A family rejoices when the child does well. A nation celebrates when their sons and daughters leave for overseas studies as President's Scholars.
Today's paper is about academic excellence, all-rounder's achievement, that is, President's Scholars (PS). There can only be a handful for that prestigious title. The best of the best gets the crown.
But that's not what I'm going to write here. What however captured my attention are the words of one of the PS, Lee Tat Wei, who paid the highest tribute to his parents (see photo inset).
Lee is going to Yale University to read liberal arts. In fact, all five of the PS are taking the less conventional paths (instead of going for law and medicine).
One of them from SOTA (the first), Cheri Wee Jin Ting, is going to read psychology and philosophy at Oxford. The other is doing Science in France. The latter, Jaspeep Singh Hundal, FYI, did Chinese as a third language at RI and scored A1 for it.
Let's go back to what Lee said. His words resounded in my heart.
He said that his parents are his greatest role models. "They weren't very educated but they gave me moral support...My father encouraged me to take up sport, to do what I love."
Lee's father works as a taxi driver and his mother, a part-time sales assistant.
Here's the dedication that warmed my heart. Lee said:-
"My parents gave me an environment that money couldn't buy. They never pressured me to get straight As. They taught me to live in the moment."
Lesson? The words of Lee will form the three lessons for me starting with living in the moment.
1) "They taught me to live in the moment".
Let's admit it, there's nothing we can do about the past as parents. The past is the past. Whatever mistakes, neglect or regrets we have are done and dusted.
As parents, we too are learning the ropes just as our children are learning theirs. No one goes into parenthood as an old timer or a seasoned hand.
It's our maiden voyage for our first kid, and our second kid and third, because no two kids are alike. Each of them comes with his/her own challenges, and stretches us towards growth.
Living in the moment for me is learning from my past and applying them consciously and intentionally to my present. It is also to remind me to never squander my present time with them with the cares or anxieties for their future.
It is our relationship with them that matters above all. And relationship is not built over the years by looking back ruefully or longing for a future anxiously.
It is built up moment by moment in the present. If we miss that, those precious building blocks of being present for them, we miss the most empowering gift of parenthood, that is, enduring influence.
2) "They never pressured me to get straight As".
Again, let's face it, President Scholars are rare. They don't like manna fall from the sky. Only the best of the best gets the best. Not every child will end up a PS.
But, that's never the point of parenthood. They are born not to live up to the script of society, but the scribbles of the heart. And the heart's scribbles are the everyday love notes we offer to them when they need it most.
They are not prepared or polished speeches made by orators of public offices. On the contrary, the scribbles from the heart from one moment to another are spoken to elevate the spirit, nudge the soul forward, and strengthen the earthly bond.
Yes, we can't ensure they turn out to be PS. That's not within our control and is never the endgame of being a father or mother.
But what is within our control, on a day-to-day basis, is to nurture the best relationship we know how with them. It is upon these little (hardly noticeable) milestones of affection and attention that we give them space to grow, and the freedom and courage to be what they want to be.
3) "My parents gave me an environment that money couldn't buy".
Yesterday, Joy, my 6-yrs-old, came to me crying again. She said she doesn't want to go to school.
I recall the tender, if not wounded, moment. I was out of words that morning. But I knew whatever I said would make a difference to her little heart.
So, just right there, I remembered that we saw the movie Moana the night before. It was our thousandth time watching it.
In Moana, there was a phrase she repeated often as she sailed across the ocean to look for the whimsical demigod Maui.
She said: "I am Moana of Motunui. You will board my boat, sail across the sea and restore the heart to Te Fiti."
There and then, I hugged Joy and whispered these words to her:-
"Darling, you remember that brave Moana (Joy nodded). She sailed the scary ocean alone. She fought the fire monster Te Ka and won. What did she say to Maui? She said, "I am Joy Jann of Pasir Ris. I will put on my uniform and shoes, and cross the playground to school, and rejoice in my heart always because mommy and daddy love me dearly."
I repeated that again, and Joy broke out into laughter. She then hugged me again and wiped her tears, and like Moana, left for school.
I then realised that I don't need to buy her toys to cheer her up. At such moment, she needs a human touch, a shared heart, and some words of encouragement to nudge her along.
These are things money cannot buy. They come from the heart, they are felt from the heart, and they heal from the heart.
I therefore dedicate this piece to all parents. You are amazing in your own special ways. Your dedication and love are never left unfelt by your kids.
They are like raindrops in their soul, sunlight in their spirit and the air of life in their heart. Fight on and move forward with them. You make the difference in their little lives. Cheerz.