Friday, June 13, 2014

He came for me

I sing the praises of my father's love for our mother loud and often. But today, on the week of his birthday and Father's Day, my memory brings me back to the car he drove when we were growing up. A beloved and unassuming car that perfectly crammed four laughing teenage girls in the backseat.

Photo credit: Catherine Yong

When we were little, my father made a commitment to be our family's driver. I say that he made a commitment because it required of him a great sacrifice. He chose to drive all four of his daughters, with different schedules, to different schools — while working a full-time job. He drove us to every piano lesson, every sport event, our friends' houses, choir practices, the list went on and on. Wherever I went, whatever I was doing, I could count on my father's car to appear on the horizon, coming for me.

Every morning, before he started the engine, he would pray for each of us. With our hearts heavy with exams, bullies, and the fear that we are not beautiful enough, we started the day by praying. When we arrived at school, we would exchange "I love yous" and then he would say good bye. His was the last face I saw before I stepped out into the wild, wild world. His was the first face that welcomed me as I stepped back into the familiar.

Even now, I remember the relief that would wash over me as I climbed in. The car was my resting place. So glad to be out of the scorching heat. So happy to see my father at last. So happy that the wait was over. Some days, he would even bring me lunch boxes filled with my favorite things, with chili sauce on the side.

I was not always grateful. Sometimes, I stepped into the car with my mouth spewing ugly words of complaints. Like everything else in my childhood, I often took my father for granted. Even then, my father responded with kindness and patience. Sometimes, he would even apologize for the delay. The man had a job! I had no idea how much he sacrificed for me. He never gave up. Even when each of us took on new activities, he continued to serve us in this way, year after year.

When I was sixteen or seventeen, I told him that I was old enough to take the bus. My friends did it. I assured him that this would help ease his load. He halfheartedly agreed, but when it came time for me to take the bus, he would always insist that he wanted to drive me instead.

I think he had bus-phobia. And I think it was because of me.

I was left behind by the school bus driver when I was in first grade. At the time, we were living in a remote village where my father was a pastor. My school was in the city, about 30 miles away. A local bus driver offered my parents her service (school buses were private businesses in Malaysia). Every morning, she picked me up before 6 a.m. and brought me home after 12 p.m.

One afternoon, I waited for hours. I was with my classmate from the same village. Both of us were left behind. I remember the silence of school yard. There was no one else in sight. Being impatient, I convinced my friend that we should surprise our parents by walking home.

She hesitated (for good reasons), but she finally came with me as she did not want to be left alone. We stopped at every bus stop. When we finished our last drop of water, I thought of selling my hair clip (it was very shiny) and use the money to buy some water. She cried and cried despite my attempts to cheer her up. I, on the other hand, thought this was all very exciting and could not wait to surprise my parents (not sure what this says about me).

Meanwhile, our parents were on panic mode (now that I have children of my own, I can only imagine their state). They called the bus lady only to be informed that she did not see us, so she left. Our parents searched for hours. First the school, and then up and down the route between home and school. Hours later, the two fathers continued their search, while the mothers waited at the house of a family friend.

I still remember the first sight of my father's car appearing on the horizon, coming for me. I remember the relief that washed over me to see his face. So glad to be out of the scorching sun. So happy to be found (though slightly disappointed that I didn't get to surprise them at home). He brought us to our weeping mothers, who eagerly fed us, as we had nothing to eat since the morning.

Perhaps this was the start of my father's bus-phobia? Or, perhaps he just loved us a lot, and driving was his way of spending time with us.

I know now, it wasn't the air conditioner, or the food, or the cushions. The car was not my resting place, my father was. My father who came for me, who still comes for me.

My father was my safe place. My mother was my safe place. My sisters were my safe place. With them, I could laugh. In that car, perfectly crammed, and together, we sang the praises of our Father's love for us.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Where messes and memories abound

We celebrated the last day of school under the sea, at the aquarium.

Emeth completed Kindergarten. Yohanan completed Pre-K3, a.k.a. a certificate in Following His Big Brother Around. And I completed my first year as a Kindergarten and Pre-school teacher, a career I never imagined for myself.

I am tucking away a few thoughts on homeschooling for years to come, years when they will all be taller than me, years when cereal will actually stay in their bowls.

1. Homeschooling was much like hosting a year-long dinner party — for people who needed a lot of help getting food into their mouths (literally and figuratively). Like all great dinner parties, messes and memories abound. My children were my guests, and a whole new world was on our menu. Homeschooling, however, was no magic carpet ride. It was my job to tell them "No" and where to go.

2. We learned a rhythm that worked for us (i.e. that kept me somewhat sane). School is simplified into two routines. I called them high tide and low tide. During high tide hours, we sat at the table and practiced math, spelling, painting, and penmanship. Basically, things that required maximum supervision. During low tide hours, the boys found their own comfortable corners; they read, drew, or worked on their various projects — things that required minimal help from me. A normal day would have some combination of the two routines. As a friend wisely concluded, it can't be high tide all the time or we would all drown. True words.

3. I had a lot to learn from parents who went before me — mommy polar bears, mommy belugas, mommy elephants, human parents, too. Keep the children close. Remember they learn best by imitating. Resist the urge to help too much. Sometimes, I walked a step or two in front of them. Sometimes, I stood behind them. Other times, I pushed — hard.

4. I learned to aim for the heart. Sure, I cheer like a crazy woman when their arrive at certain milestones, but reading and writing and counting are not our ultimate goals. They are means and methods to get to their hearts. I want my children to love people, to love serving others, to be curious, to work hard and work cheerfully, to overcome their fears, to know they are not perfect, to fail graciously, to be brave and try again.

5. I learned to study my children, how they played, how they learned. When choosing curricula, toys, books, or any other tool, I evaluated the product's potential by thinking of my child's skills, interests, and habits. Instead of thinking about what the tool can do, I learned to think about what my child can do with the tool. Reviews and good quality products certainly helped, but every child played and learned so differently. So, they benefited from the tools differently (or not at all).

6. I learned to be ruthless when it came to chopping off unfruitful activities and things. We made space and time for only things we loved. Having a small home forced us to donate books and toys regularly. Every month, the boys chose a few books and toys to give away. If a book was not cultivating good vocabulary, if a story was ugly or untruthful, we talked about it and moved onto other books. If the curriculum was too advanced, we put it aside.

 7. It has been a year of learning and accepting our limitations, while loving our freedom. We are homeschooling in a two-bedroom apartment. Because we do school and eat meals at the same table, you can imagine the boys' artwork, markers, crayons, pencils, spoons, bowls, all mingling in the most unattractive ways on my dining table. And then, there are other limitations, such as my patience, and my ability to fold the laundry.

On the other hand, we loved our freedom. The brothers were free to spend all of their waking hours together. We were free to spend our mornings at libraries, parks, friends' homes, and grocery stores. We were free to drop unsuitable curricula and pick up new ones. We were free to explore whatever that fascinated us.

It has been a good year-long dinner party. Summer, we welcome you with open arms. Hakuna matata, right? Wait, what?! I still have to do laundry in the summer?