Go with a smile!

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Emotional shelter

I saw this article about parents being concerned about how their kids saw the world. There was this parent who thought that climate change was going to make this world a terrible one for people to live in. Then they started wondering about how they were going to break this news to their kids.

Sometimes I wonder what kind of a parent I would have been. And I'm starting to realise, with a start, that I may not ever get to find out, because the time window for me to be a parent is closing fast. I know what kind of parents I had.

First of all, I remember an article that I read somewhere, that said that the first two most important job of parenting is to provide material security and provide a sense of structure in the life of a child. There is no doubt that my parents have done this. In many ways, our lives were better than that of the ones they lived in their childhood. And yet....

I don't really think that my parents would have been that protective of me. In a way that's good, in a way that's bad. My mother's never hid her feud with my grandmother away from me. (My grandmother was living with us). My father never hid from me how tough his childhood was. They never stopped telling me that my adulthood was going to tough. (I'm an adult now and I'm a little surprised at how I don't get fucked in the ass every day like they said I was going to be.) They were never shy about pointing out my faults to me, that I wasn't gentle, that I couldn't relate to people. (Yet they never took any concrete action to correct any of these faults. That was really frustrating.)

They weren't terribly great at building up a rapport with either myself or my sister. Maybe living with my grandma didn't help. But they were genuinely clueless. My father was a good man, decent, hardworking, always trying to do the right thing. But I had a distant relationship with him. He wanted to be a good person, but he was just bad at communicating with people.

My mother... you know what, I'm going to list down the dickheaded things she did when we were young.

After she gave birth to me, she had post-natal depression. I don't know for sure, but it definitely seemed like it. She got into a big argument with my grandmother and then she ran away from home. A few hours later, my father went out to get her back. But her relationship with my grandmother would be tarnished for a long time.

She liked to see herself as being pretty. Young mothers still hadn't lost their youthful looks. When I was five, that was when my childhood memories were wearing off. She cornered me in a room, and asked me who was more pretty, Miss World or me. I couldn't get away, so I said that it was her. But that was some weird shit. Eventually, after some thinking about it, I came to the conclusion that it was very weird. But five year old kids shouldn't have to figure it out on their own.

There was this time when we moved to a place with low rise condos. The children would be out there, playing in the courtyard, and there was this French boy 1 or 2 years older than me, who would beat me and twist my arms. Then I was a little surprised when she scolded me for playing with our next door neighbour, and said that I should have been playing with the French boy instead.

There was this other time before we moved into the low rise condo, when we were still staying in a HDB flat. We were waiting for the lift, we stayed 1 storey away from the lift. She was going to send me to school. Then she was missing. I didn't know where she had gone. I waited for a while, and after 5-10 minutes, I was about to panic and start crying. (I was 6 at that time). Then she walked out from behind a pillar, she was just playing a prank on me. I stopped crying instead. I wasn't even mad. I remember that my dominant thought was “my mother is an idiot”.

Neither of my parents spoke Mandarin. They were English educated, but they spoke dialects, and yet they failed to teach that to me. (And in a way it was also my fault for not paying close enough attention) but when I grew up, not knowing my dialect was an everlasting source of regret. But here's why the Speak Mandarin campaign was a failure: I was lousy at Chinese. I made some effort to be good enough to be able to get “A”s in the classes, but if you've been through the Singapore education system, you'd know that getting “A”s in Chinese doesn't mean anything in the way of proficiency. They weren't going out of their way to master Chinese along with me, they had Chinese tuition classes for me – the only subject where I ever had outside classes, and it was always our fault that we weren't good at Chinese.

My parents pushed me hard. At one point in my life, I had swimming classes, Chinese tuition, art classes and piano classes. There's nothing wrong with this, but it was stressful. You could say that I lack ambition in life because I was simply tired of all this. If you don't know how to manage your relationship with your kids when you're pushing them like this, you will run into problems.

Generally I was able to cope, although there was quite a bit of drama, especially when it came to practicing the piano. It was tiring being called a failure for not doing well in something you never wanted to do. These things took a toll on you - screwing up over and over, and then being told over and over that you were screwing up. Sometimes I wonder if my mother really loved me, or whether she loved that I had academic achievements that she could go tell all her friends about.

People who know me in life know that I have a thick skin. Many of you would probably be cringing at these stories. I only crumbled or wilted under this rarely. But it probably affected my ability to relate to other people. I don't think I really had the opportunity to have normal relationships with other people.

I think I was coping, but there were a lot of things that I couldn't talk to my parents about – unhappy relationships with the piano teacher, with a few of my friends. I wasn't a bullied kid, but there were one or two incidents where I was humiliated in public, and I wasn't able to discuss these things with them. There was a bit of lying here and there. I wasn't allowed to play computer games but I did it anyway, and I learnt to listen out for the car pulling up in the driveway so that I could shut the computer off before my mother came into the house and walked upstairs. That was just not a great kind of relationship. They never got to hear about my first crush. They never got to hear about my first romance.

My mother pushed me very hard until I was a teenager, and the year that I turned 13, she sensed that I was getting sick and tired of her, so there was a whole year of tekaning. And at the end of it, she saw that there was no effect, and so she gave up. Well she also got tired of me throwing chairs around in the house. After she gave up, everything became better, I enjoyed school more, and my grades went back up.

There were the endless nagging sessions. While this wasn't necessarily the same thing as rape, there was a marked reluctance to take no for an answer.

Still, I'd also be lying if I told you it was a terrible childhood. There were plenty of good times. It was just merely good when it could have been fantastic.