Playing Verbal Fluency Game With My Nephew (And I Lost)

Salam Ramadhan guys,

I hope it is not too late for me to wish everyone a blessed and productive Ramadhan. Just hang on for a moment while I wipe away and clear out all these dust and cobwebs in my website. 😛 Been awhile since I last clean up around here. Adeh!

Gosh…. it’s been quite some time since I last update my blog. I have been super busy with studying. I always promise myself that I will write in my blog AT LEAST once a month. Just because writing is therapeutic for me. And because I want to prevent Alzheimer’s Disease by exercising my mind in a mental gymnasium of creative written expression. Haha. But obviously, I have failed to write anything in the month of April. So here I am… planning to make it up by promising myself to write 2 entries in the month of May. Hopefully, I won’t break this promise too. (Gosh, I need to step up!)

My exam is next week, peeps!  I have come to the stage of tawakkal already. I have accepted that I will never be able to cover everything and I am gonna forget stuff. I am just human, after all. I accept that we can only try our best and the rest is in Allah’s hands. I will try not to be so neurotic towards the end of my exam preparation, ehem! Just ‘enjoy’ the exam , right? (Yeah, right. Haha. I am not THAT positive, yet. I can NEVER enjoy exams, darn it! ) 

Please pray for me, folks. I need all the prayers and good wishes I can get. And the best part of this is, we are in the blessed month of Ramadhan…so hopefully, all of our prayers will be granted by Allah. I remember how I took my final high school exam (SPM, of course) in the month of Ramadhan too. And Alhamdulillah, me and most of my friends got straight As for it. So, I hope I can repeat the same feat for my final specialist CASC exam in this Ramadhan too. (But I have come to know that the passing rate for CASC exam is only 50%. So, there is only 1 in 2 chance that I can make it. Oh, is there a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel? LOL.)

Well, we have to do what we have to do, don’t we?

But whatever the outcome is, I will accept it, move on and act accordingly. I can always take it another time if I can’t make it this time. That takes the pressure off my shoulder somewhat. (But, ah… if only money grow out of trees, I will be one heck of an avid gardener. LOL. This exam cost me almost RM11,000 in exam fees and preparation course. And that is excluding my flight ticket and accommodation. *sigh*)

Such is life, folks. Not everything is a bed of roses. Even roses have thorns. We take risks, face the consequence, move on and persevere. Well, life is like that. Like riding a bicycle, people say. You can’t keep your balance if you don’t keep moving (well, unless it is an exercise bike… which is stationary anyway. In which case, the purpose of moving is to lose weight rather than to keep your balance. Which reminds me, that I haven’t exercised for awhile now. *sigh*)

And that is why, ready or not, I must take this exam. Keep on moving. Maintain my balance.

 

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While revising my academic materials, I was reminded of how I had played ‘verbal fluency’ game with my nephew one year ago. (To those who don’t know, verbal fluency is one of the cognitive test administered for frontal lobe assessment in the clinic). I laughed in the middle of studying this part of cognitive exam because I remember how I had lost to my 6 year old nephew in this verbal fluency game.

Guys, ageing is real! I lost to my 6 year old nephew that day, you know! God, the horror of it! Of course, to Eshan, I had said, “I only pretend to lose to make you happy,”

Of course, he didn’t believe me. Haha .

So please play this game with your family members as a form of mental exercise to prevent Alzheimer’s, ok! This is one of my favourite games to play with my nephews and nieces (because I am too afraid to play Scrabble or Chess with them… the shame will be too great if they defeat me in those too. Haha. Eshan and Aayra are making me feel my age so acutely. Seriously, guys… not even kidding.)

 

 

In that video, all of us were wearing purple for the wedding of my younger sister. We were all exhausted after entertaining all the guests and the kids were bored, so we decided to play this game while waiting for our Asar prayer. Yup, we left our parents in the ceremony hall to entertain the guests themselves. *walk of shame* #IKNowIamBad 

My parents were pseudo-cool about it…. they didn’t mind me and my siblings’ disappearance act a’la Houdini in the middle of a wedding. LOL. They are so used to it and have become habituated to their children’s lack of social skills. We always avoid socializing more than the absolute necessary amount. Haha. (But they did say, “Nanti korang juga tak kenal saudara-mara. Asyik tak mau sembang dengan orang.” Hahha. But then… I blame my father’s genetic. He is even worse than me when it comes to small talk. My mom is the only one who is good at it in our family.)  I didn’t even know most of the guests anyway. And making small talk with people I don’t know is one of the things that I dread. Not that I have social phobia or anything like that… hahah. I just don’t like crowds and noise too much.

And verbal fluency game is more fun anyway! LOL.

 

Notice how I went blank a couple of times and Eshan just couldn’t wait to count to ten as fast as possible so that he could win. Hahah. He is more competitive than my Kak Long ever was.

In the second video, even Aayra (my 5 year old niece) was helping me. Oh, the shame. (What was wrong with my frontal lobe, guys?!)

I swear, after exam is over, I am going to time myself for 1 minute and practice coming up with as much words as possible so that I can beat them in the next battle. Practice makes perfect, right? Raya is coming soon and they are gonna ‘balik kampung’ to my parents’ house…. so we can have the next battle during Raya. We will call it Aidilfitri Verbal Fluency Contest, si? #AndJustWaitEshan #MakNgahWillMakeAComeback #MakNgahWillDefeatYou 

For the record, I know what bison and walrus are (I know how they look like in the kids dictionary hahha), I just don’t know what they are called in Malay (excuses, excuses LOL) But ah… I have such a smart nephew and niece. I have to step up my game and be careful not to lose to them in the future. Adeh!

One day, I am gonna organize a verbal fluency test in Malay….. Eshan and Aayra will not defeat me in that one. Because my Malay is better than theirs (I hope!)

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I leave you guys with a reminder (especially for myself) to enjoy this Ramadhan and make the best of this month with prayers and excellent good deeds (exams not withstanding). May Allah strengthen our faith and make us among the righteous in the hereafter. Amin.

Until next time. Much love and May Allah bless all of us.

The Musings of An Obsessive Book Lover

It’s been a long time since I last talked about my favourite topic ever…. ehem…. BOOKS!

I am obsessed with books. If I ever become a hoarder, trust me, I will be hoarding books. If you come to my house, you will see my 4 big bookshelves. And now, I am in need of a 5th one. (Maybe, I am already a hoarder haha).

Once you have stepped into my house, you will feel like you have entered a small-scale community library! And if you love reading, you will love spending time in my house (ok, tengah perasan rumah sendiri best hahah. But seriously, “rumahku syurgaku” is the right sentiment for me, Alhamdulillah. I can stay in my house for weeks… kalau aku tak perlu keluar kerja dan cari makanan LOL!)

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The cramped ‘situation’ in the shelf of my living room. Sampai buku-buku dah spill over onto the coffee table. Adeh!
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Bookshelves below the stairs…. tinggal satu row saja lagi ruang kosong! Stressed! Tu pun ada space sebab aku double-layer kan some of  the rows!
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This is the bookshelf on the 2nd floor. One of the doors pun dah tak boleh tutup sebab terlalu banyak buku!
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The ‘situation’ on my bedside table. These are the piles that I haven’t read. My TBR (to-be-read) pile. Really need to catch up on my reading and STOP BUYING ANY MORE BOOKS!
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The ‘situation’ at my study desk! This is the main reason I am behind on my fiction reading…  because of the academic reading I MUST do at THIS DESK!

 

As an obsessive book lover, this is my #Confession #Rants

And this confession was brought on by someone who still has not returned my book. (The stress is real, folks). And also brought on by some issues in the social media that disturb my peace of mind. 

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#Confession

Aku kedekut! Super kedekut!

Aku kedekut untuk bagi pinjam buku kepada orang. This is the one type of kedekut that I still find it hard to change (Dulu kedekut lagi dahsyat. Makanan minuman tak nak share langsung sebab geli. Now, at least, I can share some.)

Zaman duduk asrama dulu, bila aku pinjamkan buku kepada orang, apa yang akan terjadi adalah samada buku aku hilang atau pun orang tu ambil masa yang sangat lama untuk pulangkan. Atau pun bila dipulangkan, habis lasam buku aku macam buku buruk! Padahal waktu aku pinjamkan pada dia, buku tu masih baru dan cantik. I wanted to cry!

In my mind, I will feel like “Why can’t you buy the book yourself? I bought my book myself, didn’t I?” My friends could buy an expensive perfume or Body Shop toiletries (zaman sekolah menengah, this was considered luxury item, ok!) or eat at a cafeteria everyday (instead of at the Dewan Makan) and could prioritize buying just about anything else… except their own fiction! But then, they wanted to borrow mine! 

I was so stressed. In my heart, I was like “Aku tak pernah pun nak pinjam kau punya Body Shop perfume ke or whatever it is yang kau dok beli selama ni. Barang-barang mahal kau boleh pula beli. Tapi kenapa buku kau tak boleh beli? Aku menabung lama tau nak beli buku ni! You had no idea how much I love this book… and you just wanna borrow it like that? Iys!” Haha. You guys had no idea how difficult it was for me to hide my displeasure when I had to lend my books to people when they asked (in order to be polite to them). Memang aku terpaksa mengaku, aku tak ikhlas nak bagi pinjam. 

You see, part of the pleasure in buying and reading books is in discussing them. So when I was a teenager, I usually would discuss with people about certain books I had bought and read so that they could be interested to read the books too and then we could analyze the content together! Get it? Readers just LOVE discussing books… it’s just how we are wired. We are nerds through and through  (but we have learned to disguise our nerdy-ness as we grow up LOL).But then, I learned that whenever I did that book discussion with people, somehow it would end up with me having to lend the book to them. I remember, aku sampai fobia nak cakap kat orang buku apa yang aku beli. Hahah. So, I kept my excited thoughts about books to myself after having learned people’s tendency to just wanna borrow my books instead of buying the books themselves.

Disebabkan aku ini sangat kedekut nak bagi pinjam buku kat orang, aku sangat hargai bila ada orang sudi bagi pinjam buku kat aku…. and as a show of appreciation, I will return the book within a few days (paling lama aku pinjam pun hanya seminggu, tu pun sebab cuti sekolah and tak dapat nak return stat). I would just finish reading the book as soon as possible sebab aku tak nak pemilik buku tu tertunggu-tunggu bila buku dia nak dipulangkan semula. (Whereas with my friends, they took MONTHS to finish a 400 page book. Gila slow! Kalau kau tahu kau jenis tak boleh concentrate nak habiskan buku in one seating, atau kau ni busy gila sampai tak dapat nak habiskan buku cepat-cepat… then please don’t borrow the book yet. Wait until you have more free time to read the book before you borrow it. Tak lah owner of the book rasa stress)

I think this is just adab. You don’t understand how an obsessive book lover think! They are in distress every time they are apart from their books. This is not an exaggeration… at the back of their mind, there is always that constant wondering of when the book will be safely returned.

Cannot empathize? Cuba orang minta pinjam Iphone korang? Get it, now? It is almost the same thing to us. 

To a book lover, every single book of theirs is as precious as an Iphone. Please understand. 

As I grew older and had my own money (initially from MARA scholarship and then nowadays I got my own salary), I became less stingy with my books because I could buy them so easily now without having to menabung as I used to. (When I was in school, I depended on my allowance from my parents only! And I didn’t like asking them for more money than what they had already allocated for me. So I had to save my allowance to buy books. Tu pasal aku kedekut… sebab susah payah aku berjimat nak beli buku cerita, ok! hahah) But seriously even with my current financial independence, I STILL don’t prefer to lend my books to people. When I discuss about any book with you, please don’t think that it is an invitation for you to borrow it. It is NOT. It is just me being a fellow good reader, trying to guide you on your next purchase. I am just trying to be helpful on what sort of good books are out there for you to buy and enjoy. That’s all.

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Perhaps one the best things about me being a book lover is that, I don’t care about branded stuff. I will probably enjoy having them…. if I have them. But not having them is neither here nor there to me. I am indifferent to it.

I go for quality rather than brands. Sebab itulah sampai sekarang aku tak pernah cuba membeli Iphone (because for me, I will only use it to make a phone call, to message or whatsapp… which are the things that ANY smartphone can do.  And  I also use my phone to snap pictures…. so the only deciding factor on which phone to buy will be the camera feature. And with Huawei and Oppo in the market… Iphone becomes even less relevant to me camera-wise)  But I did purchase a Macbook… because Macbook has the most ‘value for money’. (My Macbook very rarely hangs! I don’t even have an anti-virus for my Macbook. I have been using my Macbook since 2014 and it works just as well as when I first bought it!).

So, it really weirds me out when I saw news such as below.

 

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Apparently in the UK, students are banned from wearing expensive coats to prevent the poorer kids from feeling ashamed of their inability to wear the same branded coats. I really cannot brain this.
And then I was more aghast when in Malaysia, apparently the parents are stressed out about their kids asking them to buy an expensive Smiggle item just because their friends at school have the same Smiggle item. WTH??
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I have heard about how expensive Smiggle items can be and I have read about how parents were complaining about it, before. But the issue on Smiggle resurfaced after the news on the banning of wearing expensive coat in British Schools hit the social media. Some people believe that maybe Malaysian Schools also should ban certain items from being worn/brought/used in school.
One such example of a parent who had lamented on this Smiggle issue can be read  below:
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While I can see the concern of this particular parent and indeed sympathize with his dilemma, I really find myself slightly bewildered by the whole thing. I just fail to see why we can’t simply go ahead and tell our children NO when they ask for something that we cannot afford to give?
Aku tak faham. All of us used to be a kid too. But we handled our jealousy and disappointment ourselves, didn’t we? Tak perlu pun nak kena ada peraturan “semua orang tak boleh pakai benda branded” just because aku tidak mampu pakai.
Like I said, I don’t buy branded stuff in general. Tapi waktu kanak-kanak dulu ada ja kawan-kawan pakai barang-barang branded… dan ada juga aku rasa teringin. Tapi bila kita minta kat parents and parents kata tak boleh, then we accepted it and WE LEARNED TO DEAL WITH OUR OWN EMOTION!

Kenapa pula kita nak kena suruh orang lain jangan beli benda yang kita tak mampu beli? One day these children will grow up and need to handle their emotions including jealousy and disappointment. And during school is the best way to learn that, and of course, guided by parents.

Ibu bapa yang senang dan berada boleh ajar anak-anak how to be compassionate “Even though I bought you a Smiggle bag, it doesn’t mean you can mock other kids who don’t own one. If you do that and I happen to find out about it, I will throw your Smiggle in the bin! Be kind!”

Ibu bapa yg tidak mampu pula can teach kids to be grateful “Even though I cannot afford to buy you a Smiggle bag, but I will make sure you have enough food on the dinner table, a pair of school shoes and two sets of school uniforms for you to attend school.”

Ajar sajalah anak-anak. Talk to them. Jangan nak ajar value ala-ala komunis “semua kena sama rata”.

Do not create an asinine blanket rule that does not stand reality check.

#EveryHardshipIsAnOpportunityToInstillValues
#JustTalkToYourKidsAndTeachThem
#DoNotMakeBlanketRulesThatDoNotStandRealityCheck

 

So when you go shopping for school stuff with your kids and one of them ask for a Smiggle item, you can say “Look, mommy only have RM 50 to buy 2 pencil cases; one for your sister and one for you. If mommy buy you a Smiggle, your sister would not have a pencil case for herself; that wouldn’t be so cool, right? I am sure, you being such a kind brother, would rather your sister get a pencil case of her own too rather than a Smiggle for yourself, wouldn’t you?”

See?

Engage with their minds! Ask them to evaluate…. which one is better? One Smiggle pencil case or two pencil cases that look just as nice but very much cheaper? Teach your kids not to be selfish by asking them to think about the needs of their other siblings too. And furthermore, teach them about fairness … tell them resources must be fairly divided between all the children according to needs and urgency. You talking to them and discussing issues like these with them is how they get to develop their judgment. This is the sort of conversation that you can employ to teach them the right values. Perhaps this would be one of the conversation that your kids would always remember you by.

Because the truth is when you are long gone, they will remember the values you taught them…. not the toys you bought them.

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Mak Ngah is so proud of you Eshan!

Alhamdulillah, today my nephew Eshan has received an award for being the first in his batch (Anugerah Terbaik Keseluruhan Darjah 1), the best in Math (Anugarah Terbaik Matematik. Not surpising as my Kak Long’s doctorate is in statistics LOL) and Headmaster Special Award (Anugerah Khas Guru Besar). All of us are so proud of him. The first member of the 3rd generation in Azmee’s family has really done us proud.

I told Eshan that I wanted to buy him a present as a reward for his excellent academic performance. So I asked him what he wanted for a present. He said, he just wanted a book. A Star-Wars book! LOL.

I laughed. I was like “Yeah, I should have known.” Genetic/Nature is one thing (my father loves reading, and so do all of my siblings and now even the grandson has followed suit) but the environment/nurture plays just as much importance in developing the habit of your children.

My Kak Long was asked by other parents regarding how she gets Eshan and Aayra to love reading. She was stumped. To her, there was no fancy technique that she had to employ to get her children to read. There is NO TECHNIQUE. Your children pick up that habit from you! Do you spend the bulk of your time reading and writing? If you don’t, then do not expect your kids to do the same thing!

In her own words, while she was commenting on the Smiggle issue on my Facebook status, she wrote “Bagi aku senang… salah mak bapa tak pandai guide. It might sound harsh but it is the truth. I mean everything starts from home. On a different issue, a friend of mine was talking about the techniques on how to improve children’s’ interest in reading. I honestly think there’s no fancy technique. Soalan aku senang ja, mak bapa dia into books ke dak? Children just imitate what the parents do. It all starts from home. So sama juga dgn Smiggles ke Kinder Bueno ke.. mak pak jadilah parents untuk anak-anak. If you can afford, you buy; if you can’t, just tell your children. It’s ok.”

YOU are the parents! Kenapa pula kamu yang nak kena susah hati bila anak-anak minta Smiggle dan kamu tak mampu bagi? YOU set the rules… not them! THEY need to know that the household has got some sort of structure! Kalau you lenient tak tentu pasal, it doesn’t provide them a sense of security or a secure base. They need to know you are consistent and reliable, even as you are saying NO to them. Just tell them you cannot afford it! Tell it as it is! Be honest! Don’t worry, the children can handle it if you start that honest pattern of parenting soon enough in their childhood. It might even teach them empathy… because they get to know and appreciate their parents’ difficulties and sacrifices. I could handle it when my parents said no whenever I wanted even more story books than what they had bought for me. I handled it by saving my own money and buying the books myself (and hence aku kedekut nak bagi pinjam aku punya buku, hahha. I never sold any of my medical books to my juniors when I no longer used them. I kept them all until now…. ehem, like a hoarder. Hahah)

I can just imagine what my father would tell me kalau aku cakap kawan-kawan aku ejek aku sebab tak ada barang-barang Smiggle. He would probably say something like this, “Kalau diorang ejek Kak Ngah, Kak Ngah cakap sajalah Kak Ngah tak perlukan Smiggle untuk dapat nombor satu dalam kelas. And prove it by getting number one in class.”

And I would  go, “Good idea, Dad. I will say it exactly like that!”

See? Every interaction, every difficulty in life… is an opportunity to instil values! In this case, he would be teaching me how to respond to hurtful taunts and stand up for myself! But you MUST talk to your kids! You must coach them how  to handle life’s situation and then let them handle it themselves.  Don’t create A DIFFERENT REALITY or ANOTHER RULE just to protect your kids’ feelings. You are not doing them any favour that way! They will never grow up.

And this is the reason that me and my siblings are not on board with Dr. Maszlee’s idea that Tahap 1 students will not have exams next year. Aayra will go to school in another year and she is so looking forward to exams. “Aayra nak dapat nombor 1 macam Eshan. So, Mak Ngah kena beli hadiah kat Aayra juga.” She is so competitive.

I didn’t have the heart to tell Aayra that she might never get the chance to get number one like Eshan next year… because there will be no exams, my dear.

Some parents said, “Weh, bagus juga tak ada exam. Anak-anak stress. Kecik-kecik darjah satu dah kena pergi tuition!”

What? Siapa suruh you hantar anak you pergi tuition? My sister never sent Eshan to any extra class or any tuition!  YOU as the parents are the ones who stress them out about exams! YOU are the one who send  them to all these classes to get them a good result. Academic jadi tak fun and exam jadi menakutkan because of you. Kalau diorang just pergi sekolah, balik sekolah and face the exam (without going to any more extra classes) they get the chance to handle the life situation of facing an exam! They get the opportunity to face the anxiety and deal with it! At the same time, they still have enough time to play and enjoy their childhood when they don’t have to attend all these unnecessary extra classes at the tender age of seven!

I am all for children enjoying stress-free childhood. But not at the expense of their education. Reduce their stress by employing wise parenting in deciding what extra classes are necessary and when! Not by abolishing exams!

Exams are good indicators of students’ understanding of the syllabus. There is a purpose for having an exam! Undeniably, the pressure is there but it is manageable. The UNMANAGEABLE pressure comes from you, the parent! You send them to tuition classes after school hours, and then YOU tell us they are stressed? And then, you salahkan exam kat sekolah pula? This is so skewed, God!

Unless your kids have ADHD / Autism / Learning Disability, there is NO NEED for them to go to other extra classes other than the ones they have at school while they are STILL in TAHAP 1. I can still understand if you send your children to tuition classes in their UPSR/PMR/SPM year, but not in other schooling years. Because they need to learn how to live a life and how to be a functioning happy human being too… not just learning the syllabus. Other than one month of intensive private tutorial for Add Maths at the end of my Form 4, my parents did not send me to any regular tuition throughout my schooling days! They believe that tuition class is not necessary if you can focus in class and do your homework properly. Kids learn resilience when they have to face the disappointment of not getting the best result in their exams and the jealousy of seeing their friends getting a better result than theirs. That disappointment and jealousy must be handled. I can only imagine how Eshan would feel in the future when he may no longer get number 1 in class or may not get an A in some subjects…. we all had faced that situation too; it was disappointing, but we handled it, guided by the response of our parents and our family.

So parents, BE A PARENT! Read to your kids, discuss the moral values of the books you have read with your kids, interact with them at an intellectual level and instil values in your kids. Talk to them, reason with them. You will find out that these children of yours are smart and they can handle stuff … if you can be a parent!

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I leave all my dear readers with videos of my Eshan telling an imaginative story about Galaxy’s New Planets. He is so creative, Masha Allah. My favourite planet is the Chocolatey planet. What’s yours? 😉

The Enlightened Man & The Pygmalion Effect

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My father turned 61 a few days ago. He was born on the 5th of March 1957, the first born in his family. We all had a simple celebration at Swensen for my father’s birthday; Me and Alida’s treat for the whole family.

Even though he is now 61, but I still remember him as a man in his 30s, strictly checking my academic tasks and asking my mother or my nanny (my beloved Kak Milah) whether or not I had studied according to the schedule that I was supposed to adhere to.

As a child, whenever I heard the sound of his car on the driveway when he returned from work, I would run out of the living room (where the TV was, hahha) into the study room and pretended that I had been lost in diligent concentration of whatever academic book I was supposed to be reading at that time.

But then he would pop up into the study room and said, “Kak Ngah, tadi lupa tutup kipas kat depan ke?”

Damn! Busted! Hahaha.

When I told my friends about why I couldn’t go out to play for too long, all my friends in the neighbourhood never really understood.

And me? I never understood why their parents never asked them to study like my parents did.

I was also surprised that among my friends, the mothers were the ones who would pester them to study or to finish their homework. In my household, it was always my father who would put the fear of God in our hearts to perform our academic task. There are times when I wonder, how would my father deal with an ADHD child or a slow learner child? Haha. It would be interesting to see.

My father did not pester me to finish my homework, because he knew I would finish it on my own (simply because I didn’t want to be scolded by teachers. And I also had a reputation to maintain. I couldn’t let it be said that “Afiza is not as good as Afzalina at school.” Hahha. Sibling rivalry helped me stay motivated. Looking back, I really did owe my elder sister a lot.)

Instead, he would pester me to finish an additional academic task that he set out for me. I had one English article to translate per day. Every week, he would buy The Star or The New Straits Times newspaper, and then he would put an asterisk mark to seven articles he wanted me to translate into Malay for the whole week. In our childhood life, that was the most torturous task for me and my elder sister. But my elder sister had it even worse than me… she had to translate 5 articles per day.  And she had to do it for 2 years. I only had to do it for one year…

Whereas Izati and Alida did not have to do it daily like I did. And Wani… didn’t have to do it AT ALL! (I guess, by the time  the younger sisters were at the age to do the article translation, my father was pretty busy with his business already and didn’t have the time to monitor them properly. So they got away from the worst academic task of me and my Kak Long’s life)

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I have to admit that I have been the cause of many rules formation in the household.

Until now, whenever we siblings get together, we STILL reminisce on the crazy brain-racking article translation that we had to do. And we would have a great laugh.

It is good being the middle child. Because the eldest child always gets it worse when it comes to parental expectation. The eldest child is the victim of parental enthusiasm. The eldest child is ‘the project’!  The experiment! If the eldest child is successful, then the chance that the rest of the siblings would also be successful would be high too… or so most people thought.

My father only has daughters…. five of them. No sons. But because he is an enlightened man, we never got saddled with a lot of what society would label as ‘women’s task’. We mostly got saddled with academic tasks. Whenever people commented to my mother “Bestnya ramai anak perempuan. Boleh tolong mak.” my mother would roll her eyes. Because we rarely helped her in the kitchen, if truth be told. (Sometimes, I feel sorry for my mother. Most of us inherits my father’s genetics; not just in looks but also in temperament and personality.) Of course, she made sure that we knew how to take care of ourselves; we could make our own drinks, we knew how to cook scrambled eggs, simple fried rice…and we knew how to sweep or mop the floor, and how to operate the washing machine. We took care of our own school shoes and our own school uniforms and wrapped our own text books. My mother would always say, “Kak Milah is for me… to help me. Not to help you. Wash your own school shoes!” But we were not expected to do only house chores. Academic tasks always took precedent over anything else… because my father said so.

One of my friends used to tell me how her brothers never had to do any housework and she was the one who had to do it as the only daughter in her family. I remember thinking, “Thank God, we don’t have brothers.” (Look, I don’t mind doing housechores, but it must be equally divided, gender notwithstanding! Otherwise, I would totally rebel.)

My father has taught me a lot throughout my life. Even without learning psychiatry, he kind of applied the concept of Pygmalion effect (or Rosenthal effect) in raising us.

Basically, in the theory of Pygmalion effect, it states that “we become what is expected of us.” It all  has something to do with expectation. It is a form of self-fulfilling prophecy in which we strive and behave in a way as to be in concordance with our own expectation (or other people’s expectation of us). It can be seen among students at school. You can see the difference in motivation and attitude among students in the first class and students in the last class. Students with poor expectations from their teachers (those in ‘kelas belakang’) internalize their negative label and perform poorly, and those with positive expectations internalise their positive labels and succeed academically. (That’s why whenever possible, make sure your kids stay in  the first class…. teachers’ expectation on first class kids would propel them to succeed. It is the Pygmalion effect. You can google it yourself if you want to know more about this. I learned this in my Part A specialist exam.)

“You delivered because you were expected to.”

–> That is the gist of what Pygmalion effect is all about.

So you yourself can apply this Pygmalion effect on yourself. If you put a high expectation of yourself, then you will push yourself to deliver. Even if you might not obtain the kind of result that you originally wanted, the result would STILL be so much better compared to when you expected nothing of yourself. My father might say that he expected all of us to get number one, but he was still just as happy if we obtained among the top ten. Had he not expected anything at all, we might feel complacent with just minimal effort.

There were so many incidents in my life in which I had internalized his positive expectations and manage to deliver what he wanted. 

 

1)He taught me to stand up to bullies. Always.

When I was 10 years old, Izati who was seven years old at that time got elbowed on the face by a 14 year old boy in the school bus. I still remember what had happened. This 14 year old boy had stepped on Izati’s shoes. Izati was upset because her school shoes was new and white. She was just like a typical excited standard 1 girl who would be upset when people step on her school shoes. So, she retaliated by stepping on the boy’s shoes, just to even the score. The boy then elbowed Izati’s face on his way out of the bus. I was shocked but I couldn’t do anything at that time as the boy was already gone. My father always kind of expected me to look out after my sisters at school but at that time, heck, I was scared. I was a child myself. 

Izati then told my father about what had happened. My father turned to me and said “Kak Ngah, esok Kak Ngah pi bagi warning kat budak tu.Kalau dia buat macam tu kat Izati lagi, ayah akan jumpa dia.”

I was like, “Whaaatt? Why me? It’s not my problem! Why can’t Izati warn him herself? Apa kata ayah terus pi jumpa budak tu saja? Why do I have to give him a warning? He is a big boy. He is in secondary school!” But I couldn’t say the words. Because I didn’t want my father to think I was afraid. (But of course, I was! Hahah). My father EXPECTED me not to be afraid, so what could I do, right? 

When my father was out of the earshot, I turned to Izati, “Zati yang cari gaduh, kak ngah pula yang kena pi bagi warning!” I was so upset at Izati for putting me into this trouble. But I didn’t have a choice. My father ALWAYS followed up on the task he had given me to do.

So the next day, I gathered all my friends who also boarded the same bus as me and strategized about what I should do. It was a bad idea to talk to my friends about it. They made me even more scared. They were telling me, “Afiza, dia tu budak sekolah Al-Bukhary. Budak sekolah nakal tu. Dia tu memang kaki buli. Dia pernah tumbuk orang tau!” I was like, sh*t. What had Izati gotten me into?

But the thought of not doing the task my father had assigned me to do was never an option. I was more afraid of failing the task my father had set me out to do.

Another friend of mine said “Lepas awak bagi warning kat dia, awak terus lari pi seat belakang bas. Jangan tunggu depan dia. Nanti dia tumbuk.” In my mind, I was like “Lepas bagi warning, aku lari? Damn! The warning won’t be effective like that! It would look like I was such a coward.”

But what choice did I have?

So that was what I did. When I got into the bus, accompanied by a few of my loyal friends who also boarded the same bus, I went to the seat where he was sitting and said in a shaky voice, “Weh! Ayah aku cakap, hang jangan nak pukul adik aku lagi. Ayah aku warning dia akan mai jumpa hang kalau hang buat macam tu lagi.” I was trying to put on a brave face. And that was the first time I used ‘aku-hang’ to anyone. Hahah. I didn’t really plan to run, you know. I wanted to casually walk away. But then I saw him getting up from his seat. So, without further ado, I ran. Hahha. I ran to the back of the bus where I had more friends waiting for me there. Somehow, he decided not to pursue me to the back of the bus. I was so relieved. Maybe my warning was effective after all. Hahha. When I got home, I straightaway told my father that I had delivered the warning. My task was done and dusted! (Of course, I never told him that I ran away afterwards. Haha)

 

2) He taught me hard work and perseverance always yield a good outcome

Whenever I told my father I could not do some academic task or that I found certain subjects difficult to master, he would always say, “Baca sekali tak faham, baca lah dua kali. Tak faham juga, baca 10 kali. Sampai faham.” In short, you just have to accomplish your mission. No matter how hard you have to work at it, you just have to do it.

Just do it!

My father’s name in Arabic means The Determined One. The Resolute. The name suited him really well.

When he wanted something, he would not cease his effort until he got it. He told me that his life’s motto is “usaha selagi daya”. Admirable, isn’t it? He was the only one among his siblings who pursued a university degree. Also the only one among his cousins who has a degree. Despite my grandfather’s insistence that he stop schooling at the age of 13 (to help my grandfather with rubber tapping), he somehow got someone who was respected in his neighbourhood to convince my grandfather that education was important and he should be given the chance to finish secondary school, at least. My grandfather gave in under the neighbourhood pressure and my father’s determination.

My father was sent to Sekolah Menengah Khir Johari, living in a hostel where he could focus more on his studies. My father really enjoyed the school. He was the best student in his school for SPM. He wanted to continue into tertiary level studies but my grandfather could no longer spare him  the luxury. So, he worked as an immigration officer, and when he was about to marry my mother, he switched his job to a police officer for a better pay. When PDRM offered their officers a chance to pursue a fully-funded tertiary education, my father jumped at the opportunity. But instead of taking law like many of his friends in the PDRM, he took Accountancy. I guess, he loved business and maths and calculation and stuff like that. (I certainly didn’t get that genes. LOL. The Math gene went to my elder sister who is now a statistic lecturer). After he finished his degree, he quitted PDRM to do business. I guess, he was never the sort who can work for others or follow the dictation of someone whose order he couldn’t understand or respect. Blind following is never his strength.

During the financial crisis of 1997-1998, he was hit really hard. It affected all of us, I still remember. But my daily routine didn’t change much… school was still our priority. My father made sure that there would always be money for school stuff and for books… but perhaps not for Taekwondo lessons or school trips or camping expedition that Scouts organized. After all, there were 5 of us to feed, all in schooling age. 

My UPSR was in 1997, the year of the financial crisis. My father had promised me that if I could get straight As for my UPSR, I would get RM50 for each A that I got. But if I couldn’t get straight As for UPSR, I would only get RM20 for each A that I got.  Despite the financial constraint, he didn’t break that promise. And when I obtained my 5As, I was given RM250 on the very day I got my result (but he made me save half of it in the bank. LOL. I spent the rest of the money on story books, of course.) I remember feeling bad for taking the money. I was worried that they might feel burdened by the promise they made. But I knew, my father would have insisted that I take it anyway.  So I said thank you with a lump in my throat.

My elder sister got offered to go to MRSM Taiping after being  the school’s best student for PMR at that time. Whether or not she was going to MRSM, was never a question. Not even when the expense was quite high. She went to MRSM Taiping all the same. We let go the maid. I helped my mom with house chores. After a few years of financial constraints, my father managed to bring the family’s finance to a stable condition when he joined his cousin in setting up a security company. And Alhamdulillah, it’s been stable since then. By the time I was going to MRSM Langkawi, we could afford a maid again. I remember saying to my sisters, “When I was around, mom didn’t need a maid. When I go to MRSM, mom needs a maid. Because you guys are such lazy bums and couldn’t be relied on to help mom! PMR tak score, hangpa siap!” My younger sisters simply rolled their eyes.

Throughout the financial crisis (which my younger sisters did not remember much. Only my Kak Long and I really vividly remember the experience), I never saw my father give up his efforts. He really is the determined one; the resolute.

 

3) He placed education as the most important aspect of childhood

Perhaps, he was affected by his hard life as a child who had to fight his own father simply to stay at school. And that might be why he worked hard to make sure we got the best schooling experience he could afford. We all went to the best national school in the state of Kedah. He would change his address to make sure we all got into Asma School. Perhaps, he didn’t want us to experience the difficulties he had to undergo as a poor child in school. Maybe he wanted to give us the opportunity he himself couldn’t get as a child.

My father loves education so much because that was something he had to work so hard to obtain. He was very single minded in his effort to stay at school. When most kids his age had started smoking (because smoking was cool back then), he never did because he couldn’t afford the cigarettes. All his scholarship money (apparently during his time, secondary schoolers were given scholarships) went for books and savings. Not clothes, not cigarettes…things that other kids who received the scholarship would buy at times. He had to take a longer route to get to the uni. But he did it finally. 

Until now, he is STILL very passionate in encouraging us to continue our studies. He stopped asking my Kak Long to study ONLY after my Kak Long had completed her doctorate. (My first nephew was born ONLY after she was done with her thesis. Priorities, huh?) At the moment, I am pursuing my studies as well, so he stopped pestering me already. He supported my effort by sponsoring my hotel and flight tickets for exams. He is now pestering Izati and Alida to do master every time they come home for a visit. Wani’s time to be pestered will come once she has finished her first year dental officer, I am sure.

As a child, I knew that he would not listen to any excuse of why we couldn’t perform well at school. He would tell me, “Ayah nak pi sekolah, naik basikal buruk tok wan. Jauh berbelas kilometer; naik bukit turun bukit kayuh basikal. Bila naik bukit ayah tak larat nak kayuh, so ayah kena turun basikal, tolak basikal naik bukit. Ayah tak bawa bekal pun, tak ada duit sekolah. Waktu rehat ayah lapar. Tak ada duit nak beli kat kantin. Kadang-kadang cikgu bagi ayah makan. Kadang-kadang ayah minum air paip. Tapi ayah pi sekolah. So korang demam sikit-sikit, kena pi sekolah. Semangat lah sikit!” 

I think for my father, the option was easy. It was either rubber tapping, or going to school. Of course he would choose school! For me, it was either story books/playing, or going to school. Of course I would not choose school, if given a chance. We couldn’t be as motivated as he expected us to be. But none of us had ever skipped school; well, except when we had chicken pox. 

When I told my father, I could not do Add Maths, he was concerned. Add Maths simply stumped me. My father asked to see my Add Maths textbooks and revision books when I got back from the hostel at the end of Form 4. I didn’t know why he wanted to see my textbooks. Perhaps, he wanted to see whether or not he could teach me himself. (There were a lot of things he could teach me himself when I was a child. And he could teach them better than most teachers. I did not have to go to any tuition class for my UPSR or PMR)  When he found out he couldn’t grasp Add Maths, he simply hired me a private tutor because he could not teach me Add Maths himself. “Tak payah pi mana-mana cuti ni. Kak Ngah pi belajar Add Maths saja dengan Cikgu R hari-hari. Dia ajar Kak Ngah sorang saja, 2 jam sehari. So Kak Ngah kena tanya semua benda yang Kak Ngah tak tau… Buka sekolah Tingkatan Lima nanti mesti dah pandai.”

In my mind, I was like, “Hmmm, I couldn’t ask what I don’t know. In Add Maths, I don’t know what I don’t know.” Hahha. But the private tutoring ended up to be really helpful, even as I regretted my lack of holidays that semester break. I did get an A in Add Maths later for SPM. Thanks to my father who refused to give up. He pushed me harder when I just thought that I could only get 9As1D. I was very proud when I showed my parents my SPM result at the end of the year.

When my younger sister Alida was having trouble with Accountancy during her SPM year, he taught Alida accountancy himself. (As my father’s degree is in Accountancy, he did the tax for his own company every year. He still remembers most of what he learned). Alida ended up teaching her classmates when she became the top student in Accountancy for her class.

 

4)He taught me to do my best work

He taught me to learn from the Chinese. To emulate Chinese’ work ethics. To work hard like them.

He is not a typical Malay, my father. He is always on time, for example. He is very logical and very practical. He doesn’t like to talk non-stop about something nonsense. He is a serious guy who doesn’t crack stupid jokes all the time in an effort to appear jovial and approachable. Like me, he was not that comfortable with small talk. He is very reserved and taciturn. He even relied on my mother to keep in touch with his own relatives. Hahha (Actually, all of us relied on our mother to smooth the way for social interaction with relatives)

He is also very meticulous in his work. Before he started his security company, he worked as a Chief Inspector in PDRM. I remember the time when he brought me and my mother to his office one day because he needed to pick something up while we were on the way to go to some place. There was a clerk outside my father’s room who was so nice to me. I couldn’t remember her name. But that clerk had told my mother, “Tuan Azmee ni cerewet. Kalau surat ada tak kena sikit, tertinggal titik ke.. dia suruh taip lain semua.” They used a typewriter at that time. So can you imagine the trouble of having to write everything again just because of some minor error? My mother could only sympathize but she could not do anything about it. My father was exactly like that at home too.

But the good thing is, people learn to present their best work when they deal with my father. He wouldn’t put up with anything less.

 

5) He taught us to prioritize practicality over idealism

“Kak Long dengan Kak Ngah nak jadi penulis? Nak duduk di tepi sungai… berkhayal…. dan makan pasir?” He asked both me and my Kak Long sarcastically when he caught both of us writing a story when we were supposed to be studying. I was only 8 years old at that time. I still remember the story I was composing. It was about a couple of brothers named Steve and David who just moved into a new neighbourhood. The plot revolved around them investigating about the ghosts who were disturbing them in their new house. They were trying to find out how the ghosts came to be haunting the house and how did the ghosts die… well, something like that. As an 8 year old child, I thought it was a very good plot. Haha. (I was influenced by Tamar Jalis stories. Hahha. Except that I was writing my story in English.)

I was so absorbed in writing those stories in an exercise book that I didn’t hear my father entering our study room. I could not hide the exercise book from his view fast enough. I was caught red handed… and the lecture ensued. *sigh*

There were so many times when me and my Kak Long were caught reading fiction when we were supposed to be studying. Every single time, we would get scolded and sometimes given a stroke of rattan on our palms. But me and my Kak Long never learned our lessons. No punishment was enough to keep us away from stories.

My father is the original language lover in our family. He wrote poetry on the front page of his text books when he was a student. Or he would write some quotes he made up himself. It was not unusual for me to find some words of wisdom scribbled on the front page of any old textbooks of my father’s which I took from our bookshelves. It was ironic that he would not let us pursue something that he himself had loved.

I guess the hardship of his own childhood taught him that “Yeah, it is great to do what you love. But in reality, we have to survive and earn our living. We have to be responsible, and not simply follow our hearts or our ideals.” 

He just could not imagine us being able to survive on writing. He didn’t envision his daughters as merely housewives. He believed education is the key to a good life. So he was alarmed if any of his daughters played too much or became absorbed in stories too excessively. He was distressed when we did not display the sort of diligence he expected from any of us.

His expectation ended up making me a doctor.

 

6) He taught me to have excellent work ethics

People have always said, “Don’t be a doctor because of your parents’ expectation. Or else, you wouldn’t be able to do it. And then you will quit half way.”

That’s not true, guys! There are many people who become a doctor when they didn’t originally want to be one. I am one of the examples. Many of my friends are like that too. You can be whatever you want and succeed in things you never dream of. But you have to put expectations on yourself! You have to put standards about your work ethics. You have to possess the right attitude about responsibility and behaviour at work.  Just…have some standards and expectations on yourself! The rest, leave it to God.

My father never pushed me to be a doctor. I could be anything I like (except as a singer/model/actress or anything in the entertainment industry. My parents would have my head if I ever choose to do something like that. Not that I ever had any talent in those things. Hahah). And I wanted to be a lawyer. But the scholarship I was offered was for medicine. So, the rest is history.

Because of his expectation towards all his daughters, all of us pursued our tertiary education in overseas fully-funded by government scholarships. My sister’s master in Statistic was in Warwick, UK and her doctorate on statistical analysis for three-arms clinical trial was in Sheffield, UK. I went to Australia for medicine, as you guys well-know. Izati and Alida went to Auckland for biology and TESL, respectively. And Wani went to India for dentistry. His investments in us as children (he invested his time, teaching us the right values about education, lecturing us, fighting with us against what we wanted to do VS what we should do) saved us from having to borrow from PTPTN because our SPM results made us eligible for scholarships. We started our working life debt-free.

I couldn’t be what I am today without his effort to shape my behaviour and my character. When I was a houseman, he never told me that I shouldn’t quit my work whenever I told him about certain MOs and specialists I just really hated. He said, I could work with him at the company, if I ever wanted to quit housemanship. “But if you want to quit, do it properly. Don’t simply not turn up to work. ” He emphasized.

But I knew he preferred that I completed my housemanship. Because all my life I was taught to do my responsibility, I didn’t quit. Looking back, I don’t think my pride could ever handle that sort of failure. I knew that my MARA contract stipulated that I had to serve the government for 3 years. It was my responsibility to finish what I had started. So, I handled the pressure of working life and gradually found myself able to enjoy housemanship after finishing my first posting! I had only one day of EL as a HO when I had to send my parents’ for hajj… until now I never again had any EL. I’ve only had one day of sick leave for anaphylactic reaction when I was a HO… and then never again. All my holidays are planned. I take my work seriously. Just like I take education seriously. And those are the things my father taught me and all my siblings. His work ethics and my mother’s work ethics were really admirable. I could never surpass them in that.

And because of  this, I must admit that I look down on people who took ELs for petty reasons. Really, I look down on people who are not serious about their work. Sure, you can EL if your family members are sick. I can understand that. But NOT for reasons like “Mak mertua aku mai.” or “Aku kena handle pasal rumah sewa somewhere.” or “KL jammed… tak boleh balik hari ni.” or “flight delay.”

Look, your mak mertua will just have to handle your absence because she came when you were supposed to be working. She would learn her lesson next time and plan her visit properly. And if you are intelligent enough to plan for contingencies such as “KL Jam” or “flight delay”, you wouldn’t need to take ELs. You can plan your departure one day earlier. 

The word ’emergency’ in the phrase ’emergency leave’ MEANS something!  All right? And if it is the same person who repeatedly does this EL thing almost every month? Well, my patience would be running thin! I have expectations on people! Not outrageous expectations… just reasonable ones. I like people who can display some shame when they trouble other people. Because when they feel ashamed for having no choice but to take ELs, I know that these people have standards!

My study leave was deducted from my own cuti rehat! My friends take unpaid leave when their children were sick too long… or they simply took a maid to help with the kids if they wanted to continue working without having to take repeated ELs. Solve your problems! Don’t trouble people continuously with your lack of life-management skill!

Just…plan your life! Please! That’s another thing my father taught me. To plan! Troubling people with our lateness/ tardiness/ flakiness is NOT acceptable.

 

7) He trusted me with his company; his life’s work.

When my parents went for hajj in 2011, they had told me that they put me and my siblings names on some of their properties. They said, if anything were to happen to them, each of us is the trustee to the property under our name. But each property must be EQUALLY divided later on regardless of under whose name it is.

For example, they put my Kak Long’s name for the house and my younger sisters’ name for some of the lands they had acquired before. 

My name was placed for my father’s shares in the company. My mother said, “Ayah cakap, Kak Ngah lagi garang dan lagi pandai nak bergaduh kalau ayah punya partner nak tipu saham or duit. Ayah tau Kak Ngah mesti takkan lepas saja.” I wanted to laugh.

See? He expected me to behave like that, so for sure I would fight nail and tooth if any of his business partners ever try to cheat me out of my inheritance.

Because my father does not have a son, we talk about inheritance/ hibah a lot. My mother and I made sure that my father had done a proper hibah to all of us. Not because we want the money so much (not that my parents were wealthy or anything). But because if faraid happens, I won’t have the money to pay my uncle for his share of the house/cars/shares according to faraid laws. If my mother and us want to keep my father’s house, we will have to fork out the money to pay our uncle for his rights to the house and other properties according to the Faraid laws. And that’s something I don’t want to have  to do, if I can help it. I don’t want my mother to be stranded with minimal security should anything happen to my father. 

I even posted and shared a lot of facebook status about hibah. I also followed the page of Roslina Sabiyah & Co which deals with a lot of inheritance issues. I think it is important that we understand that Islam is very beautiful and gives a lot of options in dealing with any matter. Faraid is only one of the options in dealing with the issue of inheritance.

Below is one of my facebook status regarding Faraid Vs Hibah. I believe, that a responsible man should never rest easy until the security of those who are dependent on him are taken care of properly.

Screenshot 2018-03-09 12.32.27

 

***

Not many people are lucky to have a father they can be proud of. In my experience as a psychiatry doctor, I certainly witnessed many sick, irresponsible bastards who think being a father is about being a sperm donor.

Truly, me and my siblings were lucky.

In psychiatry, we have this theory called ‘Goodness of Fit’. Between me and my parents, there certainly exists ‘goodness of fit’. They put pressure, and we deliver instead of breaking under it.

Goodness of fit is defined as the congruence between the child’s temperament and the personalities, attitudes and parenting practices of the parents. A goodness-of-fit is seen as fostering healthy psychological and social development.

Whenever I saw the children in my child clinic refusing to go to school, or was depressed by parental expectations… I always wonder why I didn’t react like them when I was placed under various expectations and pressure? I couldn’t understand why the parents couldn’t manage to persuade their children to go to school? In my household, we have always known that the parents are the boss. Their words are law! If they say I have to go to school, then that’s where I am going. It seems like our parents were so much better at rearing children when there was very little knowledge about psychology and psychiatry in their days.

Now, with so many books on child rearing and general psychology, parents are even more clueless!

Parents would say, “Kalau kita tekan dia sangat, nanti dia buat perangai. Kita takut dia stress.”

And I was  thinking, how come my parents never thought that my siblings and I would get depressed by their expectations? They expected anyway! We got punished, anyway! They didn’t handle us like a fragile, easily-broken porcelain china dolls. As though we will shatter at the slightest stress. Pfftt! Teachers back then were even more fierce than teachers these days but none of my siblings ever refused to go to school and neither did most of my friends at that time. Is it possible that parents these days are just too ‘soft’, and therefore the kids are spoiled…. becoming as fragile as the parents had expected them to be (Pygmalion effect, remember?) Paradoxically, it may be that our softness and indulgence, instead of making them into happy children, make them less resilience in facing pressure in the future.

Nowadays, we have kids that fail to launch themselves into adulthood. Kids who couldn’t take scoldings and stress… with poor coping mechanisms. They grow up into big babies instead of mature adults. (Some HOs rely on their parents to give their specialists some excuses for why they couldn’t turn up to work! This is ridiculous!)

Resilience is not really born. It is made! And it wouldn’t get made if your kids never had to measure up to reality and expectations. Attitude and work ethics are not born, they are acquired… and taught… and carved… into being a deep-rooted character of a person. It is not something you develop suddenly when you start working. So if you want to see what kind of adults your children would be, see their attitude to homework and house chores now. You have to start teaching your children the right values now… when they are still malleable kids. This is something I believe with all my heart.

***

So this blog post is especially dedicated to my beloved papito. I have often written about my mother on her birthday. This is a first for my father.

This year, as usual, I bought him a shirt. In fact, all of us bought him a shirt. He doesn’t have to shop for his own clothes because he will get many new ones on his birthday.

Allow  me to share with you guys some of the pictures we took at Swensen to celebrate my father’s birthday. We were sad that my eldest sister and my youngest sister couldn’t join us due to work commitments (but it didn’t stop us from enjoying the food. Haha.) But the three middle sisters were available for the fun family times. Alida’s and Izati’s husbands were also around.  And of course my beloved niece and nephew (Alida’s children), Ammar and Arissa were also with us that day.

It was a great catching up session.  As we all are grown up now, get-together event is not easy to organize and plan. Selalu tak cukup korum. Adeh!

I don’t have a lot of my father’s picture here because he is a shy one and he only takes group pictures; never a selfie. The role of the selfie queen in our family is shared by both Alida and Izati.

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My father really enjoyed the lamb chop here!

 

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Ammar, my 2 year old nephew, really loooved the mushroom soup! But we still think that the mushroom soup at Dave’s Deli is still the best we have ever had.

 

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With Mom, the other love of my life, and Izati.
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The middle sisters! All with identical  thick eyebrows… my father’s genetic gift to all his daughters. Thank God that the model, Cara Delevigne, makes thick eyebrows fashionable these days. I used to grow up feeling like my eyebrows were too thick for a girl. LOL!
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With Izati…. the person who had caused me the trouble to face up to the big boy who had elbowed her face when she was in standard 1. We still laughed about it until now.

 

And the food guys! Especially the dessert! I love, love, love desserts… I have always had a sweet tooth, which is why I need to exercise regularly. Because I just couldn’t say no to ice creams and cakes and basically, anything fattening, really! Haha.

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This is the best dessert we had that day! No question about it! I think it is called Banana Crumble in Sizzling skillet… or something like that. So good, guys! I feel like going there right now to order this dessert again, as I am writing this.

 

 

Until next time, my dear readers.

Have a great weekend. And enjoy the time spent with family and loved ones. There will be few and far in between as we grow older. So cherish all the time you can get.  *sobs sobs*

Adios! And lots of love from yours truly.

Dedicated To The Love of My Life

Today is my mother’s 60th birthday. She is still as beautiful as ever and actually looked 10 years younger for her age.

I have always been proud of my mother (and my father too, of course. But this post is not about him). Every time she came to school to take my report card from my class teacher, I would smile to the ear when my friends said “Cantiklah mak Afiza.” I always like walking around with her because I know that I have a beautiful mother.  Her skin is very fair that people always thought that she was Chinese when she was younger and did not yet put on the hijab.  When I walked around with my mother around town, some Chinese would stop us and talk to my mother in Chinese until my mother had to tell them that she was actually a Malay. All my relatives from my mother’s side of the family look like Chinese. We always wondered whether we have some Chinese ancestry on my mother’s side. My maternal great grandparents came from Indonesia to teach the religion in the early 1900s, and thus we are not entirely sure about the details of our ancestry from Indonesia.

(However, all five of us took after my father’s side of the family. We have some diluted Indian ancestry on that side. All of us have really tanned skin. Some of my mother’s friends might find it surprising that all my mother’s children look so different from her. None of us is as beautiful as my mother.)

My mother must feel some despair at times that all of us took up after our father so much more than hers. We all look like our father. We behave like him (because he is dominant in the house). We are not as concerned with convention and tradition as her (because our father encourage that tendency in us).

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My mother is really very conventional. She feels anxious at everything that doesn’t follow the norms.

When I was a HO and had done the unthinkable by writing disparagingly about one particular department in my hospital (and then it went viral accidentally), my mother was worried sick.

“Kak Ngah…nanti kak ngah yang susah kak ngah buat macam ni. Diorang saman macam mana? Nanti posting-posting kat department lain macam mana? Habislah kakngah kena target. Kak Ngah sabar sajalah. Tak payah lah nak tulis macam-macam.”

I just shrugged my shoulder and looked at my father. My father said “Tak apa. Kita pun boleh saman balik. Biarlah, dia tulis benda betul. Tok sah takut. Yang penting kita buat tanggungjawab kita, pi kerja macam biasa. Kita kerja untuk pesakit sebab kita dibayar gaji. Bukan kerja untuk boss. Tengok apa depa boleh buat pun” My father said. I immediately felt relieved that my father understood and supported me. You see, I can always count on my father for that sort of support…support against unjust authority is sure to gain his approval and he is sure to back you up. It’s been that way since I was a little girl. I had very little fear after my father said that.

At the end of the day, nothing bad happened to me because of what I had written. I was never extended; never targeted in any way; in fact my life as a HO went even more smoothly afterwards. I refused to take down the post even when I was advised to do so by my fellow HOs because I refused to be a coward. I had written what I felt was the truth and I’ll be damned before I took it down as though what I had written was false! The fact that it went viral spoke volume of how much the post resonated with the rest of other housemen. My father would not allow me to take down the post, anyway! He told me clearly that should anything unjust happen to me, I should fight and not have any fear because if push comes to shove, I could just quit and work with him or do other things. My father memang semangat bab nak melawan orang atasan ni. (He had enough experience of it in PDRM. He took an early pension out of the government when he was 40 years old and it was the best decision he ever made. He himself is not a ‘yes boss’ man)

That’s not to say that my mother is not supportive of me. She just thinks differently. But no matter how different she thinks and feels about stuff, when all chips are down, her support is ever constant, ever remaining. When I was a HO, I never went to work hungry. Even when I went out for morning rounds at 5.00 am, I would still go to work with my stomach full. My mother would wake up earlier than me to prepare breakfast for me. When I was oncall, she would come to the hospital, bringing me food. When other HOs had lost weight during the earlier part of their housemanship, I instead had gained 5 kgs. Hahha. Before I bought my car, she was the one who acted as my chauffeur day in and day out. She woke up and went to sleep at about the same time I did. She took care of me even better than when I was in secondary school because she had already stopped working by the time I started my housemanship and she had all the free time in the world to mother me properly. I don’t know how other people did their housemanship without a mother around. My mother was an immense source of support for me.

No matter how traditional and conventional she is, she would give it up when I insist. When I was 12 year old, we wanted to do a kenduri khatam Quran for me. My mother planned to serve pulut kuning and air sirap and some other side dishes for the kenduri at the local surau where I learned my Quranic recitation. But I was not appreciative of her plan. I told her “Angah tak mau pulut kuning dengan air sirap. Tak sedap. Angah nak bihun goreng dengan air Coke.” I told her in my characteristically opinionated manner. As usual, my conventional mother was not pleased that I wanted something different than the usual dishes served for such momentous occasion. But at that time, I was thinking that: “This is MY majlis khatam Quran. I want to eat what I like. I don’t like gulai and pulut kuning. And as for air sirap…I had hated it ever since Kak Long had once cracked a joke about how air sirap was actually diluted blood. (Hahaha!).

Because me and my mother could not agree about the food, we went to my father. My father then decided that I should get what I wanted: Bihun goreng and Coke. My father reasoned the way I did: because it was MY kenduri and it was a celebration of MY achievement, and thus I should get what I wanted. My mother, though worried and displeased, finally consented to the plan and I finally got my bihun and Coke. And guess what….kids always enjoy bihun goreng and Coke heaps more than pulut kuning and air sirap.  I mean, just talk to the kids. We like sweet, unhealthy things like Coke, right? And bihun goreng pedas-pedas makan dengan Coke yang bergas…hello! Of course we prefer those! All my friends said that my kenduri khatam Quran was the most delicious than any other kenduri before. I told my mother what my friends said and she was happy and relieved. 

So truly, what ever propriety and good manners that I have, they all belonged to the insistence and teachings of my mother. My mother would always comment about my attire, about what I should wear, about how I haven’t worn the baju kurung she bought me (and therefore she would never again buy me anything else, she said… but then she would end up buying me the same stuff again and again in the hopes that I would wear it. Hahha) My mother gave me all the proper conventions that I have now. And my father gave me all the radical beliefs that I possess. Between the two of them, they balanced each other and gave us balanced perspective. But of course, me being me, I tend to skew towards radicalism than convention.

My mother is also the buffer in any fight I have with my father. (Me and my father have our moments of truce and our moments of war.) Me and my father fought a lot. Because we are very similar, we tend to rub off against each other. He believed what he believed and I believed what I believed. We BOTH wanted to convert one another to our set of belief system. My mother would watch our verbal arguments in a concerned frown. At last she would say, “Ayah tak payah mengata kat kak ngah. Kak Ngah pun tak payah kata kat ayah. Dua-dua orang sama! Sudah!” And we would quit arguing when she said that. At that moment, we did not appreciate being said that we were similar to each other. Hahah.

My mother is a strong woman. If you are married to my father, you must be. There is a balancing art to it. How to please his fussy fastidious ways but at the same time retain the core integral part of your personality. That is hard. I don’t have the same gentle ways that she has.

As gentle as she was, my mother was expected to become the enforcer of my father’s disciplinary ways. Sometimes, even when she disagreed to the discipline. So, she was stuck in the middle. She pretended not to know some of our crazy misdeeds because if she appeared as though she knew about it, she would have no choice but to enforce the rule.

“You know, kak ngah…I think all those years when we thought our parents had no idea what we were up to….when we were kids..” My Kak Long said one day in one of our phone conversation.

“Yes?”

“I think they knew but only pretended that they didn’t know.”

“What makes you say that?”

“Because I am a parent now. And Eshan and Aayra were always up to something they thought I didn’t know. But I did.”

I laughed.

Kids are honest creatures not because they never lied. It’s because when they do lie, it’s obvious.

Me and Kak Long lied a lot when we were kids. We pretended to read academic books instead of the real fiction tucked underneath our bigger text book. We watched TV when our parents were not around, and then scrambled quickly to switch off the TV and ran to the study room when we heard the sound of the car engine outside, signalling that my parents have come home (Thanks to Kak Milah, our pengasuh who was so conspiratorial about it. Hahah. I love her still). When our parents looked in on us, we looked so innocently studious in the study room, the perfect epitome of hardworking angels.

“Kak Ngah dengan Kak Long buat apa?”

“Study,” We said in unison. (Looking back, I knew now that we were terrible actors.)

“Awat kipas memusing kat luar. TV pun panas ja.” (Yup, we forgot to switch off the fan. And we were caught by surprise that my father would bother to feel up the TV. Damn it. Busted!).

“Hmm…tak taulah. Tanya Kak Milah” My Kak Long said. I smiled at my Kak Long, applauding her quick thinking. My dad simply nodded his head and asked us to continue with what we were doing. We have always thought that we had fooled him that day. (And since then, we watched the TV without switching on the fan because even if we remembered to switch off the fan when my father came home, the fan wouldn’t stop moving immediately due to the leftover inertia/momentum. My father might notice how the fan was just recently being switched off when he walked into the living room. So we decided to forego the comfort of the fan when we watched the TV next time.But there was nothing we could do about the TV heating up. We could only pray that my father wouldn’t feel up the TV every time he came home from work. haha. Yeah, we were terrible kids who always came up with various ways and tricks to break the rules every time we got the chance)

There was another time when I did something naughty (usually it revolved around me not being home on time after playing with my friends outside. My father was very, very strict about time. If I said I would be home by 6.30, then there will be hell waiting for me if I got home at 7.00 instead.)

I knew a stroke of rattan would be waiting for me if I was late. But sometimes me and my Kak Long risked the consequences because we wanted to go on playing.

“Mana rotan ayah simpan atas almari?”

“Tak tau, ayah. Kak long tak tau.” My Kak Long said. (Yeah…we had hidden the rattan stick.)

“Kami tak ambil rotan. Jatuh belakang almari kot.” I said. You have no idea how many times the rattan fell over to the other side of the heavy bookshelf, making it unreachable to my father. We always thought he bought the act.

All those times we thought we got away from punishments because our parents didn’t know….now I knew better. Now, I think they must have known. When we were kids, we thought it was our cleverness that got us away from undesirable consequences. But actually, it was their love and mercy. They pretended to not know so that they wouldn’t have to administer the punishment they said they would give if we had committed something bad.

My mother, even though she is a strong woman, is the weak link when it comes to disciplined parenting. All of our requests for anything would go through her. We wouldn’t dare to ask straight from my father. My mother often said, “Awat tak minta sendiri kat ayah?”

Yeah, we would ask straight from our father for academic books, stuff for school and anything in the serious realm. But for anything frivolous or playful or trivial, we were scared to face the rejection if we were to ask them from our father. 

When I  started studying away from home, my father would give an allowance for me that he thought should last long enough until the next time I came home for school break. My father always said that I was the most ‘boros’ of all his children. He wanted to teach me a hard lesson about economy for so long….he said “Habis duit awal, ayah tak tambah dah.” He always said that ever since I could remember. But of course my mother would give me more money each time, outside the knowledge of my father. “Jangan habaq kat ayah,” She would whisper to my ear. I rarely run out of money…but my mother always thought that I would not be able to keep within the budget in view of my boros reputation in the family (I bought books, food, books and books. Hihihi) So she would automatically give more to me even when I didn’t ask for it.

I guess the economy lesson intended for me never really took roots inside my head because my mother secretly supplemented whatever my father gave me. My mother did the same thing for all of us sisters, silently slipping in more money than the amount my father deemed wise. (Compared to my mother,my father came from a poor family and he places a lot of values in money management. His degree is in accountancy, so go figure!)

I think, my mother made it easy for us to be disciplined by my father. She made the whole thing easier; more sufferable, I suppose. She… softened it. She made it less harsh. She made us know that the discipline was executed out of love; not malice. (because if it were up to my father to communicate that, we would never get the idea. Haha)

As I grew up into womanhood, I became more in tune with my mother, and less idolising of my father. There were times when I would tell her, “Mak, kalau mak tak setuju dengan ayah, mak cakap jerlah. Apa yang susah sangat?” But my mother has her own way of getting what she wants, I guess. When she told my father that she wanted another house nearer to a mosque so that she could worship properly, my father fulfilled that wish. Previously our house was located in a taman without even a surau nearby, as most of my neighbours were Chinese and Indians. Their house now is just a walking distance away from a mosque. When my mother said that she wants to go for umrah every year and my father must allocate some time annually for it, my father agreed to take a few weeks off every year to go to umrah with her. Maybe she just knew which battle to fight after years of marriage to a very strict husband. Just like we sisters learned how to do what we wanted behind our father’s back. It takes priorities shuffling, planning, trickery, evasion, and sometimes downright rebellion. Hahah. 

Even though I always felt that we siblings take after our father the most, there is something of my mother that I inherited: the gift of being self-contained. My mother is very self-contained. She didn’t need anyone to entertain her or attend to her.  She took an early pension at the age of 53 because “Mak tak suka buat kerja-kerja paperwork; pakai E-His, dengan akreditasi semua tu. Mak suka buat kerja nursing. La ni jadi nurse, asyik duduk depan komputer saja. Tak macam kami dulu. Dulu, kami attend to patients; observation buat kat bedside. We talked to patients. La ni semua asyik mengadap komputer. Mak tak suka kerja macam tu” I totally get her; that is another thing I inherited from her. I hate doing non-doctor things (organizing exhibitions, networking, ass-kissing, budget planning, attending meetings etc etc. I study to become a doctor and a healer. Not to deal with political crap and attitudish people. I know that there are times doctors must also be educators, do CME and attend courses or give courses. But the rest of the other administrative work, I don’t like it much and would find such stuff stressful.)

A lot of the older staff nurses who knew my mother had asked me, “Mak buat apa kat rumah, pencen awal. Tak boring ke?”

I laughed. “Mak tak boring lah. Dia banyak kerja.”

“Jaga cucu ka?”

I laughed again. “Tak lah. Jaga cucu kadang-kadang ja.”

My mother is a busy woman. She woke up before fajr for all the sunat prayers, then she went to the mosque and attended the subuh sermon. Then she would prepare breakfast  for my father and do the daily housechores. Then she would pray the Dhuha prayer and then she would cook lunch. And she would attend a lot of classes. Every day there are classes at the mosque. She has her schedule full of activities even during the weekend.

She told my sisters clearly, “Mak tak jaga cucu hari-hari. Mak tak mau jadi macam kawan mak. Nak pi ke mana pun tak boleh asyik nak kena jaga cucu. Anak-anak dia ni tak kesian kot kat mak depa asyik penat jaga cucu; sampai nak buat apa pun tak boleh. Mak nak seronok-seronok main dengan cucu bila-bila mak nak. Tapi tak mau nak kena jaga selalu. Hangpa pandai-pandai cari nursery or orang gaji. Zaman jaga budak-budak ni dah berlalu untuk mak. La ni, mak nak rehat dan beribadat.” And I applauded her decision. My mother has no problem with straight-talking when she feels like it. Hahah.

Like her, I never knew how people get bored. I always have things to do. I don’t even have time to be bored. I fulfil my friends’ request for hanging out for their sake rather than for mine. I feel close to them regardless of whether or not we meet frequently. But some people need rituals and traditions to cement a connection. I don’t. If I like you and consider you as a friend, I don’t need frequent catching up to feel like our friendship is still meaningful. But I have learned to accommodate that sort of request over the years.

The truth is I lead a busy life, myself. I come back from work, feed my cat, water my plants, go for a jog, perform my Maghrib and Isya prayer, and then I have to STUDY! And after I go to sleep, the next day I have to go to work and the same cycle repeat itself over and over again. During the time  when I do have free time, I would read thrillers/novels/mysteries/literatures….or I would write an essay, compose a poem or I would blog. WHEN do I have the time to be bored? Never!

Like her, I am very self-contained. The gift of never being bored is something I inherited from her. And we both were described by our friends as aloof and unapproachable at first but after getting to know us better, that impression would change. That is totally something both of us share. Being called ‘muka sombong’ is something I got from her. My father teased my mother about it frequently. Now, the internet has invented a term for that sort of thing. It’s called BRF (bitchy resting face). Hahah. And we predicted that Aayra (my niece) has all the potential to inherit the same BRF tendency.

My mother is the love of my life. Even when I argue with her or disagree with her, (and I do plenty of those, trust me) that fact would never change. Even when I am exasperated with her, or she is exasperated with me or we are exasperated with each other, my love for her will never fade, never die. She is the one person in my life that I can honestly say that I would do anything for; Anything within the bounds of religious jurisprudence… I would do it for her (of course when I disagree with her, I would try to convince her to change her mind first. Hahah. But if she said that obeying her is a matter of life and death and is very integral to her everlasting happiness, then I would do it. Hands down! No more questions asked!)

Happy 60th Birthday, Mother. Your daughter here is everlastingly grateful for the privilege of being able to call you her most beloved  mother. In your hands, gentleness becomes strength rather than weakness. In your hands, patience becomes courage rather than cowardice. You are The Incomparable among everyone  I have ever laid eyes on in this life. Thank you for dealing with my difficult, slow-to-warm-up phase of childhood. Thank you for dealing with my temper tantrums when I was a teenager. Thank you for always having my back even when you disagree with me. Your support means the whole world to me even if I may not know how to display the sentiment properly.

May Allah  bless you with His Mercy and His Love always, forever…to the hereafter. Amin.

I remain, your adorably loving daughter.

The Ideal School

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I was horrified when I first read the above issue. I have been following the issue quite closely and pray that justice would be served for the sake of all parties involved.

What I couldn’t understand was why Ustaz Kazim then lodged a police report against Wardina and Syed Azmi?  Why had he accused them of ‘mencemar nama baik beliau’ when they never mentioned his name or his Maahad Tahfiz in their facebook posts? Granted, they did highlight the issue of sexual abuse in one Maahad Tahfiz in Malaysia, but the actual name of the Maahad Tahfiz was never mentioned. It was Astro Awani who had mentioned the specific Maahad Tahfiz in relation to the sexual abuse allegation.

Are we supposed to sweep issues like this under the carpet and allow sexual predators in our society to run amok despoiling our kids?

The reaction of Ustaz Kazim Elias disappoints me but I guess I should not be so surprised. As I have mentioned before, there are very few religious leaders in Malaysia that I actually trust and respect. Ustaz Kazim was not in the list, anyway.

It’s so typical that when ‘orang awam’ say the truth or question something against a religious figure, they would be labeled as ‘arrogant’, ‘angkuh’ etc etc. It makes my blood boil, sometimes. Anyone who questions your authority is angkuh, is it? Ugh!

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***  

“Kak Long, have you chosen a school for Eshan? Would it be an all-boys school or a co-ed?” I asked my elder sister one day.

My sister is a statistician and she teaches in UPSI in Tanjung Malim. (Her doctorate was in medical statistics and she always told me that I should write a paper and collaborate with her. We always fantasize that one fine day we would produce a paper “Azmee, Azmee, et al.” Hahah)

There really isn’t much choice of schools around Tanjung Malim, alas.

I did not ask whether she wanted to put my nephew in a Maahad Tahfiz or sekolah agama because I knew that would not be an option.

I don’t think my family is secular. I think we are religious in our own way. We have faith and we practice the basic tenets of Rukun Islam. However, we believed after we understood. We have problems accepting things just because it was spoken by someone without any proof or reasoning. (and some teachers can never get it). By the way, believing without really understanding, is not real faith, anyway right? So how worthy is that sort of belief in the eyes of God? God Himself had emphasized and reemphasized “afala tatafakkarun”. Tidakkah kamu berfikir? God did not ask you to have automatic faith and mindless obedience. He wanted your mind to be engaged as well. You have to wonder, and think, and find out. And only then you can be firm in your belief. You can’t just read the Quran in arabic without ever bothering to read the translation, and then suddenly think that ‘reading Quran everyday’ is good enough.  Granted, it is better than not reading the Quran at all. But God did not reveal the Quran to our prophet so that you can sing the words in rhythms without understanding the message that you are meant to internalize in your daily living.

When things don’t make sense, you have to find out! How can you justify how much research you have done for your thesis, painstakingly making sure that every sentence in your thesis has been checked out and properly referenced and all the evidence scientifically documented…. and yet for something as important as your religion and faith, you can simply believe just by hearing some ustaz/ustazah say something that doesn’t make sense.

Would Allah be proud with that sort of mindless belief, you think?

I don’t know how a religious school function. But I trust SMAP Labu and SMAP Kajang kind of religious school rather than private Maahad Tahfizs. (I might be biased out of my ignorance in how they function. But after the recent issue of Ustaz Kazim’s Maahad Tahfiz sexual abuse scandal, I get even more hypercritical towards these sorts of religious schools)

My sister and my brother-in-law trained their kids to be inquisitive. I cannot imagine any traditional religious teachers would be able to cope with Eshan and Aayra’s questions. Aayren is still an infant and thus I could not yet discern her temperament, but if she took after her elder brother and sister, she too would be a handful to handle. Between Eshan and Aayra, I worried about Aayra more because she is the rebel. At 3 years old, she could stand her ground like nobody’s business.The harsher you are with Aayra, the more stubborn she becomes. She is easily won over by praises and soft words, though. So I would always tell her how beautiful she is and what lovely hair she has, appealing to her vanity. Hahaha. It works every time.

With Aayra, I am worried that teachers would not understand her  and would construe her silent contemplation as quiet protest or her sincere inquisition as her loud mutiny.

With Eshan, I am worried that he would be bullied. He is so mild-mannered, and so easy-going. When one kid at his taska had slapped his cheek, he did not cry or hit back. Instead he asked “why did you hit me?”, as though it was something to be intellectually curious about. The same thing happened when Aayra hit Eshan. Eshan would frown and said “Why Aayra hit Eshan? Eshan tak buat Aayra pun. Aayra ni lahh….” Then he continued to play like nothing happened.

I had never asked my sisters why they hit me when we were children. I just retaliated straight away. We would hit each other until one of us cried or my parents broke up the fight. Usually, I wasn’t the one who cried. It would always be my younger sister who cried first, and then I would be the one who seemed guilty because I hadn’t cried. I had told my parents once, “I can cry too, then you have to scold her also.” Hahha. (I was quite sarcastic. But what I really meant was, if someone is right on the basis of who ends up crying, then everyone would compete to cry first so that she would appear to be the victim.) 

You see, I am afraid if Eshan goes to an all-boys school, he would turn every fight into an intellectual quest and would try to reason with his opponent instead of hitting back. I really like the fact that Eshan is a clever boy and is always so curious and such a wonderful, good-mannered sweetheart. I admire anyone who is intelligent and smart and inquisitive… but I would rather have that person survives to live another day so that he/ she can continue to be intelligent, smart and inquisitive. If you die, your intelligent-smart-and-inquisitive self would cease to exist anyway. 

So, I told my Kak Long one day, “I think Eshan and Aayra should learn martial arts; you know, Taekwondo or Judo. Not silat, though. Silat sometimes have nonsensical ritual with their tok guru asking them to oil their body with a special oil that has been ‘jampi-serapah-ed’. That’s just insane. But Taekwondo or Judo should be fine. They don’t have all these funny mystical rituals.” As always, I was giving her unsolicited free advice which my Kak Long listened quite patiently without really committing herself to it. She was simply humoring her opinionated little sister. Hahah.

You see, I believe in the value of being able to take care of yourselves, for both boys and girls. Once, it was a Prophetic tradition to teach every kid “memanah, berenang dan menunggang kuda”.

In a hadith narrated from Ibn Umar (R.A) in which our beloved Prophet said ”Teach your children swimming, archery and horse riding”. In Sahih Muslim, the Prophet (s) said,  “Practice archery and horseback riding.” The Prophet (s) said “Any action without the remembrance of Allah is either a diversion or heedlessness except four acts: walking from target to target (during archery practice), training a horse, . . . , and learning to swim.”

Archery, for self-defense and battle-skills. Swimming, for survival in water. Riding, for practical purpose of movement and also for survival.

Nowadays, not everyone can swim (including yours truly, alas!). And Archery is almost obsolete as people don’t go around carrying their bows and arrows anymore except during Sports Events. Once upon a time, the Malays carried Keris everywhere, slipping it in between the folds of their sampin at their waists. And it was considered a part of their normal attire when they went out of their house. I am sure at that time, being proficient in wielding a Keris is considered the norm in the Malay Society then. Now, guns have replaced bows and arrows when it comes to self-defense, but not everyone is trained or licensed to carry one. So we are left with only martial arts and perhaps a pocket knife for self-defense. (I always carry a pocket knife in my bag or in my pocket whenever I go out. So be warned. Hahaha)

Thank God that we still practice the modern equivalent of horse riding in this age, as most people are expected to be able to drive nowadays (Having said that, our poor sisters in Saudi Arabia are still legally prohibited to drive. In this age, that’s just crazy). But the norm that everyone should be able to swim and defend themselves are no longer taken that seriously.

You go to a driving school after SPM to learn to drive and that is like a culture in our society. All your friends do it and if you are the only one not going to driving school, you would feel seriously left out. 

But martial arts training and swimming classes are not the norm anymore and subject to affordability rather than being looked at as a necessity; which is different from the way we treat the matter of going to a driving school. That has to change.

One of my bucket list is to learn Taekwondo. I wanted to learn when I was a kid but at that time my father was at the early stage of his career where all the money must be poured back into the business. The Taekwondo attire itself cost a small fortune. And the monthly payment cost too much for my father at that time. If my father allowed me to learn Taekwondo, then he would have to allow my other sisters to learn as well because they would say “Tak aci, ayah bagi untuk kak ngah boleh. Awat kami tak boleh?” hahah. Our household is a fair household. My father couldn’t allow one child one thing and refuse another child the same thing. It just didn’t happen. In the rare times it did happen, we’d raised a ruckus! Hahaha.

Between all five of us my youngest sister was the only one trained in Taekwondo because she grew up when the household money was not that tight. But she did not continue the training when she got into her secondary school.

***

Choosing School

I have always thought that for boys, a co-ed school is advantageous to their emotional health and educational growth compared to an all-boys school.

But for girls, it would be the other way around. For girls, a single-sex school is much more beneficial than a co-ed school.

I have mentioned before that all five of us sisters spent a very large chunk of our schooling years in an all girls-school of Sultanah Asma.  From the age of 7 years old until 15 years old, my Kak Long, myself and my younger sister Izati went to Sekolah Rendah Sultanah Asma and Sekolah Menengah Sultanah Asma, before we finally continued our upper secondary school in MRSM.  Whereas, my two youngest sister spent all their schooling years in Sultanah Asma only. We are all a product of an all-girls school and we like how we turn out to be.

When I went to MRSM Langkawi, I had a serious culture shock. I felt that teachers paid more attention to boys. Of course male teachers could not (and should not) pay attention to girls (just imagine the sort of malicious gossips that would ensue). But even female teachers gave more attention to boys. I was not used to that, coming from Asma. I felt that girls could not shine in a co-ed environment even if they were much better. If girls were too loud or too brazen and too forthright, they would seem like a different species. In Asma, loud, forthright, brazen girls get to be on top. But that would not be the case in a co-ed school. That was tough adjustment, for awhile. But I got used to it.

I believe that a single-sex environment  confers the most benefits for girls because they get to be the best version of themselves there. It is not surprising why for non-residential schools, an all-girls school always emerge to be the best in the state compared to an all-boys school or a co-ed school. Sultanah Asma has always been the best in the state among non-residential schools, beating KSAH (an all boys school) and other co-ed schools in Kedah. Methodist Girls School is the best school in Penang. Tengku Khursiah College and STF are some other examples of good all-girls residential schools.

Of course during my SPM year, MRSM Langkawi was the best in the country even though it was a co-ed school. But remember, they had pooled best students all over the country into MRSM and that explained why residential co-ed school can do better than an all-girls school. All-girls non-residential schools don’t always get to choose their students in the same manner.

My younger sister Alida had taught English in both an all-girls school and a co-ed school and she noticed the difference in the attitude of girls between those schools. She taught at Sekolah Kebangsaan Infant Jesus Convent (a cluster school) in Johor Bharu once and she loved it there.

“I loved teaching girls in Convent. They were active. They answered question promptly. They participated freely. I miss my time teaching there.  Nowadays aku mengajar kat sekolah co-ed ni…aku sendiri notice yang aku lagi pay attention to boys. Aku bukan sengaja tak mau pay attention to girls. But boys respond to my question in class. Walaupun jawapan diorang kadang-kadang entah apa-apa, but something is better than nothing. Even their wrong answers can promote further discussion.”

“Tak ada budak perempuan yang pandai ke kat sekolah hang ni? Takkan semua soalan hang, budak lelaki ja yang jawab?” I just could not compute the situation where only boys answer questions and participate in class. I was so used to thinking that girls are much more intelligent than boys. It was so totally different from my own experience in Asma. I may sit at the back of the class, but I got my share of attention from teachers. I could not imagine a class where all the girls were just listening passively.

“Ada, tapi tak ramai girls yang bother nak participate. Girls in co-ed school is not as loud… bukan macam kita kat Asma dulu. Kita dulu, lagi funny than boys kot. Teachers were entertained by our antics when we were in Asma. Tapi, kalau in co-ed school memang boys dominate the fun department. Girls terlebih pemalu. Kadang-kadang aku suruh depa buat kerja berkumpulan saja pun, girls dok buat malu-malu. Aku pun naik geram. Aku suruh buat kerja, bukan suruh kahwin pun! Hang nak malu apa?! Adoiii!”

I laughed out loud! Oh My God, can you imagine! Kids at the age of 7-8 years old already feel ‘malu-malu’ with boys? I mean like….what the hell weh? Like my sister said, “orang suruh buat kerja, bukan suruh kahwin!” Hahah.

So that’s the problem for girls in a co-ed school! They become too self-conscious, too much and too soon! Which hinders their educational development. And they would learn different values… that it is normal for boys to get more attention than girls. That it is normal for boys to hoard all the praises in academic performance. Sometimes the performance of girls no matter how much better than boys, were not acknowledged because girls don’t brag about their successes. But boys do that nonchalantly and pass it off as a joke. Arrogant boys are considered macho. But if girls show even the slightest dominance, that girl is considered attention-seeking.

Girls in Asma never had to worry about all those things! We be ourselves. Tak ada malu-malu. If we fight, we really fight. Tak ada control ayu! And that’s why my best friend is an Asmarian too. And I usually can relate to girls who are assertive, frank and forthright and able to do a great job in doing her responsibilities (regardless of which school they went) and those are the ones I would be close with. I am not that good with women who are too soft-spoken and too weak-willed. I cannot understand them. Friendship is out of the question with women like this. I would end up feeling stressed because they don’t settle their problems and only cry ad nauseum, ad infinitum. I don’t like women who cry in public, and I resent anyone trying to gain sympathy after fighting with her colleague at the workplace, by crying in public (which I had witnessed a few times in my career as a doctor). Some women can be really manipulative with their tears and they are usually these soft-spoken, lady-like women; making ‘loud, frank, assertive’ women like us appear evil in contrast when we fight with them. Hahah. (True story. So I learn to not fight with soft-spoken women. I think of them the way  I think of childish toddlers. We don’t fight with toddlers because they are not up to our standard in verbal argument. When they lose, they will cry. So they become the victim, and we end up being the evil stepmother in contrast.)

The whole situation translates to me that a co-ed school is not at all beneficial to girls! I would never place any daughters I have in a co-ed school, especially not at the primary school level. I want them to learn to be free to express themselves without feeling self-conscious, first. I want them to learn that girls can be as brave, as intelligent, as funny and as interesting and engaging as boys, first. I want them to know that girls can do just as much of a good job as boys in being the head prefect, the class monitor, the club presidents and the public speakers as boys (and sometimes even better). Once they have grasped those values, only then I would allow them to go to a co-ed school, so that even when the teachers pay more attention to boys they would know that it isn’t something wrong with them, but it is the environment that makes it so. (The environment involving the social construct that places all top leadership roles to boys. The social construct that looks at assertive, tough females as ‘difficult’ whereas, assertive, tough males are considered ‘strong’. Etc, etc.)

But for Boys….

There are too many incidents of rape/sodomy among boys (especially in residential schools)  for me to feel comfortable for boys to go to an all-boys school. Who knows what sort of homosexual tendency he would develop?! I couldn’t bear thinking any of my sons or nephews would turn out that way.

Besides, there is no academic need for boys to be in an all-boys school (unlike the situation for girls). As my younger sister had told me in our numerous discussions, boys shine in a co-ed environment, anyway. Teachers naturally pay attention to boys than girls because they are more active and louder than girls. So why risk having boys in an all-boys school when there is no academic benefit to it, anyway? Other than MCKK (which was not that good compared to TKC), there were not many good all-boys school, anyway. See? There is no academic benefit in placing your boys in an all-boys school because most all-boys schools are not that good (unlike the situation in all-girls schools). 

So there is only left the risk of them being bullied or developing homosexual tendencies after a sexual encounter with their peers of the same gender. (I shudder in my boots, just thinking about it).

I am not saying that there is no incidence of lesbianism in Asma. There had been rumours to such incidence, even during my time. But most girls outgrow that sort of tendencies, eventually. Most tomboys that I knew back then, are more lady-like than me now. (not that it takes a lot to be more lady-like than me. But I have never been a tomboy, at least). Furthermore, girls don’t usually like just any type of girls. They actually like girls that look like boys…which really means that they actually really like boys. For example, the most populour girl in Asma during my time was a tomboyish, androgynous Police Cadet Sergeant (who gave commands during our marching practice). Head girls, prefects, best students, sportsperson, school singers and school debaters also got a lot of admirers during my time… but only if they also looked like boys. So ….really. I won’t be too worried about it.

Some ‘relationship’ between these girls do get intense. Tears, jealousies, break-ups, all those emotional turmoils… you name it, we have it! But, very rarely do they get physical or sexual. Unlike with boys! 

I used to be approached for ‘adik angkat-kakak angkat’ relationship when I was in Asma. But I never entertained those things because such relationship requires investment in time and money. Some of these adik-angkats expected gifts, for God’s sake! I might as well buy a novel for myself rather than spend some money on an ‘adik’ that I already have a lot at home (THREE younger sisters is a lot, hahha. Whenever I fought with my sisters, I would feel that my mother should have stopped at two, making me the last child). Those who have never been in an all-girls school will never understand these ‘female crushes’ girls usually have, but they were quite normal. Ask any TKCians, or STFians or Asmarians or anyone who used to attend an all-girls school. There was even an article talking about “11 things that only Malaysian Girls Who Went To An All Girls Schools Will Ever Understand”, and the number one item on that list is ‘female crushes’. Yup! Weird but true!  If you are interested to read the article, CLICK H.E.RE

The risk of developing homosexual tendency and being the victim of sexual abuse is even higher if these boys are put in a hostel (even the hostel of a co-ed school, because the hostel would still be single sex; only the school is co-ed). 

Putting your son in a hostel without your son knowing basic self-defense skill is very risky. I really think it is imperative to teach your sons martial arts. (I talked about this multiple times with my sisters, as I have mentioned) I would abandon music class, tennis class, riding class (now that we have cars, riding is no longer that important) or even swimming class in favour of martial arts class. If you don’t have that much money to spend for all these extra-curricular activities for your children and you can only choose one, choose martial arts. It does not only teach your kids fighting skill and survival, but also mental and physical discipline, concentration and self-control. It even boosts their self-esteem and therefore they are less likely to be bullied. (There is such a thing as a ‘bullied personality’. Some people are more picked on than others because they have that sort of personality that makes them a target). I would not send a boy to a residential school without making sure he can survive there. That would be irresponsible.

Regarding Residential School….

I don’t think it is a great idea to allow them to go to a residential school at the age of 13 years old.

My Kak Long and I was quite upset when my father refused to consider the idea of us applying for SBP/MRSM when we were 12 years old. We wanted to apply for SBP/MRSM because most of our friends had applied for them as well and we didn’t want to be left out. My Kak Long got an offer to MRSM after her UPSR result had come out. But my father said “13 tahun kecik lagi. Ayah tak mau anak-anak pisah dengan ayah awal sangat. Tunggu 16 tahun”. I remembered how my sister waited for my father to change his mind, but he never did.

So when my time came, I did not even bother applying because, having learned from my sister’s experience, I knew my father would never allow me to go into SBP/MRSM at the age of 13 years old (I knew my father would not change his mind for me, because then my sister would ‘ungkit’, “Tak Aci! Kenapa Kak Long dulu tak boleh?” I guess, sometimes, it is not always beneficial to be fair all the time. hahaha)  I was very jealous when I saw how some of my friends were offered various schools around the country such as Kolej Yayasan Saad, STF, TKC. I just swallowed and endured the envy.

But a few years later, I came to know the wisdom behind that decision.

I don’t think I could survive residential schools at 13. I was too immature (even though at that time, I thought I could handle it!). When I first went into MRSM Langkawi at the age of 16, I hated the hostel environment. How some students simply took your things in the room without asking your permission first. And how crowded the toilet became in the morning and in the Maghrib time. And how noisy some of them were at night. And the hostel rules drove me loco! (Suka hati aku lah aku tak mau riadah. Kenapa nak buat rule macam ni? Semua benda pun kau nak atur untuk aku, for what?)

I was also quite stressed with their habit of asking to share my bottled water. I just…haih…I could not stand sharing my bottled water. I did not even share like that with my siblings! I would never drink from the same bottle again afterwards, unless I have cleaned the bottle and refilled the water. But later, another friend would ask for my water again, just after I have cleaned and refilled the bottle. I wanted to cry because it was so frustrating! But at the same time, I did not have the heart to refuse them my water. I just felt really stressed because I couldn’t say  “Why don’t you have your own water!! Get your own bottle, come on! What if I don’t have water, then what are you going to do? Are you simply going to go thirsty throughout the night? Might as well have your own, isn’t it?”

I am usually pretty assertive… I am even quite garang. But only towards those who I think have crossed certain boundaries and certain principles or those who tried to bully me. To me, those people deserve my put-downs because they are the ones who behave badly, first…. I am only retaliating. But I am not at all capable of saying what I feel when a person hasn’t done anything really bad…in this case, she just needed water. How could I refuse? It was very stressful… this thing of sharing bottled water, you could not imagine. (It’s because I have this thing orang Kedah called ‘pancin’; macam geli share bekas orang, I guess. I was this way since I was a small child. My younger sister Izati, has the same ‘pancin’ tendency like me. But instead of suffering silently, she actually told her friend, “Okey, you can have my water. Tapi make sure hang minum jangan kena mulut. Tuang air dari jauh”. Hahha. So, if you think I am frank and forthright, my sister is even worse than me. But the good thing is her friend actually didn’t mind and just did as she asked, pouring the water without touching the mouthpiece. My ‘pancin’ tendency has become better over the years… but still….I prefer not to share my food and drinks. Makan ramai-ramai dalam talam….lagilah aku stress!)

But those were the experiences that forced me to learn how to interact with people socially. How to compromise and reach a middle ground.  How to survive in a communal environment when things are not ideal. I learned to sleep in the noise. I learned to be less possessive of my things and at the same time learned to hide things that I didn’t want to share. I learned to be less rigid with personal boundaries. In the case of the bottled water, I simply decided to have two bottles in the room. One for me and one for the rest who asked.

So, residential school can be a good learning experience….but perhaps, not too soon. Or else, your children might end up fighting with other kids because of their immaturity at that time and therefore would not enjoy the hostel experience at all. I only just able to restrain myself from fighting with my roommates because I was more patient at 16 and had understood certain social expectations. At 13, I wouldn’t be like that.

***

So choose your kids’ school wisely. A good educational environment helps your kids to grow into the sort of adults your can be proud of. In fact, when you are choosing schools for your kids, it is almost like choosing how their future would be shaped.

My father was very resourceful about choosing our schools. When we first came back from Kelantan, we did not live anywhere in Jalan Langgar or anywhere in the vicinity of Asma, initially. My father moved into Lorong Titi Siam so that he could register my Kak Long into Asma. Later, when we have moved to another area far away from Jalan Langgar, my father did not change his address in the IC and still used our previous address so that he could register me into Asma. Later, after he had to change the address in his IC, he still insisted that all my younger sisters be placed in Asma, regardless. He told the Guru Besar that “semua kakak dia duduk di Asma, saya nak adik pun duduk kat Asma. Senang saya nak hantar pergi sekolah” when actually we went to school by the school bus. Hahha. Most of the time, my father got what he wanted because he wouldn’t stop insisting and would throw his weight around until he got what he wanted.

And that was how it went that all five of us received our early education in an all-girls school and we loved it.

Even though I spent my last two years of schooling in MRSM Langkawi, Asma remained my most beloved school. 

So parents, have a deep thought before deciding on your kids’ school, where habits are formed, characters are shaped, values are internalized, self-esteems are nurtured and life-long friendships are made. Your kids will certainly be thankful to you.

Be fair to all your children

One day, a Chinese teenage girl presented with her mother to the PSYCH clinic as a new case that was assigned to me for full clerking.

I diagnosed her of Major Depressive Disorder, to rule out Borderline Personality Disorder.

The reason her mother brought her to this clinic was because she has been hurting herself by slashing her wrist a few times in the past.

She did not talk much during the clerking. She admitted that she felt very angry at her mother because her mother seemed to give more loving attention to her younger brother.

I asked the patient to go out and then I called her mother in to ask her whether this was true. The mother said, “Ala, adik dia kecik lagi maaa. Baru lapan tahun. Mesti lah saya akan bagi perhatian pada dia. Lelaki sorang woh”

Terus aku rasa macam meluat dengan mak dia ni. Hahah.

“Dia pun selalu marah-marah adik dia. Dia pun selalu dengki sama adik dia. Rajin gaduh. I pun pening lorrr.”

I gave the mother a nice, wake-up call. “Look at what your injustice has done to your daughter! And to her relationship with her younger brother.” but I  phrased  and elaborated the message in a nice way, of course. So that it would be easier for the mother to swallow the fact that her parenting skills left much to be desired.  

But at the end of the consultation, I allowed NO DOUBT in the mother’s mind that she should be more fair towards all her children.

***

I am so lucky that I was born in a family of all girls. I could not imagine how my parents would behave if they have one much-coveted son among all five thorny roses that are me and my sisters. (in my case, I have more thorns than petals, haha)

But knowing me (and my sisters), we are very used to not let any resentment fester and putrefy. It is not in us to just keep quiet when we don’t feel satisfied.

We will speak up and will tell our parents straight out, “Mak dengan ayah tak adil!”

So, if my parents were indeed not being fair, they would come to realize it, and thus they would try to adjust their actions and make it fairer. (We voice out –> they realize –>they adjust. Simple algorithm.)

But if it was only our perception that our parents were not fair, because we have voiced out what we thought, they would be able to explain their actions and sooth our resentment. (We voice out –> they explain –> we realize –> we adjust our expectation –> resentment settled)

See? Voicing out is important!

At the end of the day, because we siblings voice out what we feel, we get our justice. There is no misunderstanding. Our bond as siblings are very tight because we don’t allow unfair treatment by our parents to create prolonged resentment between us. We just performed a debate and argued back and forth in the living room and said it outright and got it done! (Those who are watching our, ehem, ‘family conference’ and not used to us would think we are a bit too much to handle. hahah).

When I was 16 year old, my mother asked me to do a task that was supposed to be completed by my 9 year old youngest sister. So I said, “Tapi tu kerja Wani. Kenapa pula angah yang kena buat?”

“Ala, dia kecik lagi. Tak payahlah berkira dengan adik. Kesian dia”

And you know what I said, “Mak, kalau nak kira umur, sampai bila-bila pun dia akan kecik daripada angah. Dah dia memang lahir lambat daripada angah. Kak ngah pun pernah kecik dulu, tapi kak ngah buat ja kerja kak ngah.” I thought my logic was indisputable. I was so proud of my spontaneous argument which really consisted of ‘kalau nak ikut umur, sampai bila-bila ke nak kena ikut umur?. Hahaha. (and like I said before, you don’t get to me via vague argument or by using emotion such as ‘kesian adik’. You deal with me using logic. This is my pattern of thoughts since I was a child. And I have no problem saying it straight. When you deal with Afiza, you better make sure your argument is sound.)

Just like that, my mother did not say anything else. My youngest sister still had to do her task. And I was satisfied. Justice win!

So you see, ours is a democratic household. Everyone gets to have their say.

Never have I ever felt that “Sebab Kak Long paling tua, so aku kena ikut cakap dia.”

Never have I ever felt that “Sebab aku lagi tua, tiga lagi adik-adik bawah kena ikut cakap aku”

In fact, if I ever try to ask them to do what I say simply on the merit of me being older, they would probably laugh me out of the room. Because really, allowing unfair treatment simply because one is younger or older than you is a laughable concept!

It just doesn’t make sense, people!

We siblings can get very sarcastic if we are expected to follow what one of us said without any justification, “Who died and appoint you as our leader? Pffft!? Awat pula aku nak kena ikut cakap hang?”

We don’t play by any other rules other than sound argument and plain fair justice. And to me, that is the best formula for creating a good bond between all your children and between yourselves and your children.

When my own friend told me that her own parents favour her elder brother than herself, I told her to speak up. She told me, “Hang lain, Afiza. Bila hang kompelin, mak ayah hang layan.Tapi mak ayah aku tak layan pun aku kompelin. Kalau aku kompelin depa bagi duit lebih kat abang aku beli rokok la, minyak motor la, mewahkan dia macam-macam…. bapa aku akan cakap, ‘suka hati ayah nak bagi kat siapa pun. Ni duit ayah’. Lagi sakit hati aku dengar. So baik tak payah cakap.”

I see. So this is how learned helplessness develops.

My mouth swung open when I heard her telling me what her father said. Her father had no reasoning whatsoever and so irrational. Can you imagine yourself in the position of her father? When someone complain against you that you are not being fair, you give stupid answers of ‘suka hati aku.’  which does not address the issue at all. It is so stupid, isn’t it? How can someone that stupidly moronic raise such an intelligent daughter like my friend, I have no idea!

By the way, even if it is his money to do whatever he wishes, he still should not give the answer of ‘suka hati aku’. The answer hurts his other children tremendously because it shows such lackadaisical disregard to their feelings. Like they don’t matter at all to the father. But even more relevant is the fact that  there is a specific hadeeth about the adab of giving gifts to your children. This is not a general hedeeth that is subject to various interpretation. This hadeeth is VERY SPECIFIC to just such a situation. You must abide by this!

The Prophet (peace be on him) said, ‘Do justice among your sons,’ and repeated it thrice. (Reported by Muslim, Ahmad, and Abu Daoud)

The story behind this hadith is that the wife of Bashir bin Sa’d al-Ansari requested her husband to give a gift of a garden or a slave to her son, al-Nu’man bin Bashir. She asked Bashir to go to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and request him to be a witness. Bashir went to him, saying, “The daughter of such and such—meaning his wife—has asked me to give a slave to her son.” “Does he have brothers?” the Prophet (peace be upon him) asked. “Yes,” he replied. “Did you give the same to each of them?” inquired the Prophet (peace be upon him). “No,” said Bashir. The Prophet (peace be upon him) then said, “This is not correct, and I can never bear witness to other than what is just.” (Reported by Ibn Hibban in his Sahih.)

Some other hadith in this regard are as follows: Do not ask me to be a witness to injustice. Your children have the right of receiving equal treatment, as you have the right that they should honor you. (Reported by Abu Daoud) “Fear Allah and treat your children with equal justice.” (Reported by al-Bukhari and Muslim.)

Let me repeat. Fear Allah, and treat your children with equal justice.

Which means, treating your children with equal justice is directly associated with having fear of Allah. Associated with takwa itself! That is pretty heavy, guys! Whenever you are treating your children unjustly, it means you have no fear of Allah. That’s pretty serious, folks! So boleh suka hati kau lagi ke?

Dan aku tak hairan kenapa benda ni ada kaitan dengan takwa. Benda ni berat sebab just look at the effect it has on your kids if you are not fair! Look at how it affects relationships between your children and how the pattern of jealousy and resentment will continue even when you are already gone from this world! Look at how they feel so tortured that they might end up having personality disorders or affective disorders.

And remember, you are not only destroying the self-esteem of the child you neglect to be fair to. But you are also destroying the decency of your favourite child by spoiling him/her into a rotten, self-absorbed, irresponsible person who thinks he/she can get whatever he/she wants unfairly. You are destroying all your children when you favour one over the rest! Even the favoured one is not spared the side effects of your unjust conduct because he/she will grow up into a weak, despicable, entitled human being!

The favoured and unfavoured children are both your victims!

So, yes. There is no reason to wonder why being fair to all your children is associated with takwa! Because the effect is huge, people!

YOUR CHILDREN HAVE  THE RIGHTS FOR JUSTICE. Hak! Bukan suka hati kau! Hak! Faham tak maksud hak tu apa?

Regardless of age!

Regardless of gender!

Kau ingat kau sorang jer ada hak sebagai mak bapak? Anak kau tak ada hak?

Aku rasa semua anak-anak kena memorize and keep this hadeeth in their minds. Setiap kali mak ayah tak adil, keluarkan hadis ni sebagai reference. (Hahah. Terus mak ayah sentap)

And I am the sort who argue based on facts, so I keep this hadeeth in mind as one of my secret weapon that I can pull out anytime the situation arise. (Just in case my parents need me to say it to them. Haha. But so far, I never had to say it to them. Either I end up understanding why they do what they do, or they end up adjusting what they are inclined to do so that it becomes fairer to everyone.)

Of course, there are times when I still feel I was unfairly punished, but it was not as a result of inequality among siblings. Usually memang aku buat silap, dan aku kena punish dan aku rasa macam punishment tu unnecessary. Tu ja. Tapi kalau lima orang buat silap, lima-lima orang kenalah. Mana boleh sorang kena, sorang tak kena. That never happened. If it did, I would be the first to question it.

The most important thing is, you have to create an environment that would allow your children to feel comfortable voicing out and telling you when you are not being fair. Otherwise, they would keep quiet and suffer inside. Some suffer so much to the point of depression or having chronic low self-esteem.

And kau yang rugi! Kau tak ada anak-anak yang boleh ingatkan kau yang kau tak adil. Sebab kau tak create that sort of environment. Dan kalau kau rasa hidup kau lagi senang sebab anak-anak kau semua tak berani nak persoalkan kau, kau memang agak bodoh. Anak-anak macam inilah yang bantu kau untuk jadi orang yang lebih bertakwa. I think my parents are blessed for having me (haha, allow me to perasan kejap). I am the most vocal of all. My epithet in the family is ‘kak ngah singa’, denoting my fierceness.

But I point out to them, “Singa bukan saja garang. Singa juga berani. I take being called singa as a compliment,” I have no problem confronting issues. I might not like having to do it, but when push comes to shove… I shall push, shove and smack down! Hahah.

You can learn from kids. They are very honest about how they feel without bothering with diplomatic crap. But their honesty will be tarnished if you never respond properly to their honesty. If you never reward them with justice when they point out the obvious, they will soon behave with learned helplessness. “Cakap kat mak ayah pun tak guna. Mak ayah memang lagi sayang abang sulong/anak lelaki.”

Learned helplessness is one of the worst thing that can happen to anyone. You just give up and suffer. You have zero initiative and just accept whatever injustice that come your way.

Is that what you want your kids to become? Is that your legacy to your children? Would they always remember you as the parent who destroy their self-worth for all time? Is that how you would like to be remembered?

So parents, you better buck up and do it right!

On Death & Grieving

wpid-20140114_113959.jpg

Take a look at this picture. Look at the colourful apparel of traditional dresses and baju kurungs worn by these beautiful ladies. Do they look happy or somber?

Where do you think this pic was taken?

At a wedding or at a funeral?

Have a guess.

***

Look at another picture.

funeral

Where do you think this pic was taken?

***

In the past one month, I lost two relatives who I was quite closely acquainted to as a child (or rather, as closely acquainted as only a frivolous, fun-loving, carefree child can be).

As our respective nucleus family grew in numbers, we slowly drifted apart and rarely saw one another. As the years passed, my parents rarely visited other branches of the family as they used to do during Eid or any festivals because my parents nowadays have their own grandchildren who they eagerly wait upon at our own house.

Slowly but surely, the growth of our family relationship were stunted. And when we did see one another every other year, the conversation were stilted, forced and sometimes, quite painful to endure.  Slowly but surely, we lost common ground and found nothing to say of any importance to one another beyond the usual mundane small talk (that I never pretend to be good at). Slowly but surely, I forgot all cousins I used to know and became ignorant of any new additional cousins I might have acquired over the years. It didn’t help that my mother was the youngest in her family, and thus most of my cousins are at HER age than mine. While my father  – being from a broken family – was the only child being raised by my grandfather; he rarely saw his own mother (who had passed on years ago) or his other siblings (raised by his estranged mother) until he was quite old.

But the fond memories I have – of having received affectionate kisses at each visit and of receiving  lots of Eid money from my paternal great-Aunt and my maternal elderly aunt; they both recently passed away–   are something I will always cherish as part of my lovely childhood upbringing.

I mourned their passing. But you wouldn’t know it when you see me.

In fact, you wouldn’t know their close family members are mourning too if you don’t actively ask for their symptoms of grieving. It didn’t show in their smiling face. Or in the clothes they were wearing on the funeral. Or in the calm, serene manner they nodded their thanks to condolence-wishers. Or in the quiet way they continued to organize the funerals in as efficient a manner as possible.

***

As a kid, I used to equate death with great sadness. And I used to feel enormous discomfort at having to attend a funeral, because…I didn’t know what to say at the face of their great loss. Because I felt guilty that I didn’t feel sad when they must be feeling utterly devastated. I felt emotionally-deficient.  I thought whatever I said would not be enough. I struggled to say something appropriate and ended up not saying anything at all.

But actually, I really wasn’t expected to say anything at all. As a kid, I didn’t know that. I was wrong to think that what I saw on TV were what really happened in real life. And as a kid, (having some diluted Indian blood on my father’s side) I was raised with a lot of Hindi movies. Andaz, Sangam, Yaadon Ki Barat, Aa Gale Lag Jaa, Bobby, Kati Patang, An Evening In Paris, Love in Tokyo….I watched them all as a kid. My sisters and I memorized Hindi songs as a child, can you believe it?

As a kid, I saw on TV that people cried until their eyes were noticeably red; they didn’t smile even a little bit on the day their loved ones died; sometimes they fainted altogether. At times, they wailed inconsolably. Some of them stopped eating, grew weaker and finally died (perhaps happily, as they get to follow their loved ones into the hereafter).

As a kid, I felt really uncomfortable being dragged into a funeral because I – by nature – don’t like awkward situations where people feel sad and I feel inadequate to do anything about it. Because I thought that they would act the way I saw the actors acted on TV.

Just thinking about witnessing what I saw on TV for real, made me shudder.

***

In real Islamic life, it is an understood, ingrained, innate knowledge that death is only part of our life cycle and we are taught that our immediate utterance upon hearing the news of death SHOULD BE the proclamation of:

(2:156): “Inna lil-laahi wa innaa ilayhi raaji’oon [Truly! To Allâh we belong and truly, to Him we shall return.]”.

You are not expected to express great grief ad nauseum, ad infinitum. In fact, wailing is prohibited.

And to assist you to mourn properly (so that you could get on with your life faster) our Islamic guidelines on grieving are pretty thorough:

1)      Funeral is organized on the very day your loved ones pass away

–          You don’t keep the body for a few days.

–          It is recommended that the burial service is done as soon as possible. If your loved ones die in the morning, they are usually buried around noon on the very same day.

–          Closure is hastened, so that the relatives can move on faster and don’t wallow in self-pity.

2)      There are no specific dress code or colour for mourning beyond the usual guidelines on modesty.

-The first picture in this article is of my mother in her usual outfit, attending the funeral of my paternal great-aunt yesterday. Look at the others in the picture. They, too, didn’t wear somber black or grey.

3)      Wailing is prohibited.

-Nor are you allowed to tear at your clothes or slapped at your cheeks.

– We are not allowed to GLORIFY sadness, to a degree of good play-acting on TV.

– It DOESN’T mean that you are not allowed to cry at all. You may cry but not because you blame God or fate; you shouldn’t cry as a way of saying “he shouldn’t have died. It’s not fair that he died. I want to die with him. I have lost the meaning of my life without him”…and on and on you go.

4)      When our loved ones are dying, it is not our practice to go around saying, “No, don’t die. Please don’t leave me alone in this wretched world, only to live without you, because you are the meaning of my life and so on and so forth.”

-We are taught – deeply ingrained in our psyche – that upon seeing our loved ones are dying, our uppermost religious duty at that very crucial moment is to prompt our loved ones to say “Laa Ilaha Illallah.” (There is No Other God but The ONE God).

-That sacred words reflect our whole purpose of life in this world – worshiping none other but Him – and we are ambitious of dying with those words as our very last utterance.

-Knowing that fact, knowing that it is every Muslim’s need to die with those words on their lips…  the most practical thing for relatives to do is to help their loved ones do so, and with very minimal drama.

5)      The official period of mourning is three days. The sadness may last forever.  But life must go on.

-Fake it till you make it.

– You are sad and things are not yet normal for you. But fake normalcy first, then you will attain it, insya Allah.

***

“The real patience is at the first stroke of calamity” says our Prophet (pbuh).  Translated to Malay: “Sabar itu adalah pada kejutan yang pertama”.

It is not real patience if you wail for three days, stop your normal function for a week, and having got no other alternative, FINALLY said “Baiklah, saya perlu bersabar.”

As a kid, I was pretty stupid. I thought that my inability to have prolonged crying MUST meant that I probably did not feel enough; and that made me feel guilty. But the fact is such that the ‘prolonged crying’ and the ‘pathological grief’ glorified on TV is UNNATURAL. The TV is only playing with your emotion; wanting you to think that the harder the actor cries, the more loving he/she really is towards the dead.

WRONG!

In any case, there are times when you feel TOO MUCH to cry. Your grief is too private to share. Your sadness is too sincere to show.

As an adult now, I applauded my relatives for being very serene, calm and dignified. They cried for a bit, then they greeted guests, smiled at them, talked about practical matters, put on as normal an appearance as they can muster, and the next few days, they are back to normal routine (at least, outwardly).

And as a result, I have stopped feeling awkward about attending funerals. I know now that the dread that I felt about funerals as a kid was not at all realistic. I don’t have to say anything. People are not going to cry in front of me. If they say something, I only have to listen.

I don’t have to say “Moga bersabar”, thinking that I sound really fake. In fact, I don’t have to say anything at all if I don’t want to.

I don’t have to fake a greater emotion than I actually feel.

All I have to do is attend and be there, and pay my respect and pray the Solat Jenazah.

It’s not hard.

***

When I was a medical student, we learned about the Kubler Ross model of five stages of grief:

1)Denial

2)Anger

3)Bargaining

4)Depression

5)Acceptance

In facing the death of loved ones, the Muslims are religiously taught to jump straight to acceptance and say  “To Allah we belong, and Truly, to Him we shall return” upon hearing any news of death or calamity.

I don’t mean to say that we skipped the whole “denial, anger, bargaining, depression’ parts. But we are expected to hasten the whole process of getting to ‘acceptance’ in a matter of seconds, at least outwardly.

And the five stages of grief, do not necessarily follow one stage after another the way they are arranged.  The stages of grief sometimes do not follow any particular order at all.

They may later say “if only we had gone to the hospital sooner” (bargaining stage). They may later become angry and want to sue the hospital (anger stage) and so on and so forth. But the death itself is accepted, first.

You deal with the other stages, if and as, they come.

***

As a Psychiatry MO, I am not saying that it is not okay to grief, at all.

Grieving is a healthy reaction. (But some people grief pathologically)

I am not saying religious people don’t get depression at all, because they do.

I am not saying that it is religiously wrong to get depressed, because it is not. It is a disease (depression has genetic component as well) and with treatment, your depression will go away, insya Allah.

In fact if you have depression, it can be seen as a test from Allah and as a means to elevate your status in His eyes. Dr. Nassir Ghaemi (a noted Professor of Psychiatry from Harvard University) said in his book  titled ‘A First-Rate Madness’, that those who successfully overcome their depression, end up with more resilience than their so-called ‘normal’ counterparts. And if you have gone through ‘many emotional upheavals and difficulties’ in your younger days, it has a ‘steeling’ effect that will make you more prepared for other emotional challenges in your more mature years.

Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi… are some of the leaders who Professor Nassir Ghaemi had posthumously diagnosed  as having had depression in their younger days and it made them a better, more emphatic person and a great leader.

So depression can be viewed as a ‘mind vaccine’.

’What doesn’t kill makes you stronger’ kind of concept.

It is not wrong to be depressed. But I am just saying that, as a Muslim, I recognized parts of my Islamic teaching that are protective against pathological grief or depression.

And my recent experience of having lost my relatives and seeing how their family members deal with it, reinforced my gratitude to Allah for prohibiting us from glorifying and dramatizing sadness or grief. Alhamdulillah.

May Allah S.W.T have mercy on BOTH the soul of my Tok Wa and my mak ngah.  Amin.