Category Archives: Parenting

The road to greatness begins at home

Of late, several comments and circumstances concerning “The Use or Benefits of Staying at Home” to care for children have provoked me to think about the choice I made to be available 24/7 for our family.

I made that decision almost 10 years ago.

And? 

I wrote a somewhat emotional piece that was published some years ago and which I read again recently, wondering if I felt the same as before or if it turned out to be a whole load of hogwash. (I’m republishing it below for those who missed it.)

You know? Despite “The Day of Small Things” (and there have been many many many), I can’t say after much serious reflection that I made the wrong choice. 

I can’t see the end of the road. Although I sometimes wish I could.

But I have faith.

The gems and developments in the young lives under my care that serve to encourage me on ordinary days – these things help me know deep within it isn’t a blind faith.

I still believe that Every.Single.Thing we are trying to build, here with our kids are bricks laid one by one to form a foundation of relationships that will stand the test of time and the pains of adolescence and the hardships of life.

That at the end of a long day, every person in this family will always look forward to return and find comfort and strength and peace and acceptance in this place we call “HOME”.

Do I doubt sometimes?

Of course. But by golly, I’ll be sticking to my guns.

 

Here’s the piece entitled “The Road to Greatness Begins at Home”, originally published at Loyarburok on 8 December 2011 and The Selangor Times shortly after.

P.S. You stay-home mums will know what I mean about “The Day of Small Things”. Heads up!

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loyarburokpic2011

When I was invited to share some thoughts and personal experiences on stay-home motherhood in conjunction with International Volunteers Week, I was somewhat perplexed because, to many, stay-home motherhood defies logic, let alone ideas of social responsibility or volunteerism.

For good or bad, the culture in which I live is preoccupied with work, education and achievement.  Not infrequently have I met people who ask, “But what do you do all day?” or “When are you going to start working again?” as if much of the time I have is spent watching my toenails grow, or as though the tasks I do cannot be properly considered work precisely because it is unpaid and home-based.  Worst of all, I have “wasted” my learning, not to mention my parents’ hard earned money.

This kind of pressure can be somewhat daunting.  And in my context, void of domestic help, stay-home motherhood to 3 young children aged 5, 3 and 10 months is intense labour 24 hours 7 days a week without a mint of money in it.

Additionally, stay-home motherhood is a multi-faceted and demanding experience.  In the sentiments of Kate Harris, another stay-home mother, I am now a professional hygiene attendant with “an advanced degree in banana-mashing”, plus a poo-cleaning portfolio guaranteed to impress.  Also, I am the family’s CEO with razor sharp management and multi-tasking skills because cooking, cleaning, baby-carrying and training my children in dining etiquette and alternative dispute resolution techniques must happen all at the same time.  All this – if to be performed with grace and a patient, nurturing spirit – commands every ounce of strength, moral character and skill.

The menial nature of some tasks can appear off-putting, not to mention having to live with the constraints of single-income status.  So, while this quiet, nurturing lifestyle is borne predominantly out of an instinctive sense of responsibility to my children, there are moments in which I question: “Why did I sign up for this gig?”

For me, volunteering for this simple life has been worth it because it affords me and the children the thing we treasure most – time to be with each other.

This time has enabled me to breastfeed my children for as long as possible and give them the best nutritional start in life through healthy, home-cooked meals everyday.  I am able to focus on being a hands-on parent without the distractions of a full-time job.

Being home also enables me to be available for my children during their various stages of growth.  I have the time to learn to understand my children and vice versa.  Stimulating conversations can happen any time of the day, not just within a few restricted hours.  I have peace knowing where they are at – not just physically, but emotionally, intellectually and spiritually.

As the main caregiver, my children look to me, not to any domestic helper or babysitter, for love, comfort, security and guidance.  And as our relationship grows, I am able to understand better and deal more holistically and consistently with the attitudinal and behavioural challenges of each child. The greatest challenge is in modeling values to the little ones, because they watch every move.

For various reasons, mostly developmentally and financially, I have been home-educating my 5 year old and 3 year old and so am a kindergarten teacher of sorts.  The beauty of home-education is that learning happens naturally throughout the day and there are plenty of opportunities for field trips.  There are sit-down times for the 3R’s but we also focus on other subjects our family feels as important: music, history, art, social responsibility.

Here is where being home, teaching my children, affords me unique ways to apply my education, interests and previous work experience in creative and intentional ways.  As far as the children are concerned, this has yielded interesting results.

About 5 months ago, my daughter and I finished a riveting book as part of our school curriculum. Set in the context of World War II, Claire Huchet Bishop’s Twenty and Ten is based on a true story that occurred during the German occupation of France.  Twenty French children are sent to a refuge in the mountains.  They take in, and hide, 10 Jewish refugee children.  It’s a book you can’t put down, especially from the part when Nazi soldiers arrive.

There is a touching scene at the beginning, when a Jewish boy gives his one-and-only treasured piece of chocolate to a French boy in gratitude to the latter for having given to him the remainder of his meal.

My daughter and I poured over our world map and looked for all the locations mentioned in the book.  We had an interesting time discussing the story.  I learned that 5 year olds are capable of understanding a great deal of things.

On the very same day we read that chapter, our family had lunch with several young friends. One of them, a refugee girl, was reluctant to join in as she didn’t have money to pay for her meal.  We wanted her company, so we told her not to think of money.  As we left the restaurant, she slipped something into my daughter’s hand.

Guess what it was?  A piece of chocolate.

I looked at my daughter and said, “Remember that story?”  Her face was shining.

Some time later, my mother came visiting.  As I washed the breakfast dishes, I overheard my girl said to her, “Do you know the Nazis?”

There was a short silence.  Then my mother said, “What?”

“The Nazis,” my daughter said. “They killed Jews. And they wanted to kill the Jewish children.”

It was then I thought about the things my daughter and I had talked about – human rights, racism, equality and courage.  I thought about our refugee friend and about how I, as a parent, am privileged to invest in the life of my children throughout the day.

Thus, although I receive no financial remuneration for my job and find it exhausting, I have found stay-home motherhood to be a meaningful part of society as a whole.  It offers real value for families and the world at large.  I do my work with the conviction that I am fulfilling a social responsibility, that I am promoting and improving a particular quality of life, that I am teaching the importance of Truth lived out in human relationship.

So, while I hesitate to define stay-home motherhood in terms of its market value, it is important to place stay-home mothers on the same playing field as other nation builders and culture-shapers.  Lest anyone persists in thinking that stay-home motherhood is not as important as the work of lawyers, doctors or accountants, I echo with Kate Harris, in her observation of G. K. Chesterton who, in his book What is Wrong With The World, asks, “How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the rule of three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No. A woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness.”

Volunteerism carries with it the notion of rendering aid or performing a service beyond one’s basic obligations.  Many of the aspects of stay-home mothering are really, I think, fundamentally elementary and lie within the reasonable expectations of being a normal family member and responsible citizen. And so, stay-home motherhood for me is not quite the same as volunteerism although it encompasses many aspects of the definition.  At its heart, stay-home motherhood is a vocation.

When I am faced with the Day of Small Things, wherein I am smeared with spit-up for the 10th time and inundated with requests for tooth-picking services and butt-wipes simultaneously, I remember that throughout human history, millions of women have given themselves to – or volunteered for, if you will – this timeless vocation that is stay-home motherhood. They have done so willingly, without financial reward, and their nobility lies precisely in acting out of a sense of duty towards the little people entrusted to their care, not because they have the extra time, energy or money on their hands.

The simple, yet multi-faceted and busy life that is stay-home motherhood is a challenging one, and there are many valid factors for which some mothers desire to, or are compelled to, work outside the home.  For all of the above, however, my passion is to see women – who want to stay home with their little ones – empowered to embark on this journey with their children, and find intentional and creative ways to apply their education, work experience and skills alongside and within their role as mothers.

The road to greatness begins at home ~ Chinese proverb.

 

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When Mama isn’t enough

Piglet: Mama, do you love me?

Me: Why yes, Piglet.

Piglet: Are you sure?

Me: Oh yes, with all my heart.

Piglet: Really? Really?

Me: Yes, dear. Really.

Piglet: How much do you love me?

Me: One hundred and ten percent!

Piglet: What’s that?

Me: I love you. One. hundred. and. ten. percent.

Piglet: What does that mean, Mama?

Me: It means, “More than more.”

He pauses. Then smiles. Then runs off to do what four year old boys do best.

That’s right, Piglet. I love you more than more.

 

 

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Like any other four year old, Piglet loves extra cuddles at bedtime.

But every child is different just as no two snowflakes are identical, and when Piglet was only three years old he surprised me with an endearing goodnight greeting as I tucked him in.

It was this:

Piglet (to me): Goodnight, palak paneer.

(Palak paneer is a vegetarian North Indian dish consisting of spinach and paneer in a thick sauce made from puréed spinach and seasoned with garlic, garam masala, and other spices – Wikipedia.)

Me (to him): Goodnight, roti canai.

(Roti canai or roti prata is a type of Indian-influenced flatbread found in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore – Wikipedia.)

Needless to say, Piglet was delighted with my response and this special goodnight exchange still features occasionally on some evenings with a few winks thrown in for good measure.

But this week another recurrence of palak paneer and roti canai during our bedtime circuit made me reflect on Piglet’s recent question, “Do you love me?” and our conversation that followed.

It struck me suddenly how my answer was both true and false.

True, because I really do love Piglet more than he can imagine. More and more.

False, because every day I can recount instances in which my love for him has been far from perfect, muddied here and there with the likes of a glare for dilly-dallying over dinner or when my patience is worn thin stretched out by other needs.

And so one morning during our breakfast of oats and cranberries and honey I fessed up to Piglet.

I told him how much I really do TRY to love him one hundred and ten percent but there was no way I could do it perfectly no matter how hard I tried.

He looked at me, not quite comprehending.

So I said again, “Piglet, you know I love you.”

He nodded.

“But I’m like you,” I went on. “I make mistakes. Like the time you spilled the water and I got angry? You know, I wish I didn’t make mistakes. But I do and I always will. You make mistakes, don’t you? But that doesn’t mean you don’t love me, right?”

He got that.

This only-four-year-old got that.

And we got on to talking about what really mattered.

Because what REALLY matters in the big scheme of things is not so much Piglet or me or our failures, but the God Who Is Above It All.

Not that our mistakes don’t matter, but that God can redeem them.

He can help us make it right.

He is a God of second chances.

And you know what, Piglet? God our heavenly Father never makes mistakes.

He will always love you perfectly. One hundred and ten percent perfectly.

I’m trying my level best, Piglet. You don’t know how much it hurts to think of the ways I’ve let you down. But when I’m in that place that makes you feel you can’t make me understand what you need, you can cry to God and ask Him to help me understand.

You can tell Him how mad and sad you feel.

You can always be sure He will do the best for you.

Oh, I’m so glad God is carrying you in His everlasting arms.

He can do what I cannot.

He can go where I cannot go.

His hand is upon you day and night.

He can make all things work together for good for those who love Him.

He will never leave you or forsake you. EVER.

His plans for you are perfect.

Know my God, Piglet.

And walk with Him.

 

“And He will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

(Piglet: 4yo 4mos.)

 

The hard work of capturing joy

She calls out to me and I glance up at her breathless giggle, forgetting the weeds momentarily.

Mama, look!

My heart stops in my throat at her girly smile all of eight years old going on nine in a few weeks, marveling at the sensation of mud oozing between her toes and the sticky smear of soft brown clay on her ankles.

Can I? May I?

I muster just enough courage to nod because she’s fast becoming a magnet for two younger sibling boys who suddenly find garden spades and sticks and worms uninteresting and look as if they’re envisioning a thousand and one possibilities presented in one gooey, mucky pit.

In that split second I can almost see mud splats being traipsed into a house I cleaned at 1.20 a.m. and a pail full of laundry I don’t want to deal with.

But in that moment it somehow seems unjust to deny three children the pleasure of just being children.

And in that moment also I see the day when this innocent allure of a mud patch will be replaced perhaps by nervy driving lessons or 17 checks in the mirror daily or hours of cramming for exams.

I bite my tongue and peer at them through glasses that now sit on the tip of my sweaty nose and turn back quickly.

I daren’t look.

Squishy sticky sounds and squeals of laughter emerge from the corner next to the young passion fruit vine and marigolds that reflect the warmth of the evening sun.

I am caught unguarded by their wonder and all of their childhood that’s going by too quickly.

Snarls of weeds, too many and with roots going in a mile long. For now, they can wait.

Their raw undisguised joy reaches out to envelope my aching arms as I sit back and I can feel the chaos of a day with four children trying to talk to me all at once spiraling away, whisked far far away along with the evening breeze.

This living playfulness day in day out has occasionally ended in tears and clocked in a considerable amount of exhausting moments in which I want to retreat to a sound proof room or pack them all up in a suitcase.

And yet it makes me pause, gifts me with what can happen when I remember to live in the extraordinary ordinary present and allow myself to stop long enough to breathe and look with eyes that see and listen with ears that hear and play with a spirit of come what may in between the homework and the cooking and the laundry and the muted phone beeps and the pile of work papers.

There is so much to treasure and gain beyond What Is Convenient To Me.

This grueling glorious work of growing young seedlings, loosening the soil so they can breathe, training them to remain as branches on a Vine, loving with warmth and firmness, this is a vocation threatened to be choked out by the stubborn weeds of personal weakness, the distractions of things that will never last for eternity and the weight of other adult responsibilities.

I heave and dig passionately into the ground again, deeper deeper and deeper until I grasp the weed bulbs and yank them out.

Overhead, the open sky and the billowing clouds sail past and I feel God watching us.

Hard at work, hard at play.

 

seedlings

 

This post was written two weeks ago on my phone in the midst of So Much Happening over the past few months. I’ve been busy with work, homeschooling, Parenting talks and doubling up at home chores while the Man has extra things on his plate. Thank you for stopping by!