My heart was beating fast when my colleagues and I reached the office building after a few days of business trip. I thought of the three little faces I have missed so dearly— It had only been a short trip but I couldn’t wait to hold them close and plant my big, motherly, wet kisses onto their forehead and smooth cheeks to make up for not seeing them for what seemed like an eternity. I couldn’t even wait for Daddy Joe who had come to fetch me to get his car to come to a halt in front of our home and started running towards our front door like the hare in the classic tale grasped with boxes of famous Ipoh Salted Chicken and Kaya Puff on one hand and 3 bars of Kit Kat chocolates I bought from the trip and my suitcase on the other hand.
As I fumbled with the lock to get the front door opened, Pumpkin Mei-Mei and Baby B who heard the familiar sound of my keys started shouting excitedly from the inside. Strings of blissful eruption of “Maamee!”, “Mama!”, “You are back! Yay! Mama!” and more “Maamee!” punctured through the air as I came home to see the sweetest, broadest grins of the happiest little people. After more cheerleading-style welcome from the kids, they then ushered me to the dining room where two heart-shaped balloons and a welcome home sign had been put up by them on the wall.
As one can imagine, I pretty much came home to a World Cup-worthy welcome as if I had been away for 12 years!
As if he was the finale act, my eldest boy, Cheeky Koko then presented his shy, preteen hug and a light-as-air kiss before bringing me a glass of water and a home-made card that he has made for me earlier that evening. So sweet I couldn’t contain it!
As I sat down for a late dinner, I thought to myself that bliss is coming home to your own mini team of cheerleaders who made your homecoming an incredibly fabulous affair as if one of the country’s top ministers is about to come to your home.
I admired again the handmade card by Cheeky Koko when it dawned on me that apart from welcoming me home, the card also announced how bad he had fared in his Chinese papers in the final exam! So bad that in fact he had flunked both of his essay and comprehension papers!
My emotional thermostat must have gone from zilch to a 100 degree Celsius as I felt my disappointment over his academic performance hit its boiling threshold by which point it turned into a parental rage. I wasn’t so much into the fact that he scored badly for the papers. I also wasn’t angry that he bombed the papers because I was not a tiger mama who wanted the achievement of her children no matter what it took at the cost of sacrificing the pure, simple joy of childhood.
I was only angry because just before the examination, he had 4 days of holidays over the recent Hari Raja Haji public holidays to prepare for the tests and yet he had spent all of the days playing with his Lego toys, watching some TV and playing games from the Ipad. Whenever I asked him if he had studied and prepared for the exam, he would say that his tuition teacher and school teachers have made them do so much preparation exercise such as dictation, past-year papers and additional homework that he felt he was ready for come what may. He also kept telling me that he had studied in the day time when I was away working. I knew that for discipline to be effective, I had to take immediate actions to correct him there and then.
Just as I finished my dinner, I got out the rotan (cane) that we rarely used at home and called Cheeky Koko to follow me into his bedroom.
I told him sternly that I was going to cane him 6 times, 3 on each hand and each caning is to reprimand and remind him of the set of 6 wrong attitudes he had in his study approach, which would affect his lifetime attitude. I asked Cheeky Koko if he understood why I had to cane him before I started, to which he simply and softly stated that he did and he knew I was doing it out of love so that he won’t end up a bad person stuck in a jail somewhere one day. He is such a funny boy that I wanted to laugh but I refrained from speaking further, and moved through each short, firm stroke of the cane on his palm steadily as I told him what he did wrong.
By the 4th stroke, I could see that he was trying to hold back his tears and with each stroke that was landed on his palm, a faint red mark made its appearance on the centre of his palm as well as this mama’s heart. When I had finished all six strokes, I left him in his room to think over his own action as I quickly went inside my room and sat at one corner to ponder over the episode. Daddy Joe came into the room and sat quietly next to me. We both needed time to process the corporal punishment that just took place within our family where happiness ruled the day.
“I felt like crying as I beat him,” I said.
“I know Darling. It’s not easy to both be firm and loving at the same time,” came the ever –supportive affirmation.
“You know, my papa made me kneel on the floor when I got 60 for my Bahasa Malaysia paper at Standard Two, and when I was done crying, he caned me once or may be twice, and I’ve gotten an A for Bahasa Malaysia for every single exam ever since, all the way until I completed high school. The point is, I didn’t cane Cheeky Koko because I wanted an A from him, but I wanted him to know that being lazy and lying about his lack of preparation for the exam does have its own consequences. I know he has always been more of a banana boy who just doesn’t like Chinese and maybe I shouldn’t have caned him because it might make him hate the language even more, but it’s like having a Brit who doesn’t like English… is it possible that a Chinese could do so badly for a Chinese paper?” I continued, feeling a tad too weary from both the trip and the discipline all at once.
“It’s possible, Darling. We are Malaysians whereby our kids have to master three languages in school and they are all difficult—Much as we are ethnically Chinese, it’s a language subject. You just can’t cane someone into better grade because Chinese cannot be improved just because you have studied for it. It may be an inborn flair that he simply doesn’t have,” and as he said this, Daddy Joe got up to pick up Baby B who had come knocking at our door with Pumpkin Mei-Mei.
That man has stolen my pill of wisdom! He was darn right! He left me completely stunned as I tried to grasp if what I did was right for my 11 years old boy. After a quick shower, I went into Cheeky Koko’s room and as I sat next to him and apologized that I was being a little too harsh. With tears in his eyes, he said sorry too and that he understood how he had caused me much disappointment because of his lazy excuses and lies about his complete lack of preparation.
I clasped my boy tightly and kissed away the pain on his palms. The glow of the moon light seemed to encapsulate the lesson I learned that night— that parenting will never be an easy task as we choose to love and discipline our kids, laugh and cry along with them, stumble and get up together and fare forth. In fact, it’s painful at times. The words of Proverbs 22:6 spring naturally to mind: Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.
Our kids will thank us for doing what we needed to when we needed to do one fine day. It’s just like pruning — Much as it will create wound on the stem, it is a necessary step for young plants to remove deadwood, shape, transform and maintain health so that a denser yield can be observed during harvesting.