad thought fries were an appropriate breakfast option for children.

“It’s fine. It’s a sometimes food.”

The deed was done. I couldn’t do anything about it, so I gathered the children to the kitchen to make them something healthier to eat.

As I was making my children a second breakfast, my mother thought it prudent to give me parenting advice on how to “fix” my naughty four-year-old son. She claimed the only reason my eight-year-old daughter was well-behaved and well-mannered was because of her.

My mother suggested my parenting choices and skills were to blame for my son’s unruly behaviour and offered to correct this. I just needed to drop him off for a short stay and she’d get him sorted out in a few weeks.

What really got my goat was her stating in a matter-of-fact way that my son was “naughty” because he was half-White and if I didn’t “reign” him in, he’ll likely become a druggie or a social degenerate.

I cracked the sh!ts. Obviously.

“Why are you so angry? It’s the truth!” reasoned my mother. My dad tried stepping into the argument but got shot down when he sided with my mother.

My parents insisted they “knew better” because they were elders and had the life experience to show for it. They didn’t realise their deep-rooted beliefs were shrouded in racism and bigotry. While I could ignore her criticisms about my parenting style, I refused to accept blatant racism against her own grandchild. It was a hard limit for me.

After schooling my parents on their social prejudices, I took my children and left in a huff. Luckily, the argument was in Vietnamese so while the children could tell we were arguing and I was upset, they didn’t know the reason. I didn’t want them to know that their grandmother was an ignorant racist. I didn’t want to ruin their relationship.

I haven’t spoken or seen my parents since New Year’s Day. While I still love my mother, I simply can’t be around her. I am just too angry. So for now, I’ll avoid her until I feel balanced enough to face her.

I can’t change my mother’s beliefs, only she is capable of doing that. And if she isn’t receptive to having open discussions where her worldview and beliefs are challenged, then that’s on her. BUT, I have control over whether or not I choose to listen to her biases. I can also limit my children’s exposure to that kind of damage.

Not all parents know better, some are ignorant fools that will never change.

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