Year One: Xander Writes Back

Xander celebrated his fourth birthday today (and yesterday, and last Friday too, as 4-year-old kids usually do with their various social circles), and Dear Xander the blog celebrates its 1st year anniversary as well. As we wind down for bed tonight during this holiday season, Xander has asked to write a letter to me.

A letter. To me. And up to this point, he has no idea this blog exists.

So here is his letter, dictated to his dear old dad (who sneakily logged in here to transcribe his words), addressed to both his mother and I, completely ad verbatim.

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Dear Daddy, and Dear Mummy,

I love you daddy. Because I love you so much. Do not go outer space. And don’t take pictures of the animals in the farm. Don’t go exploring in Wonderland (where we saw all the animals).

You can decorate the Christmas tree but it’s already decorate. Don’t decorate the Christmas tree any more.

It’s my birthday today. Don’t make another birthday cake for me, because I’m going K1 next year. So fast.

Don’t go to Wonderland. And don’t take the train to our house. Don’t go to Mummy’s office, and don’t go to your office, because I’ll miss you.

I miss you.

Thank you,

Xander

To all our well-wishers on Facebook and beyond, he’s been a wonderfully good boy for Santa, and he’s had a great birthday celebration (that isn’t over yet!).

And from Xander, Mother of Xander and The Blogfather, we wish you all happy holidays.

Understanding

Dear Xander,

Your 4th birthday approaches, and with it, your growing maturity. It is ironic that I speak of your maturity at such a young age, yet it manifests in ways your mother and I simply do not expect.

And last Sunday, you made it clear to me just how much you’ve grown.

Your mother and I had a crossing of words, stemming from a supermarket, and moving on to one of our not-so-usual fights during the drive home. Your mother was planning on buying groceries home to cook the night’s dinner. I thought we were eating out. One thing led to another, and suddenly it was finances, my unemployment, tears, and silence.

Things were more or less resolved by the time we reached home, and we were getting ready for bed while your mother was in the shower. As we started to drift off to sleep, you said something to me, the significance of which I didn’t realise until much later.

“Daddy, tomorrow I’m going to school?” you asked.

“Yep,” I replied.

“So Daddy pick me up from school tomorrow?” you asked again.

“Yes, I will,” I replied.

“After Daddy pick me up, Mummy pick me up?” This was our usual after-school routine, where I pick you up from school and we wait for your mother to arrive from the office in the car before we went to dinner together.

“Um, yes.”

“Then we go home first, okay?”

“Huh? Then what about dinner?”

“We eat at home.”

I told your mother what you said the next day, and mid-conversation it dawned on me that you understood your mother and I were quarreling about dinner the previous night.

And you were helping me plan out the next evening’s activities so that we wouldn’t run into the same problem again.

What did I do to deserve an angel like you?

Yours, for as long as I live,

Dad

The Bully and the Bullied

Recently, my 17-year-old niece came to me requesting for help in a paper she was doing on cyberbullying. Her first draft wasn’t quite Nobel prize material, so as I guided her along the thought process of analyzing this hot topic, it made me wonder if she had been a victim of bullying herself, so I asked.

She replied, “A bit of name calling here and there, in primary and secondary school. In kindergarten there was a boy who would draw on my hand. Super-annoying.”

I said to her, “Aiyoh, your kindergarten one was because the boy liked you lah!”

Her response worried me though. If she wasn’t able to differentiate between bullying and boys trying to get her attention, how would she be able to know if she was even a victim or not? Or if she was a bully herself?

At 17 years old, though, and in a good learning environment where she doesn’t have to think about the threat of bullying except in her class work, does she need to know any more?

Many of us would have gone through our childhood experiencing either side — or even both sides — of the fence, and being parents today, it is important for us to teach our children exactly what bullying is. For those of us that haven’t experienced bullying in either administration or receipt, it’s all the more important you read this to the end, because there’s some things we really need to teach our kids, for their own protection, and for protection against themselves.

Bullying: What You’re Contending With

By their very essence, bullies are a contradictory lot; they feed on the fear of their victims, but at the same time, their actions are dictated by the fear of being found out. At first thought, bullies would be easy to rat out and discipline; it’s why parents and teachers always advocate to their charges, “You must tell us if you are being bullied.” But of course, it’s so much more complicated than that. Overcoming the fear of peer scrutiny, regardless of whether that peer is a bully or part of a child’s social construct, is not something you should expect the child to tackle with gusto.

Cyberbullying, then, takes this already hard-to-tackle problem to a higher level. The Internet grants bullies the gift of anonymity (though if you know your way around, that protection is quite easily broken), and a potentially larger audience.

Preventing the Victimisation

In her first draft, my niece used the Xiaxue vs. Temasek Review incident as an example. For her purposes, this example would have been a double-edged sword; those who know of the story would know she is far from being a victim (and my dear niece would have potentially lost marks on her paper), and those who really know the story know it’s a double whammy of cyberbullies getting cyberbullied (Bully-ception!). As much as the Blogfather hesitates to set Xiaxue’s online persona as a role-model for our children, she did very publicly exemplify two very important characteristics of one who will never fall victim to bullying: confidence, and fearlessness. I also previously mentioned a chapter on Lenore Skenazy’s book, Free-Range Kids, where she lets on about how confident kids that don’t show fear in drawing attention to themselves are effectively best able to keep themselves safe, both in situations of bullying and stranger-danger.

Preventing the Monster

So a solution for bullying victims has presented itself. But for a solution to keeping your child from becoming a bully will take a different form of parental/pastoral education: empathy and compassion.

If you’ve watched or read The Clockwork Orange, you’ll see a very extreme example of a bully turned into a juvenile delinquent’s version of a kitten (albeit by brainwashing). That’s really why empathy does; teach a child to care, and you won’t bring up a bully. Teach a child compassion, and you potentially have a little Gandhi running around the world, and happy to help.

As much as has been said here, what has been shared here is largely pre-emptive advice for parents looking to understand how they mould young children to avoid bullying. I’ve really barely scratched the surface to a dire and still evolving problem; make no mistake, children have died from bullying in all its forms. To be honest, the Blogfather’s seen and done both sides of the fence back before he realised he hit puberty. Now, as a dad, I would never wish upon my own child the travesty of falling victim to bullying, nor becoming a bully. Hopefully, with my own experience, he won’t have to.

Have you ever been bullied? Or have you ever been a bully? How will you help your children to guard against becoming one, or being victimised by one?

How To Survive a Full Day at LEGOLAND Malaysia

LEGOLAND Malaysia is still too damn hot.

The trees have grown somewhat since my first review, though. Plus, it’s winter monsoon season here in our region (sure it snows here, just that it all melts and hits room temperature by the time it reaches the Petronas Towers), and the surrounding in-development shopping mall is finally seeing some life. AND IT’S CHRISTMAS! So let’s give the Danish landscape planners a break this festive season.

Since the wife, the son and the Blogfather have disgracefully underutilised annual passes, we decided to see what LEGOLAND Malaysia has lined up for Christmas last Friday (a day after the actual Christmas light-up event).

Here’s the thing: this post would have been titled “Christmas in LEGOLAND Malaysia” instead, if they actually had more than a big green pine tree made out of about 430,000 DUPLO LEGO bricks. But for most of the day, that’s all the Christmas we saw, standing just outside The Big Shop like a large, awkward man in a green wedding dress. If you need help imagining what that’s like, my wife has some wedding photos to show you.

But there’s one big reason to go to LEGOLAND?Malaysia during the Christmas season: they’re open till 8pm daily instead of 6pm from now till the end of the year. Besides facilitating a nicer view of the man in the green wedding dress lighting up in the evening, Miniland is an absolutely beautiful sight at dusk.

And because the weather is cooler right now, it’s quite plausible to plan a full day at the theme park with the family. And to help you plan that day, the Blogfather has a few words of advice for you.

Go on a weekday, and avoid the weekend

LEGOLAND Malaysia typically sees a weekday footfall of 4,500 visitors every day (7,000 on a good weekday) from morning to evening. Come Saturday and Sunday, though, the number shoots up to 20,000 visitors daily. Also, the ride queues start getting longer on weekdays between 1pm to 5pm.

Watch your (kid’s) head

The LEGOLAND staff are pretty stringent with height limits, which are indicated on height indicator boards at the entrance of every ride. I witnessed an awkward moment where an entire family walked off in a huff when their 90cm tall, 3-year-old daughter was refused entry to a ride with a?minimum height and age requirement?of 1 metre and 4 years of age respectively (the same requirement for most of the smaller rides).

The Dragon’s Apprentice at LEGO Kingdom – Xander fell in love at first ride with this one.

Milk your favourite rides

Don’t aim to try every ride available there in one visit; if your kids decide to latch on to one particular ride, let them queue and re-queue till they start getting bored, then go hunt for the next better ride. You might also want to take note that a number of the simpler rides like the City Airport, Kid Power Towers and Merlin’s Challenge only last a minute.

Don’t spread yourself too thin

Particularly if this will be your first time there,?don’t bother exploring every inch of the place. LEGOLAND isn’t the largest, but unless you plan to sprint from section to section, it’s still a good 2-day affair to cover the whole park. So take a good look at the map and activities guide and pick 3 of the 7 sections (excluding Miniland; nobody skips Miniland).

Remember to eat lunch

Sure, there are cafes and mini-eateries are available in the other sections, but?the only 2 restaurants serving full meals in LEGOLAND are located in Imagination (Pizza Mania) and LEGO City?(the “trying-to-be-IKEA” Market Restaurant). So if you’re planning to eat within the park premises, work either of these 2 sections in your itinerary.

Enjoy the heat, ‘cuz the rain is much worse

Being an outdoor theme park, LEGOLAND Malaysia is at the weather’s mercy.?If the sun shines, it’s sunscreen, sweat and screaming for visitors but all good for the rides. And if it rains, everything and everyone gets wet, and the rides shut down (and no, you don’t get a refund). White clouds are your best friend at Nusrajaya, but if all you’ve got is the clear blue sky, just be nice to the sun, because the rain won’t be as kind to your experience.

Bring money

My son’s classic expression every time I tell him he can’t marry the LEGO salesgirl.

The rides and shows are free, but the food isn’t, and the retail is a real test of your willpower even though you’re not planning to buy any LEGO sets. The range available at the Big Shop is quite an eye-opener, and prices are lower than what’s on offer at most major Singapore retailers (it’s a toss-up if you consider the boutique LEGO stores here like The Secret Chamber). There are also seasonal LEGO sets available; they’ve still got leftover Halloween stock sitting in the bargain wagons.

As for getting into the Christmas spirit, here’s what the guys at LEGOLAND have to say in their press release:

“Several activities have been planned as part of the celebrations including special walking
characters, storytelling sessions and Christmas ornament building activities. The building sessions will be
held at LEGO Academy daily from 11am-5pm and visitors can choose to either participate in a free building
session or purchase specially packed bricks at the Brick Shop. With the purchase, visitors can learn how to
build each item with LEGOLAND Malaysia model builders for several hours every day and take home the
festive ornaments.

“Other LEGO Christmas products are also available at both retail outlets at this time of the year. This
includes items such as Advent calendars, LEGO baubles, Santa sleigh sets, holiday t-shirts and much more.”

For more information, visit?www.LEGOLAND.my