When I was in kindergarten, I’d walk home after class all by myself while my mother took care of house and home, and my father brought home the bacon.
The first time I did it, it didn’t go too well. But I got the hang of it, and grew up doing grocery runs, joining friends at my neighbourhood playground every evening, and ran around everywhere. My parents just let me be, not because they didn’t have time to care for me, but because they needed me to learn to care for myself.
It sounds like a typical episode of Fighting Spiders, and indeed it was. We made new friends, learned to interact with people around us, greeted our neighbours and respected our elders. That was how my parents taught me, and how I taught myself. That was my childhood, and I can’t imagine growing up any other way.
We no longer live in those times.
Cars stream in and out of preschools, primary schools and secondary schools every morning and afternoon fetching our precious young with their 10kg school bags. Supermarket runs are a family affair, and provision shops are dying out because, well, if we have to bring our kids along with us all the time, why not go to someplace larger than a dingy little store? Our neighbourhood rubber-padded plastic playgrounds are deserted most of the day, with peak periods of 2-4 kids playing at any given playground location for 1/2 hour evening periods before getting bored or getting pulled home to study. And God forbid if we were to task our own child to reserve a table at a fast food restaurant while we go order a Happy Meal; i mean, isn’t that what packet tissues are for?! (Take pride, Singapore, for being the only country in the world where a non-descript packet of tissue has become a far superior symbol of occupancy than actually being there.)
For goodness sake, is it that dangerous out there? Are we so afraid the next stranger walking into McDonald’s is the one that will take our child away, never to be seen again, despite the 30-40 other strangers surrounding him already? How did we become so distrustful of everyone? And have we forgotten to trust our own children to grow up of their own accord? How do we love our children so much that we rob them of the childhood they could be having, the childhood we had?
What have we become?
At 2 1/2 years old, my son was already helping me reserve seats at a crowded food court — his rule for me is that I remain within sight of him when I’m away. At 3 1/2 years old, he’s already learned to order his own food while I’m seated at our table. And now he’s approaching 4, I’m already teaching my son to identify traffic signs, watch for traffic and cross the road unaided. Whenever we let him, he’ll run everywhere, climb everything, jump off any height he’s confident of landing off of. Most times he’ll be okay, sometimes he falls, and once or twice he faceplants on the floor and cries from a bumped nose and a bruised ego.
And why am I risking my son’s life by doing all this? Is this about independence? Character building? Being gung ho? Is this a boy thing? Is it a “dad” thing?
I do this for two reasons:
- I want my son to have his childhood, the way he wants, and
- I want my son to survive his childhood.
You may have heard of the strawberry generation. I’m not about to contribute another soul to that demographic. My son is already so much better than that. His parents are better than that. And I believe we’re all better than that. We just need to remember our own roots, how we grew up, and how we survived. Then we need to understand and realise that as the next generation progresses with its own complexities and hardships, our children need those exact same survival skills, and more.
In my current situation, the one and only concern I have is that his only inheritance from me is the debt I now carry, coupled with the promise of a future laden with high work stress, crazy public transport overcrowding/service breakdowns and what looks already to be a ridiculous cost of living. And looking at how things have already changed so much between my childhood and his, I wouldn’t be surprised if our national pastime of complaining about it all becomes socially unacceptable by the time my son learns how to use Facebook.
So my son needs to learn the things I did, to make new friends, learn to interact with the people around him, greet our neighbours and respect his elders. That is how I teach him, and how he teaches himself. This is his childhood, and I can’t imagine him growing up any other way.