Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Please, do discipline my son

Two Sundays ago I did something I have never done before. I went to the local M&S to try on some swimming costumes. But I did not buy.  I went home to order them online as they did not have my size.

On my way out, I stopped by the sunglasses to see if there was something that might be suitable.

I waited for a parent to manoeuvre his pushchair out of my way. A toddler was taking glasses off the rack, just because she could.

I stood in front of the rack, and the toddler wandered off to the opposite side of the stand whereupon she picked up the cases for the sunglasses and threw them on the floor.

Her dad was about. He is of Asian origin but all I could understand from what he said was 'nein, nein'. I assumed that 'nein' is German, but perhaps it could be another Asian language. In any case, I figured that 'nein' means 'no'.

[I also know for a fact that many Sri Lankan refugees in Britain come via Germany and other EU countries. Having acquired EU citizenship, a large number of these than move on to the UK. Many of these speak German, Italian and French much better than English.]

Then something strange happened. I found myself saying, "You should put her in the pushchair."

Dad: "She does not want to stay here."

Me: "You are bigger than her. You can make her do it. You are the one in control."

The little girl had started throwing more stuff on the floor.

Dad: "At the moment, she is in control, it seems."

Me: "If you don't keep control, you are storing up trouble for yourself."

Dad: "It's OK. I will pick these up when she finishes."

Me:  "I've never had that kind of trouble with my child." [NB It does not apply to teenagers.]

At which point I think Dad got tired of being polite to me: "Well, you know, every parent is different."

Neither of us wanted to continue with this. He said, "I appreciate what you are doing," but I don't think he actually did.

I was thinking of an Asian mother who used to attend the toddler group I helped to run. She refused to keep her daughter in control despite many other mothers trying to support her. (The child had been hitting and biting other children in the group.)

She then had a second child.

The last time I saw this family, mother was dragging the toddler and pushing the younger one in a pushchair.

The toddler was screaming blue murder as the mother tried to get her to walk with her to the nursery. Now that she was bigger, much bigger, her mother was finding it immensely difficult to control her.

I came alongside them and made sure they crossed the road safely. I then hurried away.

At the rate mother was dragging her, it would be another 20 minutes before they make that 80 metres or so to the nursery.

It is often said that 'it takes a village to bring up a child'. These days we are so scared of helping mothers and fathers who might do with some help but are too embarrassed or too proud to ask for help.

I have often wondered why on earth toddlers have tantrums ("terrible two's"). Is this a phenomenon only in industrialized, nuclear families?

Why did God in his wisdom allow young children to behave in this way? Is it to try the patience of the parents or is it an opportunity for them to mark their boundaries?

I remember feeling very vulnerable when my son threw his first tantrum. I thought he was sick and wanted to call an ambulance. Then I noticed that he would cast his eyes backwards before throwing himself down.

Terrible Two's? He was barely 18 months then!!

With my husband we decided to show him who was boss. The tantrums persisted, but they became better managed. We had a united front. Our actions were consistent.

Quite often we just held him, told him what to do, that we loved him, but he had to do as we said. We put him in a safe place to cry off. Set the egg-timer. When it went, punishment was over.

My hypothesis is children need to test their boundaries and be ensured of their security and consistency from their adult carers. Between two and three they are physically sturdy enough to be held very tightly (not as fragile as babies), but small enough for parents to just pick them up, particularly when there is a safety issue.

Perhaps God in his wisdom has designed the Terrible Two's to give parent and child that opportunity to bond in a special way.

If so, it begs the question: what if the child does not have his/her parent/s to bond with?

I often wonder what our hired helpers do when toddlers throw these tantrums in the absence of mum and dad.

This article refers.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

A Singlish Conspiracy?

As an academic -- OK, a failed academic, if you insist -- finding and citing the source of information is critical.

I took little notice of the excitement about Singlish in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) until the debate about the NYT article and a certain response from 'on high' came into the picture.

I did notice that the person who put the Singlish in OED is a delightful young Filipino consultant who is known to want to include ‘Filipino English’ in the OED: ‘English’ terms that had hitherto been deemed inadmissible.

Then there is the context. Political context.

I am living in a country that has become very unsure of herself (itself?). There is the Brexit vote coming up. People are saying that Britain cannot function politically, economically and militarily outside the EU.

This is the Britain which was once ‘Empire’, on which the sun never (used to) set.

If the newspapers are anything to go by, the agenda is being decided by the transgender set, as yet another establishment has been told to remove the words ‘Ladies’ and ‘Gents’ from their toilets because they discriminate against the transgendered.

When I used to spend time in North Thailand, I often saw women in the gents’ toilets. (With hindsight, I had assumed those were women.) I would never go into a Gents’ toilet unless there is a very good reason.

[OK. I did once, when the queue outside the 'Ladies' at Musee d’Orsay was so long and my husband and son exited the Gents telling me and two other anthropologists that there was no one in the Gents. We went in, leaving dear husband to stand guard.]

But the transgender men are saying that they want to use the ladies’ toilets. Heh!

I digress.

Fact is the Brits are so unsure of who they are at the moment. A Filipino consultant on the world-embracing OED seemed like a jolly good idea.

Why did she choose to include Singlish terms? She seems to have a very good understanding of Singlish. I give her that.

Is this to subvert the use of proper English in Singapore? No standard English, no jobs.

That’s Conspiracy Theory #1.

#2 is old hat. Another confession.

My siblings and I have done well in education and career because we were often ahead of school mates in our English language. Let the truth be told.

This was partly due to my Mum's diligence in correcting our English when we went wrong. (My father spoke no English at all.) She might have had only four years of formal education. But they must have been four very good years as she could speak grammatically correct English.

Proof: You do not need a PhD in English Literature to speak and write good English. You do need a respect for rules, and my word, did Mum drill those rules into me when I was young.

“My one”, I can still hear her chastising me. There is no such thing as “my one”. This is my book. This book is mine.

No, you cannot open the tap. You turn on the tap.

No, you may not borrow the phone. You may use it.

And so on, and so forth.

One of my most cherished memories of her was when we got on a crowded bus and a young person on the aisle seat refused to move. Mum eventually went, "Excuse me, I would like to sit there." The young person reluctantly let her move into the window seat.

And then I heard my mum's voice filling the bus, "Young people these days. They don't have the courtesy to let old people sit," or something to that effect, in perfectly grammatical English.  

Hand on heart, those of us who are so prone to singing the delights and charm of Singlish, are we the same people who can, in a heartbeat, switch from Singlish to standard English (whatever this means)?

Then, I beg you, consider those families with children who do not yet have this privilege.

Let them first learn to speak and write in standard English. When they have acquired those skills, by all means, let them speak Singlish in their leisure, amongst family and friends.

Or even when they are addressing election rallies.

The only reason for not letting this happen is to ensure that we retain this privileged position that we now occupy. I have called this ‘linguistic hegemony’ elsewhere back in 2010.

It is a bit like the demise of grammar schools in Britain. Some have compared this to their beneficiaries, having climbed up the social ladder, who then turned around to pull up the ladder.

We make our children learn times tables because that is ‘knowledge’, ‘facts’, that they need at their fingertips to move on to higher-level mathematics.

An understanding of how numbers work and the consistent manner in which they work helps us grasp the music of mathematics whether it is trigonometry or calculus.

In the same way a good grasp of English -- the British are now insisting that children learn proper grammar at school -- will give us the tools to use Singlish in the most creative manner.

I am not putting down Singlish. Far from it.

Sylvia Toh, author of Eh Goondu, was the person who gave me my first writing job. (I am eternally grateful to her.)

I know for a fact that her England is very powderful.

[See also: GE15: Singlish good, English bad]

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Have you signed Neo's petition yet?

If not, the Singaporeans against gutter politics petition is here. Watching the numbers go up every time I refreshed the page was kind of therapeutic.

I remember LKY ruminating on 'what is the educated Singaporean?' many years ago. I cannot find the newspaper cutting, sorry.

But he alluded to someone who reads books (against magazines or work literature) and has 'stuff' like paintings (I suppose, as against photographs) on the wall.

'Educated' is sort of equated with 'Cultured', with a capital 'C', or as some would say, 'arty-farty'.

I think any 'educated' person would be a 'gracious' person as well.

The meaning of 'grace', biblically-speaking, means 'something given where none is deserved'. That is, sinners being forgiven by God because of Jesus dying on the cross is 'grace'.

Being 'gracious', to that extent, is being Christ-like. He taught us, 'Do to others as you would have them do to you.' (Luke 6:31)

This is significant as most religions and philosophies teach a more negative version of “Don't do unto others what you don't want others to do unto you.” This is also known as 'the golden rule'.

There was also a time when Singaporeans were not so well-educated. Ad hominem remarks could be accepted as the speaker claims the moral high ground ... because we, as philistines, did not know any better.

With education we now understand that such fallacious arguments and attacks 'to the person' (hence hominem) are a sign of weakness. A weakness writ large as previously ad hominem arguments were followed by ad baculum action, an appeal to force (physical, fiscal, legislative, etc).

Thanks to LKY whose government gave me such a good education, I now consider it most undignified to have to resort to ad hominem arguments when I am losing ground.

Thanks to LKY showing me the way I will always choose the path of graciousness which, note, is not the same as gracefulness.

If your parents had the money to give you piano and ballet lessons and other cultural pursuits with a capital 'C', you might be able to play and dance with sublime grace-fu-lness gracefulness. My parents did not.

The good news is: We can all model graciousness!

You don't need to rejoice with me by singing, 'Hallelujah! Jesus is alive!'

We can all simply 'do to others as you would others do to you'. Simples!

O! And what about the courtesy campaign? ???