Wah, So Big Already Ah? – A Primary 1 Orientation Walkthrough

They grow up too fast.

We had Xander’s primary school orientation earlier this week. It was a bittersweet moment for the Mother of Xander; it is the passing of a milestone for our firstborn. I said to her, “That’s why we have a second child, so we can relive it all over again.”

It was a bittersweet moment for me as well; the notion that the textbooks and uniforms take a big chunk off my livelihood was taking a toll on my heart. And we have a second child, so we have to relive this all over again.

After arriving at the school, we got down to business at some makeshift tables lined along the corridor before the school hall entrance, each table serving as a registration counter for the Primary 1 classes. We were given a plastic folio containing brochures, pamphlets and a few forms we had to fill out and submit after the orientation talk was over. Different schools may have different set-ups and facilities, but ours came with:

  • a Pupil Data Form;
  • a GIRO form for school fees;
  • a consent form for in-school dental treatment;
  • a student daycare registration form; and
  • a National Library membership registration form.

As we made our way towards the school hall, we were instructed to leave our children in the care of the school, who filtered them off into a separate staircase to the gallery area.

P1-Orientation-Stairs

That was when the Mother of Xander felt her first pang of  primary school separation anxiety, but we next saw him in the school hall seated in the gallery stalls, so she calmed down somewhat (honestly, we both did) when she saw how well he was doing with his peers around him.

P1-Orientation-Hall

The talk proper started off with a brief introductory video of the Family Matters @ School programme, followed by a number of not-unwarranted chest-beating cultural performances, including a killer wushu performance and a contemporary dance number done with a Daft Punk/Lady Gaga remix mashup (yes, I was sold on the school’s nod to Daft Punk).

P1-Orientation-Performance

Midway through the programme, the emcee announced that the kids were to be moved off to their respective classes. Once again, pangs of separation anxiety. You could tell just about all the parents began tensing up as they momentarily drew their eyes to the back of the hall to see their children being whisked away class by class while the speaker of the moment tried to pry their attention back onto the stage.

P1-Orientation-Speaker

A little later, the vice-principal would take to the stage, outlining the school history, special projects and introducing the faculty heads, as well as alumni and parent support group chairpeople. The various heads would take to the mic to explain next year’s syllabus changes (the Chinese curriculum seemed to be in the most state of flux right now; the Chinese textbooks are still being finalised and printed at the time of the orientation, and couldn’t be pushed out on time for release before December).

Meanwhile, the not-yet Primary 1s were being shown where all the toilets were.

P1-Orientation-Toilet

For any of you thinking of skipping the dry, administrative part of the presentation at any school, don’t. Unless you already know the school start and end times, what the procedure is to fetch your kid for early departure, how much allowance you need to give your kid on any given day, what the drill is for fetching your children after work regardless of whether you walk, drive or put your kid on the school bus, or where to install the name tags for your kids’ uniforms, you’ll need to stick around and possibly take notes because most schools are not known for their stellar website FAQs.

And The Blogfather couldn’t tell you even if he wanted to because we skipped the dry, administrative part of the presentation, and decided to go take photos of kids cramming into toilets, then join the sneaky ha-ha-I-got-here-before-the-other-600-parents queue for the textbooks and uniforms instead.

I would expect the bookstore and uniform supplier to be pretty organised as well, in anticipation of the horde that would be greeting them once the school hall presentation was over. And they were. The bookstore had the primary school enrolment list on hand for 2015, and they had all the textbooks sorted out in Ta-Q-Bin boxes according to ethnicity (CL for students taking Chinese, ML for Malay and TL for Tamil Language). Once you got there, you checked off your kid’s name, run through the checklist and mark out the items that you need to come back for (remember the Chinese textbooks aren’t out yet), pay the woman handing you the box, cry a little at why textbooks are so expensive (we blew a little over $200 in a flash), and then move out of the little room.

P1-Orientation-Bookstore

The uniform supplier isn’t quite as straightforward. You’ll need your kid there to ensure you get the right sized garments, and once the crowd builds, they will pre-measure your child before you collect his or her uniforms. Pre-measuring is a bit risky, because you might end up getting a size too large or too small, but you are assured by the supplier that you can always go back for an exchange if you find the size too small when you try them on at home. But if you have the time to spare, just bring the uniforms and your kid to get a fitting away from the crowd and head back in if you need a size change. The uniform segment set us back a little under $90.

As I carted our son’s new academic life home over my shoulder, the Mother of Xander held her son’s hand a little tighter than usual. Our son was getting bigger now, and in another couple of months, he will be officially inducted into the first of his many years in the cold, hard, rigorous Singapore education system.

With all his books and stationery weighing heavily on my left, still good shoulder, I clutched my wallet with my free hand a little more tightly as usual, because in another couple of months, he will be a lot more expensive to maintain.

They grow up too fast.

[Review] Celebrating 50 Years of Marriage with a Volvo

My mother always wanted me to drive a Volvo.

Mummy

I listed this as one of my parents’ 10 unfulfilled wishes way back in 2010, and something I never thought of pursuing further, given the Climate Of Extravagance (no, I did not apply caps arbitrarily) and all the Extra Rear-end Pain (yep, did that on purpose too) our nation’s leaders have so considerately set upon us (yes, I’m dripping the sarcasm very generously).

But as luck would have it, I was to receive an invitation that we in the very small but very chummy dad blogger community generally consider to be one of the Holy Grails of blogger engagement firsts (I count a total of 6 Holy Grails  –  milestones of first-time invitations in any dad blogger’s portfolio – indoor playground and major attraction reviews, toy company engagements, cash-paid blog posts, a staycation anywhere that isn’t your own house, a vacation anywhere that isn’t your own country, and car test drives like this one; you can see from the linked items how far I’ve gone.)

The timing was right, too: the weekend of the drive also happened to be the weekend of my parents’ wedding anniversary dinner, and so The Blogfather hatched a plan.

MG50-Invitation-Banner

Volvo P1800The impression my parents gave me of what makes a Volvo was one of old school status, a strong, regal European class of automobile not far from that of classic Bentleys, not overly opulent like the Mercedes Benzes favoured by old uncles with large gold Rolexes, and not brash like how BMWs like to present themselves as. No, a Volvo is a discrete car with just the right amount of stature to show both nobility and humility at the same time. A Volvo was a sure mark of respect in the eyes of my parents’ generation.

So we weren’t quite prepared to receive this:

Volvo-Big

The Mother of Xander calls this 7-seater Volvo XC90 the Big Black Monster, and if the Wife gives something or someone a term of endearment, it means she really likes/hates the fella (it all depends on whether she employs a snarl and a hiss while saying it; she didn’t in this case).

The XC90 design has been established for all of 12 years now (the Volvo rep jokingly said the car just finished its PSLEs, hur hur hummm), with the right amount of enhancements added in over the years, making it a very viable car with the right bells and whistles for the practical family man. True to my parents’ testimony, the interior felt regal to the touch, with the right amount of thoughtfulness for a very comfortable driving experience and just a notch more.

Volvo-details

Volvo-mind-the-railingsYou can see that the XC90 on its own is a behemoth of a machine, and not easy to climb into if you’re wearing  a long, tight skirt. That said, the high ground clearance the XC90 provides makes loading everything and everyone wonderfully non-strenuous (although you do get rather paranoid about parking backside-first into lots with low railings). We liked the Transformers-like middle seat that converts into a child booster seat, and the removable middle console that adds more leg room to an already well-spaced second row. And of course, there’s enough boot space after the third row seats are folded down for a very productive Ikea run (and if you don’t already know, Volvo and Ikea are both of Swedish origin, and as of right this very moment, the current batch of XC90s that the Blogfather is talking about here is still very much produced in Sweden).

Volvo-Space

The drive itself was smoother and easier than I anticipated; I was initially concerned that I wouldn’t be able to properly gauge the size of the car, but the ample side views and the ease of manoeuvrability made for a very reassuring, stable drive. The stiff suspension is par for the course for this category of car, but I am a big fan of its cruise control function, while the kids were in awe of the sun roof it came with (“Daddy! Bird! The poop missed us! Yay!”)

We were given the T5 R-Design model, essentially a standard XC90 with a dashingly sporty body kit. But even though its commanding height gives you a good view of most of the other cars’ bird-poo stained roofs, it’s smouldering good looks still blends in well with the rest of the car population on the road. Rather too well for my liking, in fact, and this car had a dinner to attend, so The Blogfather decided to spruce it up into something fit to chauffeur a bride and groom in… somewhat.

Volvo-Featured

Good thing we kept our old wedding car decorations from 6 years back, although I must admit it was made for smaller cars. But for a married couple of 50 years, it was enough.

My mum and dad both gasped when they saw me greeting them with the car behind me (I think my mother squealed a little). Throughout the whole “wedding car”experience, there was only one hitch: my mother was wearing a long, tight skirt (hence my earlier comment about the XC90’s size). But once on board, both my parents kept beaming from ear to ear. During the car ride, I asked if my mother was comfortable. She replied in the brightest of voices, “Of course it’s comfortable. It’s a Volvo!” I felt emancipated that I could fulfil at least one of my parent’s unfulfilled wishes, if only for this one night.

Volvo-Mum-Dad

At $260,000 (price as at the publication of this post), the Volvo XC90 T5 R-Design is positioned up there with the big intercontinental boys. But The Blogfather would argue in favour of its cost; it is a Volvo, after all. And it fits a family of 4 very nicely, with room for more. But what the Wife and I really am going to miss about this car now that we’ve returned it, is how it magically kept our usually screaming baby quiet (at least, for the first couple of drives) and our young son stock-still from watching the sky fly by through the sun roof, or the smooth, sturdy ride they don’t get to experience with our usual ride. And even when the car’s magic wore off for Yvie (we enjoyed it while it lasted), the distance between the driver’s seat and the third row where we put her baby seat at one point ensured her banshee screams no longer implants that ring around our ears as we focus on the road ahead in the front.

And THAT’S what a family car should be like.

Volvo-Family

On Busted Knee

I busted my knee last week while skateboarding to work.

I can imagine this statement to be pretty normal coming out of a 20+ year old hipster living in a Western urban setting. But this is Singapore, I’m a 36-year-old diabetic with a blood pressure problem, and a father of two. I have received opinion from various corners of society that either this is a ridiculous idea, or I’m just having another one of my mid-life crisis moments. Particularly with my recent injury, I’ve been met with a very helpful “You see lah! You see lah!” both at work and at home.

But, as I explained to the Mother of Xander a couple of nights ago when she asked me if I was going on the skateboard again after what happened, I have to skate. And this is why.

A day after I bought my board, Xander asked if he could try it. Now, here was a 5-year-old that looks at roller coasters as massive contraptions of impending doom, and would turn off the TV without hesitation the moment the screen flashed that “due to the portrayal of violence, parental guidance is advised for the following programme“, asking if he could try riding on a wooden board on 4 tiny wheels with no handles for balance or control. So I let him try it out.

He went on for hours, over 2 evenings. I thought I was never getting my board back. It was the first time I saw my son keep at something for more than 15 minutes, and loving every single moment of it, even the falls and spills.

Well, most of the falls and spills.

On the second evening, about 30 minutes into his skateboarding session at a park near our home, he took a fall on the asphalt track and scraped his knee. As expected, he cried in pain and wailed to go home. After I washed his knee and put on a plaster kindly offered to us by a passer-by, I decided to give him a little pep talk while he nursed his bleeding knee and bruised ego.

“You still want to go home?”

(Nod. Sniff.)

“Do you like skateboarding?”

(Nod. No sniffing.)

“And because you fell down and scraped your knee, you’re going to give up and stop? When yesterday you remember you were falling all over the place and laughing and having so much fun?”

(No nodding. No sniffing.)

I pass him his water bottle. “Have a drink. Take a few minutes to rest. Then you decide what you want to do.”

A few minutes and ¾s of a bottle of water later, he turns to me and says, “I want to skate some more.” Sniff, and wipe.

And he was at it again, for another 2½ hours. He slept like a log that night.

***

The very next morning, after dropping Xander off at school, I busted my knee while skateboarding to work. 5 days of straggling around the house like a limping fool, sorry for not being able to go to work as a result, but not sorry for deciding to relive a part of my youth I haven’t thought to do again for 22 years.

I told the Wife, after all that talk about not giving up after a scrape on the knee (I pulled a couple of ligaments actually), I could not possibly justify not going back on the skateboard after I’ve recovered.

Besides, this is Singapore, I’m a 36-year-old diabetic with a blood pressure problem, and a father of two.

I should be skating.

Primary 1 Registration – Going Into Ballot

81.

That was Xander’s alloted ballot number. I assumed it would be a smaller number, seeing as we were one of the first registrants for the Primary 1 registration under Phase 2B for this school. But it was just as well, because we got to the school about 10 minutes late. I overslept; it’s one of the ways I handle anxiety.

image

And when we finally shuffled into the packed multi-purpose room full of anxious parents (all not enough sleep, I bet), the school’s vice-principal was already reciting the list of registrants into the 30s. Midway through, another school staffer would interject, saying that the balloting equipment (the spinning dome, balloting balls, and procedures are supplied by MOE, and the entire process is strictly governed “to ensure fairness for all”.

One set of parents in the room were particularly anxious; they were parents to a pair of twins, both of whom were sharing one ballot number. The vice-principal made sure to explain the technicalities behind this arrangement (siblings go together as per MOE policy, so if their ballot wasn’t drawn, they’d draw another ballot ball at the end for the extra seat. They were allotted Ballot Ball 1.

When the vice-principal got to the last name, a call for questions is thrown to the floor. Everyone keeps quiet. After a 5-second pause, the spin begins.

They announce every single step,from the shuffling of the balls in the spinning dome, to the drawing of the balls announcing of the numbers and reciting the name of the child attached to the number.

Nerve-wracking is an understatement. Each spin of the ballot dome, every crackling of balls hitting each other sends reverberations of tense hope, and every time the dome stops, so does the heart of every single one of the 100-odd parents sitting nervously in the room.

At the announcement of the 3rd or 4th ballot ball, one mother couldn’t contain her yelp of joy and relief. The slight commotion was met with awkward stares all around the packed room, and the excitable mother couldn’t compose herself quickly enough. No one else dared yelp after that.

15 balls in, the school bell rings. Children are cheering for the end of one period and the beginning of another, oblivious to what’s happening in the room packed full of parents. I couldn’t take much more of this. I turn to look at the Wife with a slight pained expression, and say to her in a hushed, serious tone, “I need to go toilet.”

That’s another way I handle anxiety.

I return, relieved somewhat, and Xander’s ball still hasn’t been called. Towards the end of the balloting, Ballot Ball 1 is called. The announcement is followed by a loud murmur throughout the room; the twins have their places. The vice-principal then addresses the murmur by saying there are now 11 vacancies left. The tense reminder silences the room again. The dome spins again, then stops. A ball is drawn, and the vice-principal raises his microphone.

“81.”

***

What of the unsuccessful registrants? The vice-principal was mindful enough to let them know after the balloting was done that their registration documents will be sent back to them, and the parents will be required to re-register again for the Phase 2C.

Postscript Update: It must be said, this post was meant to be a first-person documentation of at least this part of the P1 registration process (as detailed as MOE’s explanation is on their website, one can barely find any commentary on what goes on at any given part of it – now we all know the primary school balloting process is really like an official drawing of winning Toto numbers).

The Blogfather feels just as iffy about the entire phasing mechanism as anyone who has an opinion about it does (and it looks like there’s a lot of people who have an opinion about it). But whatever can, should and will be said about the Primary One registration process in all its wonderful segregatory glory, it’s the only process we have at present, and it’s a national process. So we’re all going to have to get with the programme.

For now.

Every School a Good School – But Which One is Best?

The atmosphere is infectious. And not in a good way.

Young parents stand nervously around the school porch waiting for their number to be called. Those who’ve volunteered their time to help handle the crowd at last year’s registration will know, the timing of your number being called is crucial. If your number is called too early, it usually means a document is missing, or a qualifying criteria wasn’t met. If your number is called late, there’s likely been a hitch in administration, and your agonising wait is made even more agonising by the delay.

It doesn’t help that the parents come to register in pairs as a safeguard in case one parent is holding information or documentation that the other one wouldn’t have on hand. The waiting crowd visually inflates the actual number of registrants vying for the vacancies (and, based on the registration phases progress chart helpfully posted on a makeshift whiteboard nearby, not much more than the 20 reserved seats for just this phase).

Aside from the school administration staff handling the paper shuffling, who have to put up a brave front during these events, no one else is smiling, even though some of us know each other from our parent volunteering stints over the past year.

P1-reg-wait

Our number gets called up. We submit the one and only form we were asked to fill out in triplicate indicating our family’s information and that we fulfilled our parent volunteer obligations as a pre-requisite for Phase 2B. About 15 minutes later, our number was called again, and we were handed one of the copies of the form indicating that the results of our application would be announced on Friday.

The next day, a fellow parent volunteer messaged me to tell me we’re going into balloting.

***

Phase 2B this year has turned out to be more tense an affair than last year, with a record 31 primary schools oversubscribed compared to 24 from last year. It also puts to rest once and for all any speculation that parent volunteering ensures you a place in the primary school of your choosing. There’s been rising dissent to the phasings of the Primary 1 registration process, so much so that stop-gap measures had to be put in to ensure certain groups get priority over others (right down to who gets to go in the balloting box: first priority to Singapore citizens, followed by closest distance between applicant’s residential address to the school). Unsuccessful applicants from a previous phase can try again in the next phase, but again, this is by no means a guarantee of a spot; if anything, the competition will only get stiffer with every unsuccessful play because you’ll be contending with a new, larger batch of applicants together with the spillover from the previous phases.

When Education Minister Heng Swee Keat first came up with the tagline “Every School a Good School”, parents of young children across the nation let out a collective, sarcastic snigger so loud he had to re-explain the phrase he tried to coin. Top school principals were reshuffled into heartland schools, school banding was eliminated, and the MOE Facebook page started regularly publishing features on neighbourhood schools that, in the Minister’s own “let-me-clarify” words, “good in its own way, seeking to bring out the best in every child.”

But the reputation of the really good schools precede them, and that precedent has so far only managed to overtake the efforts to play down their worth. And having brought us all up to judge our peers, our environment, and ourselves based on the logic of meritocracy, one simply cannot expect to stop a nation of self-respecting parents not to want the best for their child. No one has ever faulted the Singapore education system for being sub-standard (in fact, we’re actually complaining that our kids aren’t failing enough),  but with a list of 187 primary schools, all segregated in clusters, inevitably parents will seek to do some banding of their own. Therein lies psychologist Barry Schwartz’s Paradox of Choice, creating his similarly-implied anxiety to both the parent shopping for a primary school, and, as it were, the national education provider.

I know of parents that have refused to partake in this anxiety, choosing to be allocated a school in their immediate vicinity; they have the Blogfather’s full respect for being able to resist what we could not, but even they will tell you the only reason they took the stance was because they, too, were afflicted with the same anxiety when it was time to take on the Primary 1 Registration monster. As I said in the beginning, the atmosphere is infectious, and not in a good way.

Ultimately, the only thing you can be assured of is that your child will go into a primary school, thanks to the government’s long-standing no-child-left-behind policy.

The primary school of your choosing“.

Interestingly, my son, who is the centre of our whole ordeal with the registration process, has absolutely no idea what is going on. Until things are firmed up as to which school he will ultimately enrol in, we’re just going to let him lead his almost-carefree kindergarten life for the next few weeks…

… while we continue to infect the atmosphere with our anxiety as parents of a child going into Primary 1.

Getting Older

Dear Xander,

You’ve always been a lot closer to your mother than to me. It is a perfectly reasonable bias, admittedly; she is much more better-looking than I am, for one. And she does treat you better than I do on most occasions.

I do envy your mother sometimes for the attention she receives from you. Perhaps it is because we spend so much time together, that I can’t help but use her as the superior parenting benchmark and wonder where I went wrong.

One evening when I was giving you a shower, you taught me where I went wrong.

I was just recovering from a gruelling bike training session the night before, and my body was still aching from the exercise. So when it came time to soap you, I let out a groan as I knelt down to your height and started lathering you up.

“Daddy, why you pain?”, you asked as I grimaced at the feeling of my aching thighs.

“Sigh. My body is not as nubile as it used to be. So after I exercise, I will feel pain when I kneel down. Daddy’s getting old already,” I said with a smile.

You froze, your eyes fixed on my face with a look of concern (despite not knowing what the word “nubile” means), and you maintained that stare despite the water and shampoo trickling down your face.

I returned the stare, albeit in confusion to your reaction. “What?” I asked you.

You contemplated my query for a second, then said in a measured tone, “Daddy… don’t die.”

“Huh?! Why do you think I’m going to die?” I asked.

“Because you say you old already. I don’t want you to die,” you replied. The concerned look never left your face the entire time.

I laughed. “Don’t worry. Daddy’s gonna be around for a long time.”

That one moment we shared – just between you and me – was a profound one. That moment, I learned I was important to you too. And i was competing against no one; you only have the one dad.

And I’m gonna be around for a long time.

Love,

Dad

The Price of (Parent) Blogging

A couple of weeks back, the Wife asked me while we were driving home, “When should we stop writing about our son?”

It seemed a weird question to ask a parent blogger, but I have considered its stark reality at one point, from the view of a protective father ? just that I forgot one thing.

My children are going to grow up sooner or later. That means they will want to live on their own terms, make their own decisions, and most pertinent to the conversation with the Wife, take ownership of their own privacy. My own stand as a father has always been to never be the obstacle in my own children becoming their own person.

When the Wife asked this question, and spent the rest of the drive explaining why she asked this question, I got that deep, dark sinking feeling some of us parents might get once in a while when we realise we’ve been doing it wrong with our kids the whole time.

My kids have their own online presence ? I thought it would be useful for them to have their own domain names, email addresses, and maybe a social media account or two, to futureproof their lives. I write letters to my son, detailing the hard as well as soft aspects of our lives together as father and son, not so much for the world to see, but so he has something of his dad’s to refer to when I’m no longer around. My life is as open a book here in The Blogfather as It is on my Facebook profile as people know I am in person, because I pledged to live an honest life so that I would never need to hide nor live in shame for anything.

Just that I forgot one thing ? do I have my children’s permission to do all this? Will I have their permission, when they turn 9, or 16, or 21,or 36?

Blogging has provided us with a whole new lifestyle we would otherwise not have been able to imagine for ourselves ? we get great toys, go to great places, learn great things, and at one point, make some cake, too ? but there is a price to pay for all this. And you wonder why some bloggers would charge a hefty premium for putting their lives out there for PR and advertising. The Blogfather will very confidently tell you, none of us bloggers, parent or otherwise, thought to do this as a business when we first started journaling our lives, and most of us still don’t.

And given the latest revelation I’ve had about what I’ve been doing to our children the last 3-4 years, I can also very confidently tell you, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.

Some advice would be nice.

A Fatherhood Story in a Photography Workshop

Meet Bob Lee.

The Wife and I were invited to a workshop hosted by Canon geared towards parent bloggers who want to learn about taking photographs of children.

No, I am not going to talk about what I learned about taking photographs of children.

I want you to meet Bob Lee.

image

In the midst of his very candid, almost tongue-in-cheek presentation, mostly involving showing us a barrage of well-composed pictures of his son, he’d inject some anecdotal information on his background as a Zaobao photojournalist, the fact that he was from JB, used to blog just like us, has published 5 books, and that his son was autistic.

I sat up. I had just met Bob Lee.

Amidst teaching us about angles and bokeh and the benefits of using continuous mode on hyperactive children, he told us that he quit his full-time job with Zaobao because he wanted to focus on spending time with his son. But from his candour, and the photos that he presented, and his entire presentation in general (which was turning into less of a photography workshop for me and more of a simple story of fatherhood set in a much more complex circumstance), he was surviving well despite a lack of stable income, and he was happy. He was content.

He made me remember the time I was trying to survive without a full-time job, putting my focus squarely on making sure I was a father to my son first and foremost, and through the story he unconsciously told through his photos and banter, he reminded me how things would inexplicably fall into place in what I would have thought was my darkest hour as a family man.

He saw light. He’d get lens flare once in a while, but he said that’s okay; lens flare can be a good thing too.

Have you met Bob Lee?

The Reason We Buy Toys

It started with an empty box.

The big hoo-ha I made in the last post was (mostly) all in fun, if you didn’t realise already. The Blogfather has had run-ins with the Hasbro people a number of times, and they don’t scrimp when it comes to things like this, though their methods of engagement can sometimes raise eyebrows.

But I will be honest; the geek in me was attracted to the collector’s value the Transformers First Edition Optimus Prime held. When you put a three-digit price tag and the words “First Edition” on the box, you know it’s more than just a toy. And the geek in me wanted it.

But that didn’t prepare us for the bigger hoo-ha?that was at the Transformers Toy Madness @ 2200 (the premise of their sending us the empty box in the first place). When the Mother of Xander and I got to Forum the Shopping Mall Friday night we were planning on grabbing a cup of coffee before leisurely sauntering over into the event. We didn’t think there’d be a lot of people, mainly because the shops at Forum tend to close a couple of hours earlier than the rest of Orchard Road, and the mall is usually pretty quiet by 8.30pm.

Then we saw the queue.

Image courtesy of Hasbro Singapore
Image courtesy of Hasbro Singapore

It stretched along the walkways, wrapping the stairs and rails from the 2nd floor up to the 4th where the event entrance was, and it was about an hour and a half before the event would start.

Ah Boys to Men and the Scrawny Dude. Image courtesy of Hasbro Singapore
Ah Boys to Men and the Scrawny Dude. Image courtesy of Hasbro Singapore

The crowd was being coaxed into a frenzy by a scrawny dude in a standard-issue red Transformers tee, and in another while, the Ah Boys to Men cast would come and make girls scream (I never understood why girls scream for that kind of thing). We had media passes, but we were no less awestruck (by the crowd, not the Boys). And as we were walking into the event – son and baby all – the Wife warily said to me, “Eh. The people all staring at us like how come we can no need to queue one leh.”

It was tense.

The doors flew open for the crowd at 2200hrs as promised. And things flew.

Transformers-Crowd

Look closely. Barely any kids. Big kids, maybe. Collectors.

You start wondering if the toys are really worth all this attention, all the hype, all the value that they may or may not hold, now, or 10, 20, 50, 100 years into the future.

I brought the no-longer empty box home, and stared at it while Xander sat near me, tired from the evening’s special toy hunt.

TransformersAoE-Actual

Pro collectors will tell you that if you intend to keep a toy in a collection, the moment the packaging seal of the toy is broken, the toy is immediately devalued from “mint” or “mint-” to “near-mint”or below, lowering its resale value significantly even if the greatest care is taken to keep the toy itself in its most pristine, straight-from-factory condition.

Be it toys, comic books, or even games (ever see an actual, physical fantasy role-playing game setup?) some of us will have grown up with a vision of amassing what we hope would be a treasure trove of the 90s teenager’s equivalent of blue chip stocks, a collection of nostalgic memorabilia that would grow in monetary value over time and boost our retirement funds in lieu of the CPF minimum sum that we might end up never seeing.

Then you become a dad.

It’s exactly times like this that you’re reminded why you fell in love with these toys in the first place, because your child loves them now exactly like you did when you were 6 years old too.

You’re left wondering what is more valuable: a toy kept in mint condition in the box it came in, or a toy in your child’s hands.

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I end up with an empty box. But it’s okay.

Mornings

Dear Xander,

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This has been part of our morning routine of late: a 2-stop bus ride from the MRT station to your school.

You might not realise it because I always look like I’m distracted by other things when we travel in the mornings, but I do look at you almost all the time, quietly walking with me, trying to keep up behind me, sitting with me on the train or the bus, and sometimes, resting your still-tired self on me.

You make me feel like a dad.

And then there are these moments, when you try to learn about the world around you, taking in the surroundings as they fly by with your eyes as big as you can muster.

You might not notice it, but your innocence infects me, and makes me wonder why I can’t be as accepting of the world as you are right now.

You make me feel like I should be better than who I am now.

When we finally reach your school, before we say goodbye, you’d wipe your mouth thoroughly with your sleeve before puckering up your lips to give me my goodbye kiss. I wrap my arms around you and give you the biggest, tightest hug I can muster. And then we say goodbye for the morning.

You might not know it, but every morning, I give you that hug because  when we part ways every morning, it feels like a piece of me is being ripped out of me, and I don’t want to let it go.

I feel like my day has already ended before it has begun.

These mornings are getting fewer, because you’re growing up. You might not realise it, but I cherish every single one of these mornings with you. Every. Single. One.

Because you make me feel like you’ve given me a purpose to live.

Love,

Dad