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Archive for the ‘Inside-Out Kid’ Category

This article first appeared in Parentwise, a new site providing resources for young parents.

Caleb was not an easy toddler to handle. He slept very little and hardly ate much. He also had a steely will, so it took an extraordinary amount of effort getting him to do the simplest things. I was sleep-deprived, frustrated and felt like a failure in parenting.

So, I hit the books to learn the basics of Parenting 101.

I read books by experts with strategies to give you a happy baby and a rested mummy. A few experts offered different classifications to help you identify what type of personality your toddler has, so that you can apply techniques to manage your child effectively. Another used a “Cry it out” sleep training method so your baby can learn to self-soothe and eventually be conditioned to sleep through the night.

I knew quite instinctively that “Cry it out” sleep-training wouldn’t work on Caleb. I recalled one afternoon when I left him in the crib to self-soothe while I showered. When I came out five minutes later, he had already cried himself completely hoarse. He also had one leg over the crib and was in the midst of climbing out. 

I also went through great pains with Caleb’s eating, or should I say…not eating. I borrowed cookbooks from friends and spent inordinate amounts of time persuading my toddler to eat, without success. Soon, I learnt that any recipes offered with the opening words, “Your child will love this…” was guaranteed to be rejected by my fussy toddler. 

One evening, after failing to get Caleb to eat dinner, I decided to ignore him completely. He slinked around me for some time and finally said, “Mummy is angry. Caleb wants to eat so Mummy will be happy.”

By then, I had cleared his dinner. So, I rummaged through the food cupboard and handed him a box of milo pops. He munched on it and said, “Caleb is eating. Mummy is happy now? Mummy, eat one milo pop, then Caleb is happy.”  I was torn between smiling and sighing.

Caleb at 2 years old

It didn’t help that around me, some parents seemed to handle these things with little effort. I recall a mum whom I met as I was waiting to pick Caleb from our church’s Sunday School toddler class.

“It must be a lot of work for you,” I said when I learnt that this mum had four young kids.

“At this age, they only eat and sleep,” she said breezily. “It’s so easy.”

Here I was, exhausted from parenting one toddler. I felt like a kid with red marks all over my report card.

One “lightbulb moment” for me as a parent came from a book which a friend gave me. In “The New Strong-Willed Child” by Dr James Dobson, he used the example of a supermarket trolley to illustrate the personality of a strong-willed child. To paraphrase his illustration, some of us find ourselves with a supermarket trolley that we can push in the direction we want with ease and minimal effort, which makes grocery shopping an easy task. These trolleys are the ones with straight and well-oiled wheels. This is the compliant child.

Others find themselves with a supermarket trolley that won’t go the direction they want it to go. These usually have crooked, bent wheels that refuse to yield. The person who is pushing this trolley ends up expending seven times the energy to make it move. This was exactly how I felt with my strong-willed toddler.

Over time, I’m learning to stop giving myself poor grades as a parent. After all, parenting is a life-long learning journey, not a fixed syllabus one can ace.

When Caleb was in his twos, I also glimpsed how much he has a mind of his own.

“Caleb, do you look like mummy?” I asked one day.

“No,” he replied.

“Do you look like Papa?” My husband asked.

“No,” he replied. “Caleb looks like Caleb.”

I’m reminded, from that conversation, that my kid is his own person. He has his own strong traits and developmental milestones will differ from other kids. As I learn to read my child better, it helps me to parent him better. And if I stumble through a lousy parenting day, I cut myself some slack. Tomorrow is a brand new day to start over.

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Caleb turns 10 this weekend. I asked my boy what wording he wanted on his birthday cake.

“How about ‘Wham! Bam! Caleb’s 10!’?”

“It sounds like someone pushed me against a wall and punched me,” Caleb said.

“Hmm…How about ‘Shazam! Caleb’s 10!?”

“Sounds like I’m a superhero with muscles. But I have no muscles,” he said.

“How about we just have ‘Caleb’s 10!’?”

“No… think of something before it,” he said.

“Then…Caleb’s 10!” I said.

“It sounds like a drama movie, when we reach the ‘Finally!’,” he said.

“Oh man, Caleb’s 10!” I said.

“It sounds like it is so difficult to reach 10,” he said.

“Sure can! Caleb’s 10!” I said.

“It sounds like you are asking the government for approval to celebrate my birthday. And they say “Sure can”, because I am 10,” he said.

“Abuthen, Caleb’s 10!” I said. “That’s Singlish for ‘Obviously’, since you always use ‘Obviously’.”

“Only English,” Caleb said.

I scratched my head. “Okay, since you have rejected everything, we’ll go with the last wording I can think of.”

“What’s that?” Caleb asked.

“Amen! Caleb’s 10!” I said.

He shrugged. “Okay.”

So, after our verbal sparring, we came to the perfect word for Caleb’s perfect 10.

And to one decade of parenting my witty, cheeky, wordy, quippy, funny kid, I say Amen!

Related Link:

Inside-Out Kid #13: Oh Divine, Caleb’s 9! 

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Over a month ago, I found myself confronting a philosophical question from my 9-year old.

“Why must I study?” Caleb asked.

Caleb belongs to the 1st batch of students whose exams were scrapped for Primary 2 final term and Primary 3 mid-term. I remember that fateful morning in late 2018 when I read the Ministry of Education’s announcement in the newspaper. The rationale for this decision, as explained, is to move students away from the focus on only grades and help them discover the joy of learning. (“No Exams for P1, P2 students from 2019”- Yahoo News)

“Yay!” Caleb and I exclaimed as I read the news to him. Then, we went back to happily eating breakfast. He was in Primary 1 then.

As I have taken a hands-off approach to school, Caleb did not take well to my sudden interest in his schoolwork a month ago.

“I’ve never studied in Primary 1 and Primary 2. I didn’t study this year and I’ve done well in all my tests. Why must I study for this final test?”

I floundered for an answer. “Because it is good practice, and soon you have to study for your exams,” I said, but I wasn’t certain how and where to get him started.

I decided to pose my own philosophical question to my bestie when I arranged her birthday breakfast at my place three weeks before exams. “Where do I start?”

“Get him to do past year exam papers,” Gail replied. She’s mum to four kids who have gone through plenty of exams.

Through Caleb’s recent exams, I learnt 5 things:

  1. I’ve had no gauge of how much Caleb has understood from school lessons, until now.  
  2. Caleb did well in his first exams based on his own effort and merit. And without doing any assessment books for his first three years of school.
  3. I should check in on what Caleb is doing in school and not leave it to the last moment.
  4. I couldn’t do his math problem sum. One week before his exams, I thought I should take a look at a couple of Caleb’s math questions. I’m embarrassed to say I couldn’t do his P3 math.
  5. Caleb wrote me into his exam composition: The mother is an author. The girl reads aloud from favourite book which opens with “Crick, crack. Little Godwit burst from his shell!”

Well, at least I can say that my books and fostering of his reading habit has visible impact in his writing!  

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This week, Caleb returned to school after a two-month break.

School closure has been part of Singapore’s Circuit Breaker measures (ie. a semi-lockdown to break the chain of transmission of COVID-19).

I thought Caleb would be bored stiff staying at home for two months. Surprisingly, he wasn’t.

He enjoyed not having to wake up early for school. He simply rolled out of bed, had a leisurely breakfast and school started with a push of a button on the laptop as he logged in for Home-Based Learning.

Once Caleb completed his school work, he had plenty of quiet afternoons for play, reading and kicking a football around.  He must have enjoyed this routine because he asked, “Mum, so do I need to go to school for the rest of the year?”

 

As we bid farewell to our old life (pre-Covid19) and adjust to our new life post-Circuit-Breaker, we have been heartened by a new life birthed at home during our stay-home period.

A baby Bulbul was born in a nest cleverly woven by mummy bird amidst one of our potted plants.

I’ve been able to observe close-up as baby bird cries for mummy bird when she’s away collecting food, and also during feeding and baby naps.

 

(“Mummmy!! I want Mummmmyy!!! That was tiring…need a nap…zzz”)

 

This morning, baby bird shivered alone as the storm blew in and heavy raindrops pelted the nest.

I wanted to use an umbrella to cover it but it was too big and obtrusive.

Then, I tried sheltering it with Caleb’s old raincoat but it was too heavy to be supported by the scant foliage.

Finally, I took a leaf from mummy bird’s construction work. Well…two leaves, to be exact.

I cut them off the next potted plant and inserted their stalks in with the vines that mummy bird had woven to hold the leaves around her nest.

 

(Baby bird settles down after the add-on shelter to the nest during today’s heavy downpour.)

 

Baby bird seemed so vulnerable and afraid of the storm which it could not understand.

It was a reminder that God provides in the midst of a storm…whether directly or through other forms of help.

With the shelter in place, baby bird calmed down and settled down to sleep.

Mummy bird returned. She did not object to the new add-on shelter because it kept with her architectural style and was environmentally-friendly.

MummyBirdBodyShelter

Mummy Bird sheltering Baby Bird from yesterday’s lighter rain. Caleb said she tucked her head in so that she and baby bird could see each other face-to- face to talk, like how he and I talk to each other.

 

And my little lesson from this?

We need to find the best way to co-exist with nature even after the COVID-19 storm passes. And that requires us to respect and take a leaf from Nature’s cues, be it bird or bats.

Related Links:

Pandemic Pause #9- Is God opening our eyes to what a virus is revealing?

God Knows Leh #38: One Metre Apart & the World on Pause Mode

 

 

 

 

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Caleb is 9 years old!

As I reflect on his past year of growth, I realise that it has been an education of life for me as a parent, as much as it has been for him.

  1. Life

Caleb belonged to the first batch of school kids in Singapore who didn’t have exams in Primary Two.

I recall that breakfast morning, when Caleb was in Primary One, when we found out about the revision to the school exam system. I read the headline news to Caleb that exams would be scrapped for Primary Two along with removal of mid-year exams for Primary Three and Primary Five.

“Yay!” we both exclaimed.

Then, we went back to eating breakfast.

I would say that sums up Caleb’s first two years in Primary School well.

I’m a Not-Tiger-Mum. Whilst school education is important, it’s really only one part of life. We got through his first two school years without assessment books and I did not give him any homework. Instead, we spent many afternoons at the public library borrowing out stacks of story books. Being a sporty kid, it’s also been lots of football, cycling and other outdoor activities.

Caleb’s Primary Two year, for me, also ramped up very quickly into educating my child in the school of life, loss and more.

 

  1. Loss

Caleb’s 2019 was about learning to have less of me around. My mum was in hospital for 5 out of the first 8 weeks of 2019 before she passed on.

On her final week in hospital, we brought Caleb to see her every day. He was initially uncomfortable to see Grandma all tubed-up and barely able to speak. But he toughened up and became a pillar of strength and comfort to me through those days and beyond.

During our family memorial service in hospital, Caleb was the first to speak up and thank Grandma for all that she had done for him. He prepared a list of things that he expressed gratitude for and also apologized for the times that he made Grandma angry. The rest of us adults followed awkwardly after the littlest one in the hospital room started the gratitude ball rolling.

For me, he passed his School of Love & Loss module with flying colours.

Caleb is 9

  1. Words-Worth

Since young, Caleb has had a mind of his own and has never been at a loss for words.

When Caleb was in his twos, Ben and I were having a debate in the car about who Caleb resembled looks-wise.

Finally, I turned to Caleb, who was in the backseat and asked, “Caleb, do you look like Mummy?”

“No,” Caleb replied.

“Do you look like Papa?” Ben asked hopefully.

“No,” Caleb replied. Without missing a beat, he added, “Caleb look like Caleb!”

 

Last week, I ordered Caleb’s birthday cake with the inscription ‘Oh Divine, Caleb is 9!’ which I was so pleased with.

“That’s sounds too serious,” Caleb said. “I want to change the words to ‘Caleb’s 9! It’s Party Time!’”

“But ‘divine’ and ‘nine’ rhyme much better than ‘nine’ and ‘party time’”, I said. “And ‘divine’ speaks of God.”

“But it’s my birthday cake. ‘Party Time’ sounds more fun,” Caleb said. “’O Divine’ sounds like (the song) O Holy Night.”  I didn’t tell him but my inspiration had come from that song.

He paused, then asked, “How old are you this year?”

“Why?” I asked.

“How old?” he persisted.

I muttered something that ended with a ‘nine’.

“You can put ‘O Divine’ on your own birthday cake,” he quipped.

“Fine,” I said,  rolling my eyes. Then I changed the inscription on his cake.

Whilst I’m for ‘Divine’ and Caleb is for ‘Party Time’, I hope that his ‘9 years old’ will be a blend of both. One where he looks to God for guidance and learns to be thankful for things big and small. And one where play will continue to pave the way to his growth and learning.

 

Related Links:

Caleb just turned 8! Every Reason to Celebrate!

Caleb is 7 and I am the right mummy for him!

 

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New life begets new life. In 2010, after I wrote and published my 4-book Toy Series and was mid-way through writing my memoir Finding My Voice, I discovered I was pregnant.

In the second trimester of my pregnancy, I saw a scan of my unborn child at my gynaecologist’s office. He was lying flat in my womb, face up, with one leg raised straight up. Then, he stretched out his tiny fingers and grabbed his toes. That image stayed so vividly with me that I commissioned an illustration of that moment to commemorate his birth. My four Toy titles testify of God’s hand in my life; they bear the mark of my Creator. It follows that all the four books’ characters would come together, around the crib, to welcome the best character that I ever conceived.

EL Illo 5

On 31 January 2011, Caleb made a dramatic entrance into my world. I had reached full term of pregnancy but he showed no signs of wanting to come out. He did not budge an inch despite the two rounds of induction medicine pumped into me and my entire day of hard labour. Finally, my gynaecologist forcibly calipered Caleb out of my womb and he came out with a near ceiling-shattering wail. My highly experienced and usually unflappable gynecologist (who never punctuated his sentences with any exclamations or inflexions in my nine months of clinic visits) exclaimed, “Wah, he’s SO loud!”

God, the Author of Life, had bestowed me a child in the 13th year of my marriage and he came with a big voice. Caleb’s birth began a brand new story in my life. Like the character in the renowned children’s book The Little Prince, my little prince bear would surprise me with words of wisdom beyond his years.

At around four years old, Caleb asked me, out of the blue, “Mummy, how come your voice is so nice?”

“Really?” I replied in disbelief. In more than ten years since my voice affliction, no one had ever told me that I had a nice voice. Instead, the comments ranged from “How come you sound like that?” to “You sound terrible! Keep quiet, don’t talk.”

“Yes, your voice is so nice,” Caleb said. And he repeated this several times over the next few months.

If I had shrugged this off as childish talk, it was promptly laid to rest when he rummaged through my cupboard and found an old cassette tape.

“Mummy, what’s this?” Caleb asked. He examined the cassette and pulled out a bit of the reel.

“No!” I yelled. I had made only one recording of my voice sounding at its worse 15 years back. Then I thought. Why would I want this as a keepsake?

“Go ahead,” I told Caleb. “You can pull it all out.”

As Caleb gleefully unraveled the reel of my entire cassette, the remains of what I had held onto of my broken voice were reduced to child’s play. My God-sent child’s words also erased the years of hurtful comments about me having an awful-sounding voice.

From thereon, my little cub would grow into an even stronger supporting character in a dark chapter of my life.

– Extract from ‘An Author’s Muse’, Irrevocable Gifts

 

Irrevocable Gifts is now retailing at Gracework’s online store! Get your copy now!

Related Links:

Clean Breast, Child’s Heart & Wise Quips of The Little Prince (Bear)

About a Songwriter, a Publisher, a Poet, an Artist, a Musician & Me

Blog collage (trimmed)

 

 

 

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8 years ago, during an ultra-scan of my tummy in the 2nd trimester of my pregnancy, I saw Caleb lift one foot straight up whilst inside my womb. Then, he reached towards his extended foot and grabbed his toes with his tiny fingers. That image stuck so vividly in my mind that I commissioned an artwork of it.

In the picture, characters from my 4 Toy Series books welcomed Caleb, my best conceived character, into the world. And this picture became my blog banner.

With the launch of Little Godwit Finds His Wings, I was inspired to update this illustration once more as this book marks a new season for me. As I was working on the illustration draft on my laptop, Caleb walked into my study.

“Mum, this is so cute!” Caleb exclaimed when he saw Little Godwit added into the picture. Then, he frowned as he examined the illustration. “Mum, where am I? How come I’m not in the picture?”

“That’s because I’m using this as my new author profile picture,” I said.

“But, MUM! You always say I am your best character,” he protested. “I have to be in it!”

“           ,” I said.

 

And that’s how my new profile picture comprehensively features the best characters that I have ever conceived. Especially the key character who is true to life and adds new dimensions to my storyline.

Banner

Illustration updated with the help of Little Godwit’s wonderful illustrator John Lim

Related Link:

When God, in His Wit, made each of us with our individual strengths

Reader’s Favourite! Little Godwit finds his way to 5 shiny stars!

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Caleb has gone from learning on electric drums to the non-electric drums (apparently called acoustic drums). As he progresses through his one-to-one lessons with his hip, young, teacher Sano over the past months, I’ve been trying to keep up with groovy terms like Hi Hat, Kick Drum, Snare Drums and Fill-in.

I confess I had google these terms as I couldn’t keep up with the drums terminology:

Hi hat – A set of cymbals that are placed on top of each other to get a variety of sounds.

Snare Drum – The snare drum is a drum similar to other drums; however on the bottom of the resonant head, there are snare wires that are stretched across. These wires give the sound of the drum a crack to it. This crack creates the pulse of most beats and patterns.

Drum Fill: Something played that’s not part of the main drum beat for that particular section of the song.  

DRUM-KEY (DrumMagazine.com)

Since we were on technique, I also decided to ask Teacher Sano a few questions:

1. Mummum: What’s your first piece of advice (if you can pick one) that you would give to a new drummer?

Teacher Sano: Identify what kind of music you like. Then, learn that music.

(Mummum: Hey, I just gave the same advice to parents about how to get kids reading a few weeks back!)

 

2. Mummum: What about a technical piece of drumming advice to a beginner?

Teacher Sano:

a) Be aware of your posture. If you sit and hold the sticks correctly, it’s 50% of the battle won. Just like learning to ride a bike.

(Mummum: Hey, I also used that analogy at my same parenting talk a few weeks back with independent reading! Maybe I’m not so different from young, hip Sano.)

b) Learn to play soft and control your volume. It’s easier to play loud. But it takes control to play soft.

 

3. Mummum: What does it take to be a drummer?

Teacher Sano: The ability to listen and hear what you play. You need the ear to hear and judge what you play.

 

4.    Mummum: This is a subjective question. In your opinion, what is the best type of song to drum to?

Teacher Sano: It would be the R&B and hip-hop genre that holds greatest importance to the beats. The drumbeat is the most important thing in the song.

 

5.     Mummum: Can you name me one song that would be representative of that?

Teacher Sano: Sunflower (the new Spiderman song).

(Mummum: Okay, I didn’t know that song… now I do… Well, it’s never too late to learn something new!)

 

Thank you, Aureus, for providing Caleb complimentary one-to-one drums classes!

About Aureus:

Aureus Academy is Singapore’s leading music school with over 5,000 students enrolled between 10 locations. Aureus Academy specializes in providing individually tailored piano lessons, violin lessons, guitar lessons, and vocal lessons to students of all ages and abilities. Read more at the Aureus Academy here.

 

Related Link:

My Kid drums Perfect with Ed Sheeran to Shakira’s Try Everything

Terminology references:

Free Drum Lessons/Drum Terms

Online Drummer/Drum Lessons

 

 

 

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In the final week, when my mum deteriorated extremely fast from aggressive cancer relapse, Ben and I decided to prepare Caleb that Grandma would not be around much longer. My parents lived with us from the time Caleb was born so he would feel Grandma’s absence in a big way since she had helped care for him since young.

Ben and I sat Caleb down and I started by saying that it looked like Grandma would soon d—.

“Don’t say that word,” Caleb interrupted. “Say that she’s going to sleep and she will be with Jesus.”

“Yes, you are right,” I said. “It looks like she will be with Jesus soon.”

Soon after, Mum passed away in hospital, after spending her final three weeks there. We were unable to bring her home as she was tubed up with painkillers, glucose drips and antibiotics from various infections as she had weakened considerably by then.

We decided to give Mum a homecoming. Ben made all the arrangements for Mum’s wake services at our home and we brought her body home on the same day that she passed on. As Ben said, knowing Dad’s devotion to Mum, Dad would have camped out three days and three nights at whichever funeral parlor or chapel that her casket rested if we had held the wake services anywhere else.

Mum Homecoming

Set up by evening for Mum’s homecoming

Caleb had been in the hospital room on the afternoon that Grandma passed on. And now, that same evening, we brought her casket home. It was a lot for an 8-year-old to take in. He stood at a distance all night, uncertain if he wanted to go near her casket.

By morning though, he had come to terms with his Grandma’s casket sitting in our dining room and was able to look at her without apprehension.

As Caleb sat at the dining table during breakfast, he watched curiously as I walked to his Grandma’s casket and spoke to her.

“Mum, what are you doing?” Caleb asked.

“I’m talking to Grandma,” I replied.

“But Grandma is not there,” Caleb said, looking towards the casket. “Grandma is up there.” He pointed upwards.

“Yah, okay. But I want to look at her face when I speak to her,” I said.

“Mum…,” Caleb said in a tone of voice like a parent explaining a simple truth to a child. “That’s an empty body. Grandma has already gone to Heaven.”

Empty body? I didn’t teach him that. I hid my surprise as I looked at my son. “You are so right. She’s already in Heaven.”

Then he added, “I must get used to talking to Grandma like that.” He craned his head  upwards to practise speaking to her.

I could not help but break into a smile.

As a parent, I often teach my child the truth that the Bible imparts. Yet at times like this, I needed my child to remind me what faith looks like. It is the confidence that Christ has conquered death on the cross for us, so we can lift our heads up high in hope instead of looking down in sorrow. And we can look forward to the blessed assurance that we will one day reunite with our loved ones in Heaven.

John 11:25, Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live…”

John 14:1-3, Jesus said “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

Related links:

God Knows Leh #28: Parting with an Old Spice Alabaster Jar Miracle

God Knows Leh #27- A Pain in the Abdomen & 7 times of Psalms 23:6

 

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Last year: 1st week January 2018

Caleb   : Laoshi speaks to us in English.

Me       : Huh? Your Chinese teacher speaks to you in English during Chinese class?

Caleb   : Only when she scolds us. When she teaches us, she speaks in Chinese.

The next day….

Me       : Did your Laoshi speak English or Chinese today?

Caleb   : English and Chinese.

Me       : So, she scolded you all and also taught you all.

Caleb   : Yah.

 

This year: mid-January 2019

Me       : Has anyone in your class been scolded since school started?

Caleb   : Of course not.

Me       : Wow, really? You mean the whole class of boys has been behaving?

Caleb   : Of course. School only just started…But I think we will get scolding soon.

Me       : Oh…How do you know?

Caleb   : I can just feel it.

 

IOK #photo

 

February 2019

Me       : Did anyone get scolding in class today?

Caleb   : Of course not. It’s only Tuesday.

Me       : Er…so why don’t you get scolding on Tuesday?

Caleb   : Duh…We are good on Mondays & Tuesdays. We only get scolding on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays.

Me       : Oh, how come?

Caleb   : Because it’s just the start of the week!

Me       : Oh…is it because you all had Saturday & Sunday to relax? So you all behave better on Monday & Tuesday?

Caleb : Maybe.

Me       : And by Wednesday, you all cannot take it anymore and have to be naughty.

Caleb  : Yah.

 

Recent:

Me         : Is there any boy in your class who has never been scolded?

Caleb     : Matthew.

Me         : Really? Not even once?

Caleb     : Not even once. He was given an award at the end of P1.

Me         : Wow!

Caleb     : He’s very smart. Listens to the teacher. Good at his work. And good at laser tag. And he’s fun outside class.

Me         : Er…Is there anything he isn’t good at?

Caleb thinks for a while.

Caleb     : He’s not as good at football as me.

Me         : Anything else?

Caleb     : No.

Me         : Well, at least he isn’t good at one thing.

Caleb     : Yah.

Me         : I have one more question about Matthew. Are you sure he is a real person and not an imaginary one?

Caleb     : MUM!!!

 

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