Over the weekend, my firstborn turned 11. And with every birthday, we often reminisce about the past. How hard it had been when we were trying all ways and means to have a baby, the cautious joy that we experienced when we were finally successful, the fear during the labour process, the disbelief when we finally held him in our arms, and – oh god – the lack of sleep thereafter.
But we don’t just look back at the past, we also celebrate this child as he is, today. Parenting an almost-teenager is an interesting experience. It’s like warm, comfortable water mixing with a cold draught: the cosy, known factor of him being still a child and his rebellious, independent self emerging.
The Aidan at 11 is a beautiful child. He is a (mostly) kind and loving brother to his sibling, and he is very much a beacon of rightness to Zac. According to his teachers, he is a helpful kid and that’s why he was selected to be a class monitor for the second time. Heaven forbid that you ask him why he isn’t a prefect though, he gets really offended, haha. He thinks that being a prefect is boring because it requires him to be perfect and good. Can’t argue against that, honestly!
Unlike most kids I know on Instagram, he is not academically-driven. Oh, he is getting better at making sure that his homework is completed. But good luck to you if you have to get him to study – it is a complete waste of time, in his opinion. School, to this boy, is a social activity – it’s only great because he can spend time with his friends. It would be much, much better if he could play Roblox all day, everyday!
And so, as his parents, we crack our brains trying to figure out what would motivate him. We think we have a winning formula on hand but if parenting has taught us anything, it is that winning formulas are never permanent. But it’s fine – we just want to make sure that he gets the opportunities and exposure that we never had, in case he isn’t cut out for academic life.
This would likely shock most Singaporean parents because, hey, getting into the top schools is like the ultimate goal. The truth is, we simply don’t care. Our mandate to them is to firstly, put in effort. I always tell the boys that if they put in effort and don’t do well, I have no complaints. They tried, period. But if they don’t put in effort and the results are crap, then they have a lot to answer for.
Secondly, we only need them to do well enough to have options. As someone who grew up poor and with little financial options, my grades were the only things that prevented me from remaining in that stratum. At every step of the way, I did well enough to have choices and I made sure those choices count. I want them to create these choices in life by themselves, as much as possible.
Lastly, we want them to always be learning. There is nothing more dreadful, in my opinion, than to be someone with zero curiosity. When there is curiosity, there will always be learning. And to be honest, we have their teachers in school to thank. Despite their misgivings about spending so much time in school (and NOT PLAYING!), they often come home raring to tell us about the new things that they have learnt.
But back to my child. I have loved him unconditionally since the day I knew of his existence in my womb but I am also cognisant of his flaws. Between the husband and I, we are working hard to help him with these flaws but we realise that sometimes, he just has to learn the hard way. Sometimes, he reacts too quickly and emotionally (my genes, sorry). Sometimes he gives up too easily (papa’s genes, for sure). Sometimes he is impatient and loses sight of empathy (a mix of his parents, for sure).
He is also kind and generous. His teachers once got him to sit next to a boy who was likely to have special needs. They asked him to “help” the boy, who did not submit his homework, was messy with filing and could not pay attention in class. Aidan took it so seriously, he got upset when the boy did not listen to him, and shared his frustrations with us. We counselled him, told him to be patient with his classmate, and explained what being neurodivergent meant. Shortly after, I reached out to his form teacher, who explained that Aidan was selected because they felt he would be a good influence over the boy. And once they took the time to explain that to Aidan, he was more confident of lending a helping hand.
As an educator, I know the importance of doing well. At the same time, I also see that the kids who succeed in life may not necessarily be those with a perfect GPA. The ones who do well are empathetic, kind, considerate, resilient with a dash of good humour. And there are those who bloom later in life, when they finally shake themselves free from the shackles of mainstream education and find a vocation that suits their personality and skills. I may be biased but I know my kid – and I know he’s on his way to fulfilling these important life qualities.
So to my dearest Boo, continue to be brave and kind and good-hearted. These qualities make you the best version of yourself, and I am always proud of you, because I know that you are not defined by results. You were the gift that took me out of the miserable state that I was in more than 11 years ago, and I know that you will continue to be a gift to the world.
I love you to the moon and back, never, ever doubt that.