We’ve Got A Bird

We got ourselves a new friend. A bird. A turquoise green-cheeked conure. I honestly have not heard of a conure until last May when we got ours. As it turns out, a conure belongs to a family of small to medium-sized parrots. Parakeets as some would call them. But hey, it’s called diversity.

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Our hamster died earlier this year and it was really a struggle having to cope with the death of another hamster in the course of over eight years. To be fair to us, a hamster’s life expectancy is between two to three years. And when we got over the death of Turd, we turned our eyes to a different type of companion. And no, it wasn’t a cat or a dog.

I have long been a dog person. I’ve lived my childhood surrounded by dogs. And living in a rural area of the Philippines, that means that those are your normal dogs. Mutts. And I loved them. Dogs are some of the most loyal and loving pets you would ever have. I believed that, up until we met our conure.

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When we went to the pet shop, I was a bit sceptical. The only birds that I have come across when I was younger were the love birds that my grandmother bred. I did not get to interact with them much because they were all caged and they would fly off the moment they sense an open door (or window). So when we were greeted by this chick, I was a bit undecided. The chick had been chirping and following my wife as we went around the shop. It barely had any feathers but it was big enough to fit in your hand. My wife asked about it and 10 minutes later it was on the way home with us.

We’ve had lots of stories with this bird since we brought it home. We still don’t know if it’s a girl or a boy, that will apparently cost us to get a DNA test for the bird. But it feels like we now have the best of both worlds. This conure acts like a puppy. It’s playful, loyal, and loud. Yet, it’s still a bird. It’s small, makes less of a mess, and loud. We are definitely in love. And according to nature, they could last 10 to 20 years!

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National Museum of Singapore 132

2019 marks the 132nd birthday of the National Museum of Singapore. It is the nation’s oldest museum with a history dating back to 1887. While the museum maintains it’s old school façade looking like a 19th-century colonial building, the museum actually embraces cutting-edge technology to bring its visitors a modern experience of the nation’s legacy and development.

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To celebrate the museum’s 132nd anniversary, they transformed it once again to become an interactive story-telling building. There are various exhibits that bring us the sights, sounds and smells of an old port city. We were there, but we didn’t smell anything. The sights and sounds though are what you would expect from a museum of this calibre.

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We visited the museum on the 13th of October and we were treated to free entrance to all the exhibits. While wandering about and looking through the stories and the rich history of Singapore, there were bits and pieces that would come back to our memory. This was not our first visit to the museum but the memories that came back just let us know how long it had been since we last visited. Sadly, as Matthew grew older and school became tougher, we have had less and less time to enjoy simple things like this. As Matthew had just finished his finals for History, quite a number of things in the museum made more sense compared to when we were last here. And that was refreshingly fun. Because history should not be just about textbooks, it should be an experience.

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Alas, our time at the museum had come to an end. We enjoyed it as always. It’s good to have places like this to visit. And it’s good to have the time to do it. Life should be about balance. And I do believe that visits to museums help with that.

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Geeky Things Kids Should Do

There was an article I read a long time ago about geeky things kids should do before they turn twelve. Well, we are way past that now. But there were things on that list that we have actually done and I am quite happy about those. But there are still things to do. In an age where mobile phones and tablets are given to children as young as 2, I can breathe a sigh of relief that we never brought up Matthew in such a way.

 

That said, we are probably in a hybrid situation where we are holding on to our past and embracing the future for both ourselves and for Matthew. This list of geeky things to do then would probably be because of this. And I’m happy that we have actually managed to do quite a bit on that list. This list is not exhaustive, and I will be running through the things that we have done as briefly as possible. We should probably write a full feature on some of them provided we have the means to do it.

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1. Tear something electronic apart. Heck, we love doing this kind of thing. We have taken apart a keyboard, an R/C car and a rice cooker among other things.

2. Play a musical instrument. He played the piano when he was in primary school and he is now on percussions in his CCA. So I guess that’s checked off the list.

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3. Play an “old fashioned” video game before getting too jaded by modern graphics. Oh, hell yes. 8-bit games rule. Our oldest console now is a GBA but we had a GBC before that. Can’t go too old-school.

4. Plant seeds and watch them grow. You know how this is a school project? It still is, but we have been doing the stuff even before they were asked to do it at school.

5. Create a lightsaber from an old cardboard tube and shiny paper. For some reason, we had cardboard rolls for plastic sheets. Two of them. I didn’t even have to do anything, Matthew just doodled lightsaber handles on them and we started humming lightsaber sounds.

6. Watch a trilogy (we won’t even judge you if it’s all in one day!). Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Back to the Future, Pirates of the Caribbean and then some.

7. Mix Mentos with Coke. Over and done with. This should be a school requisite.

8. Watch an animated series (Batman, Superman, Justice League, X-Men, etc..). Cartoon Network helped with these. And then there are others like Ben 10, My Little Pony, Wakfu, Gravity Falls, and the list goes on.

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9. Visit your state or nation’s capital. Visit the museums there. Okay, we’ve been living in Singapore for a good 10 years and we have more or less visited the museums here twice. We still have to visit the Istana though.

10. Play a video game all the way to the end. Uh-huh. Let’s see, there’s Halo 5, GTA-V, Fallout 4, Titanfall 2 and Castle Crashers. At least from recent memory.

11. Build a model. We have built Gundams. Lots of Gundams.

12. Make a paper aeroplane or newspaper boat. Seriously, it is a sad childhood for anyone who has not made a paper aeroplane and flew it. A paper boat maybe not so much, but parents please, teach your children to fly paper aeroplanes.

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13. Play a Table Top Game. We tried our hands on The Walking Dead but ended up buying the Star Wars X-Wing Table Top game.

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14. Attend a Comic/Game/Toy Convention. We did. And Matthew ended up loving it. We’re going to attend this year again.

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15. Build something crafty. Once upon a time, we got lost and ended up in Playeum. Here, Matthew was introduced to the wonders of a glue gun.

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16. Wear a Costume. Yeah, I had to don the same, but we made it through the night without getting caught!

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17. Program a Drone. This is the primary reason he got into his school of choice. Drones.

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18. Experience Virtual Reality. During the time that VR is just jargon, we managed to attend an exhibition that had a small VR booth set up for learning (rather than playing a game).

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19. Build a Robot. Yeah, it was just a kit. But isn’t a robot, a robot?

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20. Be an Eco-Warrior. There was one time I brought home extra garbage bags, gloves, and tongs from a beach cleanup that we did with my colleagues. Inspired, Matthew invited us to do the same. And we went to Pasir Ris Beach to clean up, much to the surprise of the people that saw us there.

We probably made half the list and that really isn’t enough. The world has become digital now. Children are always on their mobile phones or tablets playing games or watching videos. There aren’t enough of them going out to play with their friends anymore. There aren’t enough of them riding their bikes around town or going to the beach. Even as we try to bring our children out to do more things, these appliances always draw them in. We need to teach our children how to find balance in their lives because they are moving in a much faster pace than we did. And this may make them unprepared to manage the expectations of a very demanding world.

I would like to reach out more to Matthew and do more geeky things together even as our world turns digital. That is where our world is heading and there is no way to turn our back on the future. What we can do is to make every step going forward also be significant enough to look back on and trigger memories that he would someday recall to smile upon and reflect on.

Naming Convention

When I was a kid, people called me shy. To this day, I have this subconscious thought that I am shy. Contrary to this image that I have in my head, my wife refuses to accept this fact. When I think about it though, I am not that shy. At least not anymore.

And this is what I wanted to discuss. I was “labelled”, for lack of a better word, as being a shy child. And I grew up believing that I was. I may have grown up a little differently if I had believed otherwise.

So why was I told that I was shy in the first place? To be quite honest, I could really have been shy and timid when I was young. I imagine that most kids would be. I do remember being told stop being shy at certain times in my childhood. But it wasn’t an encouragement type of being told, it was more like a stern command to stop being shy. Mind you, this was the norm in the time and place that I grew up in. And so I grew up thinking I was normal and I don’t really have anything against my upbringing. Even with the guidance of our parents, we still grow into our own adult selves. And this is where I am now.

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Matthew has also been called a lot of things. We were building him up ever since he was much smaller. We always told him that he would be great. We always told him how good looking he was. We always told him how we loved his thoughtfulness, his kindness, his wittiness, his being a good son. It had always been praise. And then, we changed. The three of us changed.

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Over the years, the frustration over Matthew’s performance in his academics seems to have piled up. He has his own frustrations and we have our own. And it has really rocked the boat.

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Obviously, as parents, we try not to focus on the negatives. It is unsurprisingly difficult. It isn’t impossible but it is difficult. Humans, by nature, only look at things that are obviously in front of them without taking the time to understand why. Some won’t even bother asking the question. And this is where the bad labelling comes in. Words hurt. And you won’t know how much you have hurt that person until that person comes up to you to say it. And at one point, Matthew did. And I felt horrible. It felt like someone had thrust a hand into my chest and yanked my guts out. For a father that had been doing his best to be a good dad, hearing your child say that you had hurt him with your words, that is just devastating. And we’re not even talking about harsh words here, this is just about me pushing him to study harder.

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And so I woke up. I had been lost in thought for a long time about what to do with Matthew. Because I had been thinking on my own. I really don’t want to be blamed for anything because I was thinking of how Matthew’s future would be like. But those were my thoughts. His thoughts are different. His thoughts are of the present. His thoughts do not look forward enough that we see eye to eye. And that’s where I need to take a step back. I am thinking of his future, but I had not been walking him there. I was four steps in front of him and he just couldn’t grasp it. It took a while to learn that. But I am hopeful that it is the way for all of us to move forward. Maybe not in the same direction, but at least all at the same time.

Decide on Acceptance

Acceptance. We all need it. And yet we still take it for granted.

Most have probably heard or read this prayer before:

Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.
Courage to change the things I can,
And Wisdom to know the difference.

It is a prayer that is both familiar and distant at the same time. Maybe because I have heard it so many times but have not actually looked deep enough to use it in my life. Sure, maybe once or twice I decided to take up this prayer and have lived with that decision for a time. But I doubt that I have ever really gone to lengths to embrace it.

Why now?
After the rude awakening on Father’s Day, I decided to look at myself in the mirror and figure a few things out.

Matthew had always been a good person. We raised him to be nice to people, to be respectful, to be kind, to be generous, to be humble. And he had been, for the most part of his life. And deep inside, he still is.

But why isn’t all that good coming out? Why is it being suppressed at a subconscious level? What happened?

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More and more questions actually pop up than I find answers to. But I think it is for the best. In order to make sense of my world as it is now, I need to understand more of what is happening around me, rather than just what is happening with me. And this is where the serenity prayer comes in. By looking and learning, I hope to see the things that when changed, will make me a better person. I hope to find out what it is that will bring Matthew back to his natural, kind, fun-loving, positive-thinking, generous, and all-loving self again. And for better or worse, I would need to accept the reality that will come out of this.

I guess have my work cut out for me.

What A Day

My Sad Keanu interpretation

My Father’s Day gift this year was being slapped in the face that I have not been a good father (or just not good enough).

Ouch. Reflection follows.

When I started the journey into fatherhood more than 13 years ago, I promised myself that I would be the best father that I could be. I had ideologies, I had dreams, I had plans, I had quite a lot in mind, to be honest. That was thirteen years in the making. And then a brick wall hit me. When you hit a wall, you become dazed and confused. You stop for a while and get your head back on straight. Or at least you try to. Looking back at those thirteen years I have to admit that it hadn’t really been smooth as the journey in my dreams. There were things that I know I should have done differently. There are things that I should have said differently. There are decisions that I should have made differently. Not going into the mumbo-jumbo of time-travel and alternate universes, it could have made a difference in how I am now. I can’t say how much of a difference, but it would have made one.

Breaking things down, one of the things that I regret the most is showing Matthew how I lose my temper. I am very bad at this. Unfortunately, this is one thing that I can no longer undo. This is also one thing that he seems to have gotten from me and it is utterly frustrating being stuck between calming down and flaming up when both of us are doing the same thing. It’s like a Dragon Ball Z fight.

The next thing is actually one that may have been a by-product of my temper outburst. I thought that I would not come to the point that I would need to shout at Matthew. But it did. It was becoming harder and harder to get him to stop and listen. It had gotten to the point that I would be shouting because of frustration and even though I know that I shouldn’t, I could not get myself to stop.

I also told myself that I would do my best not to curse in front of Matthew because I get really disappointed when I hear young kids shouting expletives that they may not even understand. There are places and people that they hear these, and parents should not be one of them. Again, this is where I have failed when I have been taken over by my temper.

Spare the rod and spoil the child is a term that has been thrown around from generations ago. I did not want to ever reach this point in my fatherhood. But I crossed that line. At the boiling point, I have gotten to slap Matthew on his bums. Not a lot of times, but I didn’t think I would need to do it. Another case of an unfortunate event.

Whenever I realised that I had done any of the things that I wish I didn’t do, I would try and go into a calmer state (believe me, this is easier said than done) and try to douse the fires that have been set. I would do my best to explain what had happened and why I had done some of the things that I had done. I would break down what he had done that had gotten me to act the way that I did. I would explain why I shouldn’t have done what I had done and especially why he shouldn’t do what I did.

And I apologize.

It wasn’t like this when we were younger. In fact, it wasn’t like this until he had gone to school. It started probably somewhere between primary four and primary five. It had become a journey that went in and out of bad experiences which had affected us in a way we didn’t expect. There are things that Matthew does that has already become an instant trigger to my frustrations. And no matter how many times I have talked to him about it, he would still go on and do them, seemingly without a care in the world. I try to avoid it as best as I can because I am really tired of telling him off again and again. It’s fair enough when he does these things to me, but they become hairline triggers when he does it to his mum when I am around. And I just explode.

So I guess I have not been the good father that I thought I would be. It’s harder than I thought. This is definitely not turning out to be the happy, ever-laughing, and ideal parenting blog that I initially thought it would be. And that’s fine with me now. I realised that life isn’t all about the fun and the laughter. It comes drizzled with sadness and frustration as well that should not be ignored. This is a realisation. A reflection. No, I have not been the ideal father. And you can’t create a new account and start all over. You can only learn from your mistakes and pick up the pieces and hope that you can turn things around while there is still time.

Matthew is a good person. I don’t doubt that one bit. He just needs to realise that he has the potential to change the world. I guess that means me too. This is not a reboot, but a sequel. Welcome to fatherhood season 13.

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Technology Rules

There is no denying that this generation is living on tech. As parents with teenagers, we are responsible for keeping the balance of usage and abuse of these devices. Our children are exposed to a world that is cunning and ruthless. If we do not teach our children how to take care of themselves using devices such as mobile smartphones and computers, we are exposing them to different types of dangers. I now have a teenager. I can no longer play watchdog and neither would I want to be just one. Instead, I would like to teach my teenager how to take care of himself when out and about. Believe me, this is easier said than done when it comes to Matthew. But we have to start somewhere and we have to start as early as possible.

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Thankfully, working in IT has not deprived me of the information needed to keep my knowledge up to date. It is not simply knowing which computer or which smartphone to buy. It is not simply about which operating system or which antivirus software to choose. As parents, we need to let our children know about the things that could happen out there if they aren’t careful. Sure, Matthew is not trading real money online on apps nor is he doing any online betting or gambling but that doesn’t mean he isn’t exposed to them.

Don’t be surprised if your young adults know more about things like these than you do. In fact, you should expect that at some point. Right now, I am still in a position to keep an eye out for my family. I do my best to secure our home computers with basic cyber-security. I do not hold any super secret data from government organizations so I don’t think I would be on the radar of cyber-attacks. But you can never go wrong with being prepared. In fact, being paranoid may be a better term but I will leave that for another discussion.

That is security at home. But what about when they are not at home. Matthew spends an average of 6 hours in school. Those are 6 hours that he is vulnerable to cyber-attacks while he is on his own. He is currently aware that his smartphone is being monitored by a parenting app. I made it a point to let him know this because trust and privacy go both ways. I always talk to him about being safe online. During my youth, my mum would tell me never to talk to strangers or go with strangers or take anything from strangers. It is as true today as it did back then. Except now, there is an added advice of being wary of online strangers. This is a sad but real truth. Matthew plays games on his phone, on the computer and on a game console. All of these are connected to the Internet because manufacturers and game developers require most of their products to be connected in order to work. I have always seen this as a threat and as an invasion of privacy but you can’t really contain this for long unless you become a hermit. So education and stern warnings are normal between myself and Matthew. I am allowing him to play online games like Roblox. And yes, I am aware of these stern warnings from a parent that played the game and having encountered a less than ideal experience. I won’t deny that it is possible. But I have been playing games online and have never encountered any such activity. And as far as I am aware, neither has Matthew. Again, I’m not saying that it didn’t happen. I’m just saying, it hasn’t happened to us. As a parent, you are allowed to protect your child. Rather, it is your responsibility to protect your child from abuse. But do it in a way that works for both you and your child. Don’t take away something just because of a viral post that you read on social media. Do your own research and then make your own decision.

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The parenting app that I use is only secondary. It is still the rules that we have set and agreed on as a family that takes precedence over things. We talk about the consequences of action and inaction on Matthew’s part and agree on the appropriate responses. In fact, he would sometimes offer that he gets grounded when he knows that he has done something that we would not be happy with. One of the rules that we have is that there should be no mobile phones/tablets in the bedroom. If you want to use your mobile, you are free to do so in the living room. This rule also applies when we are seated at the dining table and that is regardless if it is in the house or if we are eating out. No electronic devices at the table, period. Of course, it is not as smooth as everyone would like it to be. He would have excuses every now and then, but that is usually followed up with talk about the consequences. It goes full circle. Hopefully, he gets to keep it stuck in his head more. I have also warned him of using his mobile phone while walking which is something I frown on especially when grown-ups are up and about doing it. Look where you are going first. It’s very likely that whatever it is these people are staring at on their devices can actually wait until they are stationary.

It has never been foolproof. And there will always be loopholes here and there. But with ground rules, it at least becomes easier to manage. Prevention is always better than cure. And yes, maybe a little paranoia helps once in a while.

When Pets Leave Us

We are no stranger to pets passing away. And it’s not because they are neglected, but more because of our choice of pet. Living in Singapore is proving to be difficult for us to live with a dog. It comes with additional responsibilities that we didn’t have to worry about back in the Philippines. We don’t have a backyard to keep a dog in and living in shared apartment buildings means you are limited in the size and number of dogs you can own. Add the fact that we can’t leave a dog behind for extended periods of time when we decide to go on vacation and you have yourself a member of the family being housed in their own “pet hotel”. So we stuck with a hamster.

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Hamsters are small and easily managed. They don’t take up a lot of space and when we go on a vacation, we can just carry them over to our friend’s house for sitting. Sure, you have overheads like food, bedding, treats, and the occasional trip to the vet, but that is no different than having a dog. In the years that we have been here, we have had six hamsters in the family. All of them have become small and fluffy companions to all of us in the home. Alas, our last hamster passed away in May. During the last few days of his life, we were already expecting him to leave us due to his age. As such, Matthew had prepared a casket for him and we were sure that we wouldn’t be caught by surprise like the others. And when he passed, we buried him properly and sent him off with a prayer.

What I didn’t know, or maybe I didn’t want to believe during those times was how the death of a pet affected children. My wife and I are already grown up, we feel sad when a pet passes. But we cope and we move on. I thought that was just, you know, normal. As my wife pointed out to me though, it had a profound effect on Matthew.

I have to admit, I had not been very good at helping my son deal with the loss of our pets. Because of the reason I mentioned above, I was coping. And I thought that he would cope with it as well. Apparently, at age 7, he does not cope so well. He went through some difficult times more than once and I thought I was there for him. But it was not enough and it was already too far back to rectify. So when our last hamster passed away, I made sure that I was more sensitive to his needs. It may not be enough to heal him from his past experiences, but I’m hoping that he does manage to cope better as long as I become more aware of their needs.

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My Last Day

I was looking through tons of archives on my computer and I found a blog entry that I did not get to publish. And it struck a chord in me once again. Here is a blog entry from 2017.


It was not one of those nights. Somehow, something was amiss. And it wasn’t something as simple as forgetting to brush your teeth or drinking a glass of milk. It was the fear of dying.

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Even before Steve Jobs delivered his Harvard speech, I have already asked myself the question he asked himself. “If today was my last day, would I do what I would be doing now?”. It wasn’t his metaphor, it was a reality. The fact that one realizes that is the catalyst for change. But sometimes, some people just don’t care.

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That night, I prayed that I am given one more day to give to Matthew, to Judy and anybody else who might need me. And this morning, I gave Him thanks for giving me this one more day. Tonight, and every night hereafter, this would be my prayer. Until such time that nobody needs me anymore.

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For some reason though, Matthew was holding my hand as he fell asleep. He had his hand wrapped around mine. He’s never done that in a long while. I used to hold his hand when he was younger and he couldn’t fall asleep. But this time he held mine. He is special (we have always believed that he is), I may never know to what extent, but he is special. And I will be forever grateful for being blessed with very special people (there are too many to mention, but I promise, I will make a list).

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Until my last day then. Express your love to the people you care about. Make amends to the people you’ve hurt and those who have hurt you. Seize the day, make it yours, make it worth the time.