Family Squabbles

My son’s first ever advice to me.
Daddy: “Mummy is angry with Daddy, you know.”
Xander: “Because Daddy never listen to Mummy.”

Later the next day, my son’s first ever advice to his mother.
Mummy: “Mummy is still angry with Daddy, you know.”
Xander: “Because Daddy is a naughty boy.”
Xander: “Mummy, don’t be the angry with Daddy okay?”
Mummy: “Why? Mummy wants to be angry with Daddy.”
Xander: “Because I want Mummy to be happy.”

Go on, cry. We did.

Dear Xander,

There will be times when people who love each other disagree on some things, and you might witness what people call “family squabbles”.

I’d like to say (as I have heard others say to me when i was a child) that these are adult issues and that children have no place in them, but I will tell you honestly,as true as you are our son and we are your parents, you will be involved whether we intend it or not, and whether we like it or not. Also, a big fat chunk of the time, such quarrels are quite childish. Your mum and I have had big arguments over things as serious as money, to things as small as why Daddy’s toys are still on the floor (yes, Daddy’s toys, not yours), to something as strange as pork belly stewed in soya sauce.

Like I said, it gets strange.

The only reason why I am telling you all this is because as part of the same household, it is inevitable that you may witness some of these quarrels between me and your mother, and as much as we try to avoid it, sometimes, emotion will get the better of us. Your parents are only human, after all.

You need to know that we never mean to argue in front of you; for that matter, we never mean to argue. I would also like to assure you that no matter what your mother and I are arguing about, it is not your fault. Your mother and I have very strong characters; it is a big part of why I married your mother in the first place, and it continues to be why I love her.

I also have no doubt that you will grow up to have strong traits of your own; you, too, conduct your own little scuffles with your cousins when you are playing with them, much to your aunties’ and grandparents’ shock, and my awe. We have no intention of bringing you up as a fighter or a bully, but lessons in patience and understanding are learned over a long process, and sometimes over very hard trials and tribulations. Your mother and I are still trying to learn these lessons to this day.

In the meantime, we do seek your patience and understanding whenever the loud stuff happens, and I assure you that your mother and I continue to love each other as we always do, both despite and because of our differences. As your mother would always say to me whenever I ask her why she married me, “There’s never a dull moment.”



The Economics of Chinese New Year

Dear Xander,

For the next 15-20 years, this will probably be your favourite holiday of the year; you get 2 days off school (or work) for the price of 1 holiday, the snacks and food are nothing short of a royal feast, you get to run from one place to another visiting everyone, and this time of year, people are giving out free money.

But as the Chinese New Years go by for your dear old dad, I have come to learn the values tied to these annual traditions and rituals, and I impart them to you for your reference for when you come of age and start wondering what is going on as well.

The value behind the obligatory visiting of friends and relatives is obvious enough; masked behind an auspicious superstition of “bringing good luck” to the homes of those you are acquainted with, the act itself ensures that ties with the people around you are maintained at least on an annual basis, and as such, the “good luck” you hear in all entrance greetings is really the support that you offer as a kith or kin.

Courtesy of your mother: her (very successful) 1st attempt!

The abundance of food and drink in every home, while representing an abode that is and will be well stocked for the rest of the year, arises more from 2 points of practicality: one, that you are well prepared to feed the sudden influx of visitors, and two, to keep the lesser acquainted occupied with food in their mouths in order to avoid awkward conversations.

Having the celebrations officially run over a 2-day period opens up visit-planning schedules for more flexibility. Can’t make it on the first day? Come on  the second. And if you can’t do both, bear in mind Chinese New Year (“CNY”) traditionally runs over 15 days, not just 2 (the government can’t afford their economy coming to a standstill for more than 2 days by allowing their workforce to play mahjong for 2 weeks); this is for the more calculative to subliminally catch those who try to avoid the festivities altogether by going overseas for an opportunistic vacation.

The “free money” bit (a.k.a. your red packets) seems the most complex issue for parents to manage. This is where you come in for us, your parents. You see, the overarching rule for CNY red packet distribution is that parents and married couples are the ones to give and children and the unmarried are the ones to receive, during this time of year, we consider you to have been born for the sole reason of of taking back what we dish out. If you think about it on a deeper level, this also works out for the purposes of expanding our nation’s population: the more children a family unit has, the more they can collect back. As an only child, you probably can imagine how your mother and I are feeling about giving you more brothers and sisters during this time.

It’s also when all the other traditions mentioned come together in support of the economics of the red packet tradition (which incidentally also translates well into marketing terminology): we meticulously plan our visitation schedule (develop our campaign timeline), offer up food and drink in abundance when people visit us (building up positive brand reputation), visit as many friends and relatives as our social circle and influence will allow (engaging our market audience), spare no one in the process over the 15-day period (ensure as wide a reach as possible), and make sure you’re around everywhere we go, dressed in your holiday best, acting your cutest, and having the best time of your life (you’re the cash cow).

Work hard for us this holiday season, son. We’re counting on you.



You Are Your Father’s Son

Dear Xander,

Based on feedback garnered from the readers of this blog (in other words, your mother), I shall keep my letters to you shorter and sharper.

Your mother also has some opinion of your character development. Besides some of the other characteristics and behaviour you exhibit that take after me, she has noticed in recent months that both you and your father (me) seem to get into trouble with your mother at around the same time; she finds herself scolding you about something, and then scolding ME about 2 or 3 minutes later, for an unconnected yet related incident.

For example:

Your mother (to you): “XANDER TAY! Why did you throw your dirty clothes at mummy’s face?!”

(3 minutes later)

Your mother (to me): “Oi! Why are your clothes on the floor and not in the laundry basket?!”

(Your mother has dispensed with calling me by name some time ago, but bear in mind, you aren’t allowed to call any of us “Oi”.)

That being said, your mother and I are now very glad that we can have much more intelligible conversations with you over the dinner table, a phenomenon that developed just as you turned 3, but the one chain of Q and A you learned from your Auntie Susie (my 2nd sister) that will always melt our hearts (extended family included) has always been this:

Your mother: “Do you love mummy?”
You: “I love you.”
Your mother; “How much?”
You: “Forever.”

We are going to hold you to that promise, kid.



The History of Your Name

Dear Xander,

I Not Monkey Tay!

Just before you turned 3, your parents had a tendency to compare your disobedient, uncooperative self to the behaviour of a monkey. Your mother, in particular, would ask you if your name was Monkey Tay (among other personality disorders evidenced in the audio recording above) instead of Xander Tay whenever you misbehaved, to which your response would always be an angry “NO, I AM NOT MONKEY. I AM XANDER!” (I should, at this point, extend my apologies to our primate cousins for such a discriminatory remark, in case one day scientific progress allows the events documented in the various Planet of the Apes to become reality, and a monkey should inadvertently chance upon this blog post and take offence.)

It got me to thinking we probably did right by choosing this name for you since you like it so much as to happily (or, in this case, angrily) take full ownership of it. Your dad never felt the same way about his own name for a long time (particularly my Chinese name, because it sounds like a girl’s name, and many times in my youth friends used it to indicate I was “full and round”). So in the hopes of giving you a much better idea of how we chose your name (both English and Chinese), I hereby present you with The History of Your Name.

We didn’t actually firm up the decision on your name until maybe half a day after you were born, but we did come up with some ideas which I documented in my own blog. Your name is taken from not 1, but 2 fictional characters of the time:

  • Xander Harris from the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer circa 1997-2003
  • Xander Cage from the movie xXx circa 2002

The Buffy character was my favourite from the series, for his quick wit and dry humour. He was also very resilient and able to overcome much diversity such as surviving numerous vampire fights, living with a demon girlfriend and not getting into college (that last one I’m hoping you don’t follow in your namesake’s footsteps).

Xander Cage was played by Vin Diesel, your mother’s all-time favourite musclebound hairless actor with the sexy deep voice. I’m planning on putting up the movie banner in your room to commemorate this fact.

We also chose the initial “X” because it is believed to be the most marketable letter of our time. Notable examples include, the X-men, Xena: Warrior Princess, Windows XP and more recently, The X-Factor.

It was your Chinese name that gave us a bit of a problem. We finally settled on giving you a single-character name, and initially we were going to go for “义”, transliterated as “justice” (not to mention it’s got an X in it), but just to be sure, we sought the professional advice of former local Mandarin pop singer turned frozen dim sum distributor Ken Tay (郑展伦; look it up). The entire process – done over SMS – went something like:

Me: “Hi Ken, would like some advice on choosing my kid’s Chinese name. Is ‘义’ okay?”

Ken: “A single character name?”

Me: “Yep.”

Ken: “Too literal, how about ‘宇’ (yu: universe)?”

Me: “Cool, thanks.”

And thus, your Chinese name was officially endorsed by an 90’s celebrity.

Your aunt, my 3rd sister, who also thought of using 宇 before Ken came along, said we could play around with your dialect name and name you after a video game console; hence, Tay Wii. Unfortunately, we couldn’t reach Nintendo for a sponsorship agreement on that decision.

And that, my boy, is the story of your name; the culmination of 4 uber-famous entities centered around the marketability of a single alphabetical character.

Love, Dad

Auld Lang Syne 2012

Dear Xander,

There’s a whole lot of things you’ve said and done in the three years of your life that we wish we could continue hanging on to. For example, we attempted to make a plaster mould of your foot to remember how tiny you were at 3 months old, but you refused to co-operate for 6 months. We did, however, succeed in using a picture of your 3-month-old sleeping self to recreate an Ip Man movie poster with your name on it, copies of which now hang proudly in our and your respective grandparents’ households.

In fact, part of the reason why you have this blog is so we can document some of these things for remembrance. It’s quite amazing what a 3-year-old can say and do, and many times your mum and I are left wondering where you learnt all of it from. For instance:-

1. When you yawn, your mum and I cannot help but smile, not just because it’s one of the cutest things we get to see on a regular basis, but also because it means half an hour after you do, we finally get to have a few hours of peace.

2. Since you were 3 months old, you have almost always managed to sleep through the night, something your mum and I are told is rare and should should be considered a blessed gift from the heavens, though never to be taken for granted.

3. You have days where you actually volunteer to go to bed.

4. The days that you don’t volunteer, we enlist the help of a hypothetical Mr Thunder to scare you into submission.

5. Back in your old daycare centre at Guillemard – before you turned 2 – you managed to score 3 girlfriends in the span of 5 months, and 2 of them were actually pretty (the 3rd we suspect was trying to force herself on you).

I cannot explain why, but this photo always makes my hair stand.

6. In your current daycare centre, you have 1 girlfriend, although your mum and I suspect that this relationship is also not your idea.

7. You either really liked CSI, Criminal Minds and Cold Case, or you didn’t have a choice because you were 6 months old and were not emotionally or linguistically equipped to protest.

8. You inherited your mother’s patience (none) and my speech habits (loud). You also have a violent streak of which we have yet to determine the source.

9. You never liked eating candy; you liked asking for them, but they wouldn’t stay in your mouth very long. Your liking for chocolate was a rather recent development, though.

10. You have a penchant for secondary underdog characters in movies and television shows (albeit strongly developed ones); your favourite Care Bears are Grumpy and Oopsie, your favorite Cars character is Mater the Tow Truck, in Monsters Inc. it was Mike the one-eyed green thing (I agree; Billy Crystal stole the show), and you named your stuffed Ikea labrador Pluto. On hindsight, you may have subliminally understood that you were named after a secondary character from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (we’ll elaborate on that later).

11. When you were 2, you took ownership of the vampire teddy bear your mother bought from a Godiva store in Belgium, and haven’t returned it since.

12. When things don’t go your way, you disavow all like or love for anyone that stand in your way, including your parents. This usually works for you when you’re dealing with your grandparents, but your mum and I never gave you a choice in the matter anyway.

13. Your reply to any “why” question was always “Because” followed by repeating the context of the same question, i.e. “Why you don’t like Daddy?” “Because I don’t like Daddy.”

14. You actually like Teresa Teng songs. For that matter, anything Chinese you see (lion dances, red lanterns, Buddhist temples and pagodas) gets you excited; we would call you a true-blue Chinese boy.

I will endeavor to consolidate an annual list for every New Year, not so much to embarrass you on a publicly accessible forum, but for you to know these are the things your mum and I will remember of you growing up.

And possibly use as reference to explain any future psychological patterns you may develop.

Love, Dad.