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What does a 5 year old boy want?

A 5-year-old wants to be hilarious, he likes to laugh and be laughed at.
A 5-year-old wants to fit in, wants to be cool, be liked by his friends, appreciated by his teachers and loved by his siblings.
A 5-year-old wants dignity, wants to be treated as a person
A 5-year-old wants power, power to be his own person, power to command respect
A 5-year-old wants to cooperate because he sees the benefit of it
A 5-year-old wants to defy and challenge because he sees the limitations of it
A 5-year-old wants to grow up and confront this seemingly complicated world
A 5-year-old wants to slow down and be little once in a while.
A 5-year-old needs control, he needs to know what’s ahead, where is the next stop
A 5-year-old wants to know what it feels like to blatantly lie
A 5-year-old wants to dig his nose without inhibitions
A 5-year-old wants adults to know, that in his world promises (even a ‘maybe’ or a ‘We’ll see’ or a ‘hmmm’ is a promise!) are never forgotten
A 5-year-old wants juice – all times of the day!
A 5-year-old wants to never be asked ‘what did you do in school today?’
A 5-year-old wants to know about his past and thinks about his future
A 5-year-old wants to fix without asking for help

2

What’s in a name?

Source: planetofquotes.com

Source: planetofquotes.com

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” quoted Shakespeare famously in his play about the star-crossed lovers. What was untold to preserve the aesthetics of this dialogue was that this dictum can only be applied to common nouns and to things, as opposed to people. For a person his name becomes him. Sometimes a name carries on a legacy long after a person is dead (think Hitler or Gandhi). A name is like DNA carrying in it information about a person’s gender, race, ethnicity, nationality and sometimes social standing.

A few of my friends are expecting and a common topic of conversation is the name of the baby. The significance of a spending a good deal of time researching the name is diluted by the weariness of the pregnancy itself. Expecting parents are the worst candidates for choosing the best possible names for their kids, but routinely bear the onus to do so. Some of my foresightful friends thought of one even before they get pregnant, only to be subject to familial plagiarism!

I remember being 10 or 11 when I first questioned my parents about my name, and whether they had any others shortlisted. Not usually the one to offer unsolicited advice, I can’t resist this one – please don’t tell your children the name they almost had! Both me and my brother had almost-names, and we often wondered what frame of mind our parents were in to choose our current names over those.

I have never met a namesake. And if the internet population is anything to go by, there is no one who shares my full maiden name. It’s a privilege I wished away. And yes, I have a fake Starbucks name.

I have hauled my name along all my life. Often it’s been unwieldy and ineffectual. It taunted me with disloyalty. I trudged it along, bearing it until the burden eased and I no longer felt its constant presence. Occasionally it prods me, but is mostly happy with my concession.

It’s not just a cosmetic problem. Numerous studies have found name bias in play, where an unusual sounding name can affect your prospects of employment, housing and even education.

When naming our kids we choose simple but unique names. I knew I would be questioned about them, what I didn’t realise is how soon it would happen. My then 4-year old asked me one day how he was named – did he come out of tummy and announce “Hi, I’m Ayaan!”, or came with a label? If only it was that easy! It troubled him greatly that choosing his name was a pretty random affair, but being 4 he couldn’t articulate it. Clearly, he inherited the ‘I-don’t-like-this-naming-business gene from me. We spoke about it again recently, just after his 5th birthday. This time he asked me if we had considered other names for him, and why did we finally decide on Ayaan – “why not Charlie or Alex?” Sigh!

The next time I may have to be ready with better answers – we put in a lot of names in the fishbowl and drew out this one! Or it was assigned by the government, specifically the Ministry of Names. Or we conducted a poll on Facebook (this is actually true for some people!)

Do you like the name given to you?

Some interesting links

Simon M. Laham, Peter Koval, Adam L. Alter. The name-pronunciation effect: Why people like Mr. Smith more than Mr. Colquhoun. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 48 (2012)

Newman EJ, Sanson M, Miller EK, Quigley-McBride A, Foster JL, et al. (2014) People with Easier to Pronounce Names Promote Truthiness of Claims. PLoS ONE 9(2): e88671. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0088671

Saku Aura & Gregory D. Hess, 2010. “What’s In A Name?,” Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 48(1), pages 214-227, 01.

Swedish study confirms foreign name CV bias

4

Happy 3rd Birthday Rehan!

Source: freeallimages.com

Source: freeallimages.com

Rehan, Rehan, Rehan! Happy birthday baby! What a year this has been, full of contradictions! You’ve been carefree yet so attached. Dramatic yet so calm. Loud yet so serene. Energetic yet so blasé. Difficult yet so compliant. Secure yet so vulnerable. Shy yet so cheeky. Relishing life with your contagious exuberance, you are a picture of joie de vivre, taking absolute delight in just being.

Puss in Boots cute expressionThis year you graduated from the College of Utmost Cuteness with Honors! Oh how you can charm the pants of anyone, talking so earnestly in that cute lispy baby way. You can pull of the Puss in Boots look faultlessly to your advantage, leaving us feeling warm and fuzzy but always with a nagging feeling that we are in some way being manipulated by this charm. You negotiate an extra cookie with simple but heart-warming comments like ‘but you’re my favourite girl!’, how can I say no to anything after that!

You’re allergic to taking showers, loud noises and snotty-nosed babies. You are very single-minded and willful about your notions of how things should and shouldn’t be. Pajamas should be worn precisely 5 minutes before bedtime. Toothbrush should be placed in the right holder. Broken crackers shouldn’t be handed to kids. Sometimes I wonder where you get these qualities that make you so stubborn and unyielding. Who am I kidding, of course it’s your dad’s genes! Just to detail how much effort goes into keeping you happy here is a sample of your dislikes – t-shirts with pockets, sand in shoes (interestingly sand in hair, nose and mouth is OK), other people’s towels, yellow cups, a single drop of water on your shorts, warm food, jam sandwich folded up, jam sandwich not folded up, bruised bananas, waiting for food at the restaurant, cold swimming pools, the list goes on and on.

Despite all this need of a sense of order and cleanliness, you are awfully clumsy. This clumsiness however, for reasons unknown, is solely for my benefit and I can’t say I am flattered. Playing with you means having to regularly shield myself from your unintended blows, head-butts, elbow jabs, knee rams and eye pokes. It seems being around me has a magical effect on your spine, it becomes all squidgy with your body just flopping over me. I have suspicion you think of yourself as being lighter than air. Either that or you see me as invincible, someone who has successfully birth two babies can’t possible get hurt right?

You have a favourite everything – number, letter, animal, part of the body, side of the bed, corner for pooping, planet, superhero, song, book. For the better part of the year, your favourite colour was orange. You granted yourself exclusive rights over it. Not only did we have to deal with you only wearing orange t-shirts, eating only orange-looking fruits with orange cutlery but also with random orange objects mysteriously appearing in the house. It took a long time for the understanding that the ‘if it’s my favourite it’s mine’ rule is not a socially acceptable norm, but we’re finally there!

official-age-warning-logoYou have intermittent love affairs with your toys, devoting yourself completely to one for days only to ruthlessly dump it in favour of another. With so many exciting toys, how can you be expected to stay committed to one? Like a true blue playboy (a boy who plays!) you sleep with whatever toy you fancy on any particular day. You’ve also laugh in the face of this sign here, almost exclusively choosing toys with lethal levels of choking hazards. What can I say, you are thrill seeker like that.

Occasionally, you get so involved in play that you go on an acknowledgement strike, combined with selective mutism. I would have mistaken your lack of response to assume you have mastered the Buddhist Zen state of awareness of the present moment, if you hadn’t so miserably failed the keyword test. This ingenious test involves throwing in some keywords while trying to have a conversation with your toddler – nothing fancy, just simple words like ‘ice cream’, ‘lollipop’, ‘candy’, etc. Yeah, that was no Zen state!

Self-preservation is very high on your agenda. You’re not one to get into trouble, test gravity or expend too much energy. The tiniest bruise will be a cause of much distress and also an excuse to not shower for days! If given a choice, you’d rather spend all your time at home just being silly with your brother or playing with your Legos or Octonaut toys, than go out. Is it any surprise then that you belong to the I-don’t-want-to-go-to-school club?

You don’t like the idea of growing up and vehemently deny being a ‘big boy’. I don’t like it either and sometimes find myself wishing I had the power to freeze time just for a bit. For what it’s worth, you will always be the baby of the house.

PS- Sorry about the terrible haircuts I gave you this year! And yes sweetheart, bread and chocolate bread rhymes 🙂

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That’s Not Fair!

“But that’s not fair!” screamed my preschooler when his brother was offered a bowl of fruit. Since he hadn’t napped he got his fruit bowl an hour earlier, but the usual short-term memory problem ruled that he should get it again. Lesson learned – serve fruit at the same time! Kids take to extremes what is essentially inherent in all of us – the need for fairness. I wrote about a FOMO attack that my kids suffered from a couple of weeks ago, the basis of it was this similar expectation of absolute fairness.

The old dictum ‘life isn’t fair’ is casually thrown around more often than circumstances demand it. Fairness and equality are subjective fluid terms, very difficult to define even with a context. A glittering generality as its referred to in polijargon.

This video of an experiment on Capuchin monkeys brightens up my dullest day! It documents a sense of fairness in monkeys, supporting an early evolutionary origin of an aversion for inequality. I can see why this primate would so dramatically protest against ‘lower pay’ for performing the same job. Our own behaviour would not be too dissimilar when faced with such a situation, albeit marginally civilised.

Apparently, there is also a fairness gene. I’m sure the location of this gene is precisely halfway from the two ends of the chromosome (because it’s the fairness gene, see what I did there?). Genetic jokes apart, this is a very interesting concept. I think I may have got recessive fairness genes from both my parents, as I clearly remember being the but-thats-not-fair child!

Co-operation, fairness and altruism is studied with much intensity by scientists. In the economic game theory, the ultimatum game has received widespread attention. The results of this game, in which two players are given a sum of money to divide, fly in the face of economic utility maximisation logic. Homo economicus may well be turning in his graving seeing these outcomes.

Lately, this photo has been cropping up a lot on my Facebook feed, can’t credit it as I’m not sure of the origins of this.

Quality VS Justice

Although this picture is loaded with ethical and political connotations, it is easily applied in a micro context to a house with multiple critters. Children are at the nucleus of this fair/unfair debate. It may seem innocuous at first, but this innate sense is the basis of our adult views and actions relating to morality and empathy and a variety of other economic and social issues1. I showed this illustration to my 5 year-old and asked which picture was fair according to him. His answer was unequivocal and without hesitation – “the one on the left”. When I pointed to the little boy who couldn’t see while standing on just one box, the discussion took a turn, which in 20/20 hindsight I should have expected. A barrage of suggestions poured from my little man ranging from ‘they should break the fence’ to ‘they should all get two boxes!’ We are talking about owners of undeveloped prefrontal cortex here and explaining justice to them is not an easy task!

I am certain of having inadvertently passed on this fairness gene to my children (fairly evenly at that!). This only means most of my primary parenting role will involve maintaining an inordinate level of fairness just to create some semblance of peace in the house!

1. “The Fairness Instinct” L. Sun

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#FOMO

keep-calm-and-say-no-to-fomo2The internet has added some interesting slang words to the English langauge. One of the more catchy one, FOMO or ‘Fear Of Missing Out’, is a social anxiety perpetuated by social media networking.

These days the Haque offsprings are struck by a serious case of FOMO. In their case, FOMO mainly involves the fear of missing out on mom’s attention (they don’t bother to make a distinction between positive or negative). Mild cases of FOMO are quite a common problem in households where the adults have decided to pluralize their progeny. The symptoms of FOMO are precipitated by an event like a sickness or one of those unidentifiable developmental changes which cause them to go crazy every now and then for no apparent reason. FOMO also shares a strong positive correlation with working parents (although it is no way restricted to them alone) as time with kids becomes a scarce and much sought after commodity.

Recently, when during the tail end of our yearly visit to Mumbai the kids got sick with viral fever, I witnessed this syndrome in its prime. My normally happy and self-assured 5-year-old turned into this whiney and clinging boy demanding the same kind of attention as my almost-3 year old needs. If I would even as much as glance at his younger brother, he would demand I look at him too for precisely the same amount of time. I had to content with the most uncomfortable middle seat in taxis as both kids wanted me next to them. I had to calcuate and deliver equal number of kisses, hugs and even cuddles to both of them. Even my annoyance with both had to be equally measured! The 3-year-old, being the baby of the house, is used to getting more attention anyway but FOMO gripped him too.

Once we got back home to Singapore, the kids had to contend with me being back at work after two weeks of holiday. It also didn’t help that both are on school holidays with nothing to do the whole day. Despite his best intentions the dad is unable to do much except shrug his shoulders and watch me despair as the kids vie for my constant attention. Given that they have completely recovered from their viral and school starts next week, I’m hoping the normalcy will abate this FOMO anxiety and the kids get back to their normal happy selves soon!

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The 9-point Manifesto

20140729_080355_1It’s that time of the year again, when we head back home for our customary visit to family and friends during the kids summer vacation. It’s more of a workation for me, considering it’s India and that we’re travelling with two young kids. This is our first long holiday since my older one turned five and finally seems to have grown out of throwing fits on days that he’s tired or hungry and all the days in between. That’s more than I can say for my younger boy, but one out of two is a pretty good score.

I have a strong but unsubstantiated hunch that my kids got together and passed a secret manifesto for the holiday. It went something like this –

1. We shall appoint mom as an honorary trash can, for all intents and purposes. We will henceforth hand her all pieces of trash – banana peels, candy wrappers, ice cream sticks, snot-filled tissues – all waste that needs disposing.

2. We shall maintain a steady flow of background chatter. At no point shall we deprive the people around us of our constant tomfoolery and loud goofiness. We shall take uncoordinated naps so one can of us can pick up the baton while the other sleeps.

3. We shall pointedly refuse to be a part of the tots road show that the adults so wittingly subject us to. We shall refuse to perpetuate cutisism by ignoring requests for performances including singing, dancing and elaborate gymnastics. We will give blank looks and dry smiles to further indicate our apathy towards these moronic demands.

4. We shall constantly interrupt adult conversations. Surely, there can’t be anything more important than immediately helping us retrieve the Lego piece from behind the couch for the nth time.

5. We shall whenever possible walk into doors, walls, cabinets, table corners and all places capable of potential harm, making a grand display of our lack of spacial awareness in new environments. Extra points for walking into them when adults are on the phone or seem to be involved in important discussions.

6. We shall use jet-lag as our weapon of choice – waking up at ungodly hours, napping at meal times and pushing bedtime to the point where moms blows a proverbial fuse.

7. We shall maintain a distance of a metre or more from the deadly Indian curries, activating our survival instincts against these spice laden sauces of evil.

8. We shall be at our best behaviour only when no one is looking, stockpiling our reserves of tantrums and meltdowns for times when inane social interactions are forced upon us.

9. We shall squabble over toys but when mom offers an alternative to either one of us, we will both pine for it, conveniently abandoning the original toy that we were arguing about.

Of course, by now I’m trained to counter this constant barrage of schemes from the little rascals. For that I use my exclusive monopoly over the distribution of resources, more specifically food! My advice for moms to boys is to stock up on food and let the feasting never stop.

Oh you want to play with the same toy as your brother? Here, why don’t you have a banana first. Crisis averted! Can’t sit still in the car? Offer nuts. Rioting in the airplane? Chips and bars will work. The chewier the snack the better!

Food can buy you time, diffuse tantrums or just give you a 5-10 minute break to reorganize your thoughts. And since drastic situations call for drastic measures, I’m always stocked up on the good ol’ candy. Yeah, I’m crafty like that 🙂

4

All the world’s a playground!

Children's Garden Photo Courtesy of Playpoint Singapore

Children’s Garden
Photo Courtesy of Playpoint Singapore


While walking back from our kite flying adventures yesterday, my little one tripped and skinned his knees and elbows. The sight of the grazed knee distressed him more than the actual pain. I belong to the ‘brush it off’ camp – skinned knees, bruises and bumps all come with the territory. They will survive and the memories of these hurts will fade faster than the scars themselves.

This episode took me back to a time in my life full of grazed knees, endless falls, scraped elbows and muddy clothes. My earliest memories of play involve being outside with a bunch of different-aged kids and playing at the park right across from my house or playing neighbourhood games with friends. We rarely played with toys and video games were not a part of our childhood. Parents accompanying kids to the park was unheard of, it was our territory, as were the many nooks and corners behind buildings, on the terrace, all those little hiding places and the many trees we regularly climbed (what else are trees for!)

Most people now would take a very dim view of the playground, where we played religiously every single day. My favorite part of it was the heavy set of wooden-seat swings, with the red pain chipping off them, where we would spend countless afternoons pumping it, until its joints creaked and the chains rattled in protest. We would swing standing up, sometimes two of us together, we’d jump off mid-flight to see who lands the farthest, swing sideways and twist the chains around, feeling our bodies swirling when released. These would really have scared the bejesus out of Rachel.

The old-fashioned see-saw, the planks of which were bent and cracked from overuse, was also a popular place. Our most satisfying game on it, and which could quite possibly be illegal now, was to jump of the end of the seesaw sending butts on the other side slamming to the ground. Then there was the ‘clothes-ripper’ metal slide, launching us down at (what then seemed like) lightening speeds scorching our bottoms on hot days, but didn’t bother us the least. We walked up the slide, came head down on our tummies, we jumped off it, there were no mommycopters crashing down on us with requests of ‘lets take turns’ or ‘go the right side up’!

The monkey bars were a way to earn respect – who can zip fastest to the other side skipping two or even three bars – extra points for a stylish landing! These manic bars bear the liability of many a broken bone. The moment the cast came off, kids were back on it again – bruises, broken bones were considered par for the course. A regular tetanus shot and some boric powder and we were good to go. The good ol’ merry-go-around gave us valuable lessons on centrifugal force!

Common playgrounds found in every other neighborhood

Common playgrounds found in every other neighborhood

As much as I would have loved to raise my kids around woods, meadows and open fields, living in a city means being confined to specific play areas. Admittedly, it would be next to impossible to replicate the carefree life that we were lucky enough to have, but I had always imagined my kids enjoying outdoor play, as much as I did. Boy, was I mistaken!

Most days I struggle to get the boys out of the house! These rounded plastic brightly colored safety-enhanced playgrounds which you would find in every condo, HDB area and most public parks are just a giant versions of the Fisher Price toys at home, and fail to keep the kids interest for longer than 15 minutes. On the other hand are the exorbitantly prices and excessively padded indoor playgrounds, sold as the best alternatives for play on hot and rainy days, which incidentally are the only two types of days in Singapore! Most of the traditional playgrounds do not have swings and merry-go-arounds, to avoid the liabilities of injuries. The see-saws don’t touch the ground, the springy ride-on things barely wobble and where swings are available, they provide minimal elevation and slides feature deathly slow-descents.

Reading the piece in the Atlantic Magazine ‘The Overprotective Kid‘, had me nodding in agreement throughout. Briefly, he article posits ‘A preoccupation with safety has stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery—without making it safer’. Among other things, the author is asserting that the current dumbed down play areas (thanks to the litigious nature of our society and modern culture of risk-aversion) haven’t managed to up the safety levels over old-schools ones, like the playground of doom from my childhood.

Birds Nest Swing at Elite Terrace park

Birds Nest Swing at Elite Terrace park

While exploring different playgrounds in Singapore, in the hope of finding ones that could replicate my experiences for my kids, I came across some unique structures and interesting designs at some slightly newer public playgrounds. Like a bird’s nest swing at this Elite Terrace Playground, where more than one kid can pile in together, making swinging a communal event! I also found zip lines, spinning disks and this geodesic dome in some parks.

Geodesic Dome at the Telok Kurau Park

Geodesic Dome at the Telok Kurau Park

Playpoint Singapore is one of the companies responsible for designing and bringing innovative euro-style equipment to Singapore, including the provocative treehouse inspired FEO Children’s Garden at Garden by the Bay.

Children's Gardens Photo Courtesy of Playpoint Singapore

Children’s Gardens
Photo Courtesy of Playpoint Singapore

Nothing like this treehouse, it was still a great improvement on the sanitized playgrounds which have been the norm of the past few decades. Disappointingly though, the last time we were there at least two of the most fun areas, including the steep metal slide and the angled rail-less merry-go-round had an ominous yellow tape around it with a sign reading “This play area has been decommissioned”. I spoke with Jason Sim, MD, Playpoint Asia, he simply stated that the those rides have been deemed too dangerous for kids. He told me, “Our mission is to push the boundaries of play and bring innovative ideas on play equipment and landscape design to Singapore”. At the risk of sounding cynical, I think this worthy goal can only be successfully achieved if we can alter the collective risk-averse attitudes that permeates our current culture.
Climbing at the Children's garden

Climbing at the Children’s garden


The Atlantic article also quotes a recent paper by Sandseter and Kennair (2011) which talks about risky play allowing children to cope with commonly experienced fears in a relatively safer way. The authors present that by preventing kids from experiencing fearful and risky situations, somewhat counterintuitively we hinder their ability to cope with fear, which in turn gives rise to increased levels of anxieties down the road.
Metal slide at Elite Terrace Park

Metal slide at Elite Terrace Park


Our kids are padded and protected just like the playgrounds they are exposed to. The common theme across most parenting boards is advice on dealing with daily battles with kids, struggles with aggression in kids, support for sibling rivalry and so on. I may be taking some liberties here, but I wonder how much of it has to do with the complete lack of thrilling and exciting forms of play for our kids these days. With our misguided focus on organic foods and hand-sanitizers, are we forgetting the most basic need of our kids, the need for unstructured and challenging play? This insightful blog post by An Honest Mom is what got me thinking about this.

We know kids learn through play, it is serious business for them. Tuning motor skills through play is also important in developing their minds for reading, writing and creative thinking. Here’s to more skinned knees and boo-boos – let the kids play, before life takes over..