June 25, 2017

Authors Posts by Brenda Tan

Brenda Tan

Brenda Tan
Wife. Mother. Daughter-in-law. Sister. Aunty. Friend. Entrepreneur with global practice. HDB Heartlander. And perpetual parent volunteer.

by Brenda Tan

SCHOOL lunch times have been in the news – why are our kids having their mid-day meal so late?

I’ve taken to preparing a packed lunch for my daughter. It takes me 10-15 minutes in the morning.

I invest in good thermal food containers that keep food hot or cold for a long period. I also plan a weekly menu so that I’m not usually stumped for what to cook for her. Moreover, this menu is a guide that gives me flexibility. If we have lots of leftover from dinner, I can simply reheat and pack it for her as lunch. I also take note of her favourite foods and what works well for her meal and what don’t, so that the meal can be refined.

Here are some tips and tricks, and recipes, for packing a lunchbox meal:

Tips for packing school lunch

Tip #1 – Prepare the food container

To ensure that the thermal food containers are at their optimal temperatures, put in boiling water and seal the container while cooking. Then, when the food is ready, pour away the water before putting the hot food into the container. Do likewise using ice cold water for cold foods.

Tip #2 – Calculate nutritional value over a whole day rather than in one meal

While I try to ensure that the lunch follows recommended food groups and servings, sometimes it’s difficult to do so with a packed meal. It’s easier to remember that if the kids do not get their serving of fruits and vegetables at lunch, they can do so in a snack when they get home.

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1. Japanese cold noodles with dipping sauce

Image from Brenda Tan's Facebook page.
Image from Brenda Tan’s Facebook page.

My children’s number one favourite and very easy to make.


Soba noodles (or udon noodles)
Katsuo Atsukezuritsuyu (soba sauce)

  1. Cook the noodles in boiling water for about 5 minutes.
  2. Cool the noodles in ice water.
  3. Strain the cold noodles and put it into a cold food jar. Garnish with sesame seeds and cut seaweed.
  4. In a watertight container, dilute soba sauce with water.
  5. Kids can either dip the noodles in the sauce or pour the sauce over the noodles to eat.

I purchase the noodles and sauce from Daiso or from any Japanese supermarket.


2. Fried rice

Image from Brenda Tan's Facebook page.
Image from Brenda Tan’s Facebook page.

It’s easy to prepare the ingredients ahead and store it in the fridge. Cooking the fried rice takes only a few minutes and the rice keeps its heat very well for lunch as a balanced meal.


Leftover rice
Leftover meat from dinner, diced (or marinated raw meat, diced)
Leftover vegetables from dinner, diced (or frozen vegetables)
1/2 onion, chopped
1 egg

  1. Heat up oil in a frying pan and fry the chopped onions. If using raw meat, cook the meat when the frying onions turn fragrant.
  2. Add the rice and stir-fry to break the rice up. Add the leftover ingredients or the frozen vegetable. Fry and mix the ingredients well.
  3. Move the rice mix aside and crack the egg into the frying pan. Stir-fry the mix again and incorporate the egg.
  4. Add pepper and salt to taste.
  5. Put into a warm food jar.

A variation to fried rice would be to make rice pancakes. Leftover rice and frozen vegetables are mixed with eggs into a batter, with a little salt and pepper. The batter is spooned into small round pancakes on a hot frying pan to cook. When the rice-and-egg batter firms up, the pancake is flipped and is done.


3. Noodle soup

Image from Brenda Tan's Facebook page.
Image from Brenda Tan’s Facebook page.

Noodle soup is easy to prepare ahead and delicious for lunch. The trick is to keep the soup hot in the thermal food jar and to add it to the noodles and vegetables when it is time to eat. My daughter found it easier to pour the hot soup into the noodles so I usually pack the noodles in a lunchbox that can accommodate the soup. This meal is good for older kids as it might be difficult for younger children to deal with hot soup.


Cooked noodles
Leftover soup broth from dinner or use chicken stock for the base
Slices of fish cake
Leafy vegetable like chye sim, cut into one-inch pieces

  1. Boil noodles and vegetables until cooked. Drain and put these in a lunchbox.
  2. If using chicken stock, fry some chopped onions and garlic before adding the stock to give the soup more flavour. Add the fishballs and fish cake slices. When the soup boils, pour it into a thermal food jar.


4. Spaghetti aglio olio

Image from Brenda Tan's Facebook page.
Image from Brenda Tan’s Facebook page.

Another favourite of my kids, this only requires three basic ingredients:

Olive oil (enough to coat cooked spaghetti, about 2 tablespoons)
Minced garlic (usually half a teaspoon for one portion)

  1. Cook the spaghetti in water, with some salt and olive oil added.
  2. While the spaghetti is almost done, in a separate large frying pan, fry the minced garlic in the olive oil on medium heat until fragrant.
  3. Drain the spaghetti, leaving about 1 or 2 tablespoons of its water with the noodles.
  4. Add the spaghetti and water to the frying pan. Stir to combine well with the garlic. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Depending on the kid’s request or whether I have the ingredients on hand, I sometimes add chopped tomato or mushrooms, or even bacon to the spaghetti.


5. Easy macaroni and cheese

Image from Brenda Tan's Facebook page.
Image from Brenda Tan’s Facebook page.

Another family favourite, but for packed mac & cheese in the morning, I make a “cheater” version.


Elbow macaroni (or fusilli pasta or any kinds of pasta)
Evaporated milk
Cheddar cheese, 1 slice


  1. Measure how much pasta could fit into the container. Then pour enough evaporated milk to cover all the pasta. If you don’t have evaporated milk, just use plain milk. The evaporated milk gives a creamier texture to the mac & cheese. Pour out the pasta and milk into a microwave safe dish and heat it up for about 2 to 3 minutes. (You don’t have to fully cook the pasta as it will continue to cook in the thermal jar for the next 4 hours.)
  2. If you don’t have a microwave, just estimate the amount of pasta and evaporated milk you’ll need. Boil the pasta (using water) until it is semi-cooked. Drain it and then continue cooking the pasta in the evaporated milk.
  3. Add a slice of cheddar cheese to the dish and stir to mix well. If the milk dried out too fast, just add milk or water to the dish. Add salt and pepper, dried herbs like oregano or basil, to taste.
  4. If using the microwave, put the dish back into the microwave for another minute to melt the cheese. If using the stove, just make sure to stir the cheese into the pasta until it’s melted.
  5. Put the mac & cheese into a thermal jar for it to continue cooking.


Easy and healthy snacks

These are easily packed into small lunch boxes for the kid’s breaks:

  • Nuts (eg. almond, peanuts, cashews). Buy in larger quantity. Pack the amount desired into the kid’s airtight lunch boxes to reduce waste.
  • Fruits (eg. grapes, apple slices, blueberries, strawberries, cherry tomatoes, kiwi fruit, melon, bananas). Fruits tastes better if cooled and kept in a cold thermal jar. For small fruit items like grapes or blueberries, it may be faster for the kid to eat them if they are skewered on a food pick.
  • Cooked chickpeas. I buy this in a can, drain the water and heat it up in a microwave with water and a stick of cinnamon. The chickpeas are then cooled before packing them into a lunch box.
  • Vegetables (eg. celery sticks, carrot sticks, cucumber sticks, corn cup).
  • Cheese sticks or cheese cubes. To ensure cheese keeps well, I usually put them in cold thermal jars.
  • Hard-boiled eggs. To make it fun, I usually use an egg mould to shape the eggs.
  • Sandwiches and buns. These are great stand-by for a quick snack box.


Read our other stories on primary school late lunches:

Why do our primary school kids have such LATE lunches?

MOE responds to lunch break story


Featured image by Pixabay user yujun. (CC0 1.0)

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by Brenda Tan

THIS year, seven more primary schools in Singapore have switched to be single-session schools, leaving only eight primary schools as double-session schools. This is in line with the recommendation of the Primary Education Review and Implementation (PERI) committee made in 2009.

Single-session schools have a greater flexibility in maximising the use of facilities and arranging staff schedules, enabling school leaders to focus on executing programmes without needing to think about how they would affect the afternoon session’s school hours, or where to hold the student body without affecting either school session.

Newer directives like Form Teacher Guidance Period and daily classroom cleaning are accommodated simply by extending school dismissal time. Thus, the dismissal time in many single-session primary schools has been steadily shifted from 12:55pm to 1:45pm over the years.

To help children cope with the extended dismissal time, schools are now directed to allow students a five to 10-minute break for snacks between 11:30am and 12:30pm in class.

As a parent of two primary school children, I wonder if this is enough for our children to deal with the very real issue of hunger.

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Unlike my P3 son, my P5 daughter takes the school bus to school. My son gets home at about 2pm for lunch, but with the extended dismissal time, my daughter gets home at about 2:50pm. She’s by no means the last student to get off her bus; she tells me her friends often complain of hunger on the bus, and their lunch times are past 3pm!

My daughter gets on her bus at 6:20am, but as a P5 student, her recess is at a relatively late time of 10:45am — about 4 hours later. Her snack break comes at 12pm, which is usually too short for more than a quick snack of fruits or biscuits, and then the next time she eats is 2:50pm.

She’s not alone going through such long hours between food breaks.

A P1 child I know gets on her bus at 6:05am, with her recess at 10:15am. She doesn’t get home until 3:30pm. Unfortunately, on the first day of school, with all the logistical issues her teacher had to focus on, her class wasn’t given that 10-minute snack break. The poor girl was famished by the time she got home!

Unlike recess, the snack break is usually held in class and the children are not allowed to go to the canteen buy food. Thus, kids who don’t have a snack in the form of lunch boxes of fruits or sandwiches, would bring in packets of biscuits, seaweeds, or crisps to consume in class. My son tells me that sometimes, his classmates would forget to pack snacks and they would have to go without, or hope that someone would share their snacks with them.

However, I wonder if that short break to wolf down a quick snack is enough to sustain the children until their very late lunches, especially for those who commute by school bus, where eating is restricted on the bus.

Studies are clear that nutrition and learning go hand-in-hand. In one study, the American Psychological Association found that hunger can cause depression, anxiety, and withdrawal, hindering a child from focusing on education. A single child’s behavior in class can affect the rest of the students, the teacher’s attention, and the overall learning atmosphere.

Another study conducted an experiment where a class was told to skip breakfast one morning, and then half the class were given a good breakfast at school, while the other received nothing. During the first part of the morning, the children who had breakfast learned more and misbehaved less (as judged by observers who didn’t know which children had eaten). Later, after all the children were given a healthy snack, “the differences disappeared as if by magic”.

While I don’t think our Singaporean children are malnourished, being hungry in class does affect their ability to focus.

Being hungry in class does affect our children’s ability to focus.

If we take workers’ welfare seriously and institute work breaks and lunch breaks to ensure their productivity and well-being, why aren’t we doing the same for our kids?

Even when I run full-day adult workshops, my participants expect to have 15-minute morning and afternoon tea breaks and an hour-long lunch – why then do we expect our children to be learning optimally when they aren’t given timely food breaks for nutrition and socialisation?

I also wonder at how much time there is for children to learn healthy eating habits. The onus is on parents to prepare healthy snacks not only for recess, but for the break as well. The canteen is usually too crowded to buy freshly cooked food in time, even with staggered recess timing. And children simply don’t have the time to both sit down for a meal and be actively playing with their friends – I know which of the two activities my son would opt for during recess!

Most nutrition sites just list the kinds of food that are recommended for rapidly growing kids, but very few sites focus on when older children ought to eat. Even our Health Promotion Board’s ‘Raising Heathy Kids’ eBook recommends breakfast at 8am, lunch at noon, dinner at 6pm, and snacks for when active children are hungry between meals. This recommendation could only be carried out if the children are on school vacations or if they are in pre-school.


What can we do?

So what can we realistically do about our primary school kids’ late lunches?

Apart from highlighting to their schools if your child gets home after 3pm for lunch, perhaps it may be helpful to see if schools can switch their recess and break times.

If schools have their snack break between 9am and 10am, then they could have their staggered recess from 11am onwards. The longer recess timing might allow children to have more time to eat a heavier meal, which could sustain them better for their journey home, whether their lunch is at 2pm or 3pm.

Another thing parents could do is to pack foods that measure lower on the glycaemic index (GI). Foods with a low GI such as nuts, vegetables, and beans are digested more slowly and release energy more slowly than high GI food such as white bread and sugar. Also, pack high-fibre foods which help reduce hunger between meals.

I also invest in good thermal food containers to pack food for my children’s recess. These thermal food containers may be bulkier to bring to school, but they keep cold foods like sushi and fruits, and warm foods like fried rice very well. I also explore interesting and “fast to eat” food for their snacks, to avoid relying on energy bars that may contain high levels of processed sugar. For example, I skewer grapes with food picks so that during the snack break, these can be easily eaten in a few quick mouthfuls.

That said, I hope that schools and teachers are more mindful about their children’s nutrition, which often gets forgotten in the daily grind. Unlike heading to the staff room between lessons for a quick short bite, our kids don’t have that luxury when keeping to school rules regarding eating in class or on the school bus.

We do want our children to obey school rules and be disciplined, but we also need to create an environment that helps them to grow up strong and healthy.


Read our other stories on primary school late lunches:

MOE responds to lunch break story

5 quick and easy meals for a lunchbox


Featured image Nan Hua High School Canteen by Wikicommons user JinKai97 (CC BY-SA 4.0).

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Cancer Journey

by Brenda Tan

DECEMBER is usually a perfect time of reflection to contemplate on our life’s journey taken for the year – the pitfalls and detours, the challenges overcame, and the support and love we encounter along the way. It’s a time we take stock of what we learned about ourselves and look forward to a new year, refreshed with the clarity of hindsight, to give us both insight in responding to the present and foresight to prepare for the future.

As a Christian and a mother of school-going children though, the December vacation is also an immensely busy time of church festivities, family outings and celebrations, and preparation for school reopening. You can see why this much-needed time for quiet personal reflection is hard to come by. Still, it’s a necessary pause, otherwise the overwhelming activities of the season may just cause us to miss taking stock of the year at this natural pitstop.


Hungry no more

“I’ve even had my mediport removed and had an X-ray done to confirm that that surgery was a success.”

My last update on The Middle Ground regarding my cancer journey was in July, about the midway point in my chemotherapy sessions. Since completing all 12 of my chemo sessions in November, I’ve undergone a CT scan, an MRI, and another endoscopy to confirm that I’m currently cancer-free. I’ve even had my mediport removed and had an X-ray done to confirm that that surgery was a success. On the horizon now are quarterly check-ups over the next few years, to make sure that nothing (to quote my new favourite word from my oncologist) “exciting” is seen in my health report.

Due to my no longer having a stomach, both my surgeon and oncologist had advised me post-surgery to “eat everything” in order to retain my body mass to undergo the chemo sessions more successfully. My surgeon even suggested dark chocolates as a component of my diet, something which I most happily complied. My only food restriction was taking TCM herbs, as my oncologist was concerned that my liver may be overtaxed, if it had to deal with both the chemo-meds and the TCM herbs.

Thus, I ate as much as I could, and as often as I could, regardless of whether I was hungry or not. Apparently, without a stomach, I could no longer feel hungry. Living in food-crazy Singapore, though, I had constant reminders of good eats on my Facebook news feed, and more importantly, I’m still blessed with taste-buds! Thus, I managed to refrain from losing too much weight during the chemotherapy sessions, although I did lose enough muscle mass that my clothes no longer fit.

Although I was able to eat everything, including my favourite chilli padi, the problem was knowing just how much is enough and how much is too much. The ideal quantity varies with different types of food, and I’d feel terrible if I accidentally overeat.

Like not feeling hungry, I’m no longer able to judge satiation, and by the time I know I’m “full”, it’s usually too late. While the sensation of severe heartburn usually passes within half an hour of lying down, it’s having to wait until I feel comfortable that adds to a tiredness and fear of eating.

To overcome this, I pace myself at mealtimes. I fix the quantity that I’m able to consume on my plate (giving priority to my favourite dishes) and eat much more slowly than my companions.

After all, there is a limit to how much I can consume at one sitting.


Back in the saddle again

Prior to my cancer diagnosis, I was an avid distance cyclist, clocking 50 to 60 km rides with my husband late in the night or in the early mornings, once or twice a week if work allowed. We had also taken part in a few bike rallies and cycling fundraisers on my foldable bike, riding the 80 km to 100 km distance challenges.

“…with encouragement from my husband, I finally got back on my bicycle for a short 4km ride with him”

We had planned to cycle the 633 km Four Rivers Bicycle Trail from Seoul to Busan in March with my eldest son, when it was disrupted by my diagnosis and surgery, and I haven’t ridden on a bicycle since. However, with encouragement from my husband, I finally got back on my bicycle for a short 4km ride with him on Dec 10.

My Seoul to Busan bike ride was supposed to be a pre-Poly admission trip with my son, to spend some quality time with him before he started his new phase of education. With my cancer, not only was the trip cancelled, I wasn’t able to be there for him on his first day at Poly.

Missing my son’s first day at Poly wasn’t the only thing the cancer derailed. Besides missing milestones on the homefront, my work plans for conducting regional workshops, attending conferences, and work for clients had to be cancelled or redirected to work associates to fulfill.

Nonetheless, even though I’m feeling stronger now that I’ve completed the chemotherapy sessions, my oncologist warned me that recovery from the sessions may take between six months to a year – or even longer.

So I face a tension – to reclaim my life before the cancer, yet to do it at a pace that allows for my body to recover well. Unfortunately, so far I’ve not been very good at pacing – it’s usually when I’m paralysed with exhaustion at the end of the day that I realise that my enthusiasm to get back on track and do everything may need to be readjusted.

Thus, like my eating habits, my judgment on how much I can do is impaired. I’ve got to learn to fix the quantity that I’m able to consume on my plate time-wise (giving priority to my favourite activities or more urgent needs) and allow myself to go slow and take time.

But it’s sometimes really hard to remember about my permanent gutless state, when life tastes so good!

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Much to be thankful for

“…when we keep our focus on the people around us and off ourselves, even the most arduous journey can be a meaningful one”

At the close of 2016, I’m actually grateful for this year’s cancer detour.

It has reminded me once more that life’s journey is lived through faith, people, and love: That even when I’m showered with support, I’m still able to comfort and bless – still able to listen, to hold, to seek the well-being for others by praying for their needs; that when we keep our focus on the people around us and off ourselves, even the most arduous journey can be a meaningful one of forging friendships and deepening relationships.

And that we are still blessed with an opportunity and ability to say a sincere “thank you” to everyone who has blessed us in their encouragement on our journey –

So, thank you, my family, friends, well-wishers, and prayer warriors! You’ve all made this journey of mine one that’s expanded my horizon and affirmed my belief in the goodwill of people.

It’s as the Christmas angels proclaim: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!”

Have a blessed Christmas, and a fruitful 2017!


Brenda is a columnist, and a friend, of The Middle Ground. Read her other pieces, in a series of occasional columns on her journey with stomach cancer:

  1. No stomach for cancer
  2. Reframing cancer as an opportunity to grow
  3. Mummy musings: Mothering through cancer
  4. Midway checkpoint on my cancer journey 


Featured image by Sean Chong.

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It's not just an exam: scores matter

by Brenda Tan

IT’S that time of the year again. Parents will be working furiously to ensure their children work hard to ace their exams. The more anxious may even take leave from work, or up the number of tuition sessions for mock exam papers to be completed, marked, and corrected. The goal: to get their kids’ scores within the 90-mark zones.

But there’s something a little different this time round.

This exam season, there are more calls for parents to look beyond their children’s grades. There’s even a viral post that started from a school in Kolkata, that has been re-attributed to “a school principal in Singapore”, reminding anxious parents that while they want their children to do well, their children have talents and dreams that may not correlate to scoring well in a school subject that they show little interest in.

It reminds parents that “if your child does get top marks, that’s great! But, if he or she doesn’t, please don’t take away their self-confidence and dignity from them. Tell them it’s OK, it’s just an exam!” That “no matter what they score, you love them and will not judge them”, “One exam or a low mark won’t take away their dreams and talent.”

While I agree with the sentiments of the post in principle, I do not think simply telling our kids that their scores don’t matter is the right way to go.

Realistically, if the scores don’t matter, then how would we know that the child has mastered the subject? If the scores don’t matter, then how would we know where the issue is in learning, and where to improve? That the scores matter enough to decide which class, and in the case of the PSLE, which school to go to, it’s disingenuous to tell our children that their scores don’t matter.

That said, it’s important that we help our children to put their scores in context.

If we know our kids have been working hard and have been consistent in getting good grades in school, a one-time bad score would already cause our children distress — it’s not helpful to add our disappointment to theirs by focussing on the grade. How would getting angry with our kids help the situation?

Besides, this is the best opportunity for a lesson in resilience!


1. Help our children talk about how they feel about their result.

Helping our children identify and articulate their emotions is one step forward to helping them take control of their emotions and dealing with disappointments.

They may be feeling guilty in not doing well and disappointing us. They could be feeling angry that the paper was “tricky” and all their hard work was “wasted”. They could be feeling that they are simply stupid and that there’s no point in working hard since they cannot make the grade. Or they might be feeling fear that they’ve lost all hope to go to a “good” class or school.

On our part, we need to help our kids accept that what’s done is done, and while their emotions are natural when we don’t do as well as we expect, we can choose to accept the situation and do something more constructive instead.


2. Help our children review the situation.

What caused that bad grade? Was it a particularly tough question or two? Did he or she misunderstand the question? Was it a situation of bad time management?

Working through that exam paper calmly with our kids and helping them master the areas that they did not get right teaches them that resilience is a matter of review, correction, and being prepared to show mastery the next time they face that same issue.


3. Encourage our children to see where they have done well.

At the Parent-Teacher-Child meeting for my son in primary one last year, his teacher and I didn’t focus on his grades, but we celebrated with my son that he could finally write sentences that consistently had space breaks between words. This fed his confidence to feel that he was doing something right in English, and his attitude towards the subject remained positive.

What could be points of celebration for our children in spite of the poor score? Could it be that they have shown mastery in topics that frustrated them during revision, but they did well for in the exams? Could it be a particularly good phrase they used in their composition? Or for doing consistently well in their Spelling tests throughout the term?

Acknowledging their negative emotions; reviewing the situation and rectifying it; and taking stock of the positives in the bad situation are three steps that can help our kids to build up a lifelong habit in dealing with any failure or disappointment.

I’m reminded of PM Lee Hsien Loong’s National Day Rally speech this year (Aug 21), where he concluded that his wish for Singapore is to have a “divine discontent” – being not quite satisfied with what we have, always driven to do better – and the “wisdom to count our blessings”.

I already see plenty of both “divine discontent” and “wisdom to count our blessings” in Singaporeans in our wish to better our lives, while counting our blessings.

We just need real opportunities to teach our next generation to follow suit.


Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Brenda Tan

“MY FAMILY is crazy!” wailed my 17-year-old teenager. “I’m supposed to be the one wild about Pokemon, but my father’s got more Pokemon and rarer Pokemon than me! Even Di-di has more Pokemon than I do! Hey, I’m suppose to be the gamer in this family!”

When Pokemon Go was launched on Saturday (August 6), my eldest was out of the house (and not on the computer!) for about an hour that morning, hunting Pokemon in the estate. He came back all excited about the Pokemon he caught, and the people he met, and where all the PokeStops were nearby.

The younger ones were extremely envious because their phones don’t have data roaming, only wifi access. Furthermore, they weren’t able to set up a Pokemon account because they are below 13 years old.

So, while waiting for dinner to be delivered that evening, I decided to download the app and set up the two younger kids’ Pokemon accounts under my parent account. After dinner, with their phones’ wifi tethered to my phone’s personal hotspot, my husband and I took the younger ones out for a short walkabout the estate – to see if we would have any success catching Pokemon beyond the initial one that came with downloading the App.


Water bottle
Water bottles, insect repellent, walking shoes and hats. That’s why Pokemon Hunters have a backpack! Fans optional.

We encountered the initial frustrations of learning what to do at a PokeStop (swipe to get Pokeballs and eggs), and quickly learnt that a buzz from the phone indicated a Pokemon was nearby. The kids took great delight in interacting with their environment and catching Pokemon — and so did my husband!

We encountered a group of teenagers on the hunt, and one of the boys gave me a sheepish smile, which I returned — our “hunting tribes” differed only in age. I also encountered Pokemon Trainers (as they preferred to be called) who hunted alone.

Due to my health, my family managed to complete only a short walk, but even then I was able to catch four Pokemon! My more active tribe members caught a few more creatures than I did.

The excitement didn’t end when we got back though. The eldest who had to remain behind for a school project meeting, took a break to lecture the young ones on the creatures they’ve caught, their values, and how to evolve them.  Needless to say, the younger ones went to bed that night happy and satisfied with the time they spent hunting.

The next day, my husband brought the young ones to Nex to visit the library, and while they were having lunch at MOS Burger, my husband caught 20 Pokemon, and the younger ones caught about 60 each!

When they got back home, their Kor-kor who was with his youth group for lunch were amazed by their haul, and he went on his little tirade. After dinner that night, the two younger kids got their dad to go for another hunt as a post-dinner workout!

Although I do see a lot of “Pokemon NO” posts on my Facebook feed and lots of references to Pokemon “zombies”, I’m actually glad that there is a game that is able to get my entire family excited, actively engaged in conversations, and spending time together.

My kids get active outdoors and discover their neighbourhood in greater detail (and intrinsically learning to read maps via the App), delighting in capturing Pokemon. I’m just happy that they aren’t lazing in a corner watching YouTube on their mobiles. The trio share tips about how to care for the creatures they caught, and strategise how to capture more Pokemon.

As for my Pokemon-expert teenager, all my husband or I need to do is to ask him for help, and he’s more than happy to spend time with his parents to teach us how to work the game. Who says teenagers are a sullen lot, who never have anything to say to their parents?

While the hype lasts, it’s really a good game for families, even if the only thing parents of younger kids do is to watch out for their children’s safety, as they look for Pokemon all over Singapore.

Our children’s enthusiasm for this game is understandable, as my eight-year-old puts it best: “We’re on a quest! An epic journey! We want to catch ‘em all!”

Stand at a safe place to catch the Pokemon
Stand at a safe place to catch the Pokemon

How do we start playing?

  1. Download the App on your smartphone.
  2. Create your account.
  3. Add children’s account and set security level.
  4. If your kids have their own phones but don’t have mobile data, you can create a personal hotspot with your phone, and tether the kids’ phones to yours. Tell your kids they need to stick close to you for the tethering to work, and they’ll stick to you like glue.


Where do we go?

The Pokemon Go app will show you where the PokeStops are in your area. PokeStops are where you can collect Pokeballs, which you will use to catch the Pokemon that appear.

Sunblock is a must
Sunblock is a must

If you’re hunting with the kids, it’s best to look for an area that has a cluster of PokeStops near each other, so that the kids can explore the area and be able to collect enough Pokeballs for catching Pokemon. The best places are parks and the PCNs, so it’s good to get the kids to get their ‘park gear’ ready – Water bottles for hydration, insect repellent, sunblock, walking shoes, hat and raincoats. That’s why Pokemon Hunters have a backpack!

For shorter hunts, look for nearby PokeStops in your estate. These can be a quick 30 min to 45 min hunt pre-dinner or post-dinner.

There are indoor areas, such as malls, where you can also hunt for Pokemon. However, the more interesting Pokemon and landmarks are usually found outdoors.


Safety first!

Look for a rest stop
  1. Set ground rules and enforce it. If you say a violation of rules means going home, go home. If your kids know you mean business, they’d toe the line quickly.
  2. Know your kids. Do they have the maturity to hunt apart from you? How far apart? Also, alert the kids to lookout for joggers, cyclists, rollerbladers because the PCNs and parks are shared spaces. In fact, the younger your kids, the more physically connected you should be with them. Hold their hands… or onto their backpacks.
  3. Teach your kids to only look at the phone intermittently, to check if they are within the area of the Pokestop. They don’t really need to look at the screen while walking. The phone will buzz if there’s a Pokemon in the area.
  4. When the phone buzzes, teach the kids to stand at a safe place, out of cyclists and joggers’ path to catch the Pokemon.
  5. Take note of the time and try to arrange for rest-stops near a PokeStop.


Learning points

Captured real creatures on camera (see the spider!)
  1. Regardless of where you’re hunting, get the kids to note something interesting at each PokeStop. Some PokeStop might have interesting write-ups in the app, while others could be more mundane. What else can the children see in the area that’s interesting?
  2. Along the way the kids might find Pokemon, but they might also find real creatures like insects, spiders, birds, or squirrels. Get the kids to “catch” these creatures on their mobile cameras and see if they can find out more about them later at home.
  3. As the kids look at the screen, teach them simple navigation skills like taking note of the compass, observing how the road looks like, and estimating how far the distance to walk between PokeStops.
  4. After the hunt, when the kids return home, teach them to look at their Pokemon and strategise with them about which Pokemon to exchange for candies, and which Pokemon to groom. A lot of these strategies are available online, and it would be good to explore them together with your kids.


What if my child gets addicted to Pokemon Go?

It’s doubtful that kids can get addicted to Pokemon Go in the same way they would be to a computer game, as part of the Pokemon Go game-play requires the gamer to walk some distance to catch Pokemon. Nonetheless, if your child is enthusiastic about the game, use it to your advantage as an incentive to get their chores and homework done quickly.


Featured image and photos by Brenda Tan. 

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Brelfie, breastfeading

by Brenda Tan

IT’S World Breastfeeding Week (1-7 August 2016) and I’m reminded again of my almost decade-long stint as my children’s source of nutrition, and how fortunate I am that I was able to make that choice to breastfeed all three of them.

Although we are often told that “Breast is Best”, I personally believe that a mother’s best runs the spectrum from formula-feeding, to a mix of both formula and breastfeeding, and of course, exclusive breastfeeding. The choice of where the mother lands on that spectrum depends a lot on factors such as the support the mother has to breastfeed, and what trade offs and sacrifices the family is willing to make for whatever advantages they opt for along that spectrum. You didn’t think breastfeeding is only a matter of simply putting baby to breast, did you?

Clearly, I’m all for breastfeeding promotion, but have you seen the latest brelfie trend? These are selfies of mothers breastfeeding their babies. It’s reportedly encouraged by the United Nations, no less.

Well, in my years of breastfeeding experience, I’ve never had an urge to take a photo of myself breastfeeding any of my kids. Perhaps mums, fiddling with their smartphones may find it an interesting way to while away the time during breastfeeding, but it simply isn’t something I’d find appealing to do.

There is only one photo in cyberspace (and honestly, on this entire planet) of me breastfeeding my daughter. It was taken by Channel News Asia in 2006, where along with 82 other mothers, I participated in a public nursing event to celebrate World Breastfeeding Week that year. Even then, I managed to be discreet in the way I breastfed my daughter.

As a breastfeeding mother, I sometimes wonder at brelfies and photos of breastfeeding mothers that I come across online. It seems strange to me that these mothers would unbutton their shirts top down (or even to pull their t-shirts from the collar down), when it’s more discreet and comfortable to unbutton their shirts from bottom up. In fact, with a fussy baby demanding milk at once, practical breastfeeding mums would be wearing quick-release nursing bras and easy access nursing shirts, doing away entirely with shirts that need to be buttoned.

Perhaps the UN is right that brelfies may get more people talking about breastfeeding as an option for infant nutrition, but I wonder what kind of discussion brelfies would really encourage?

Frankly, I’m not too keen to see a picture of my friends feeding their baby, no matter how tastefully done.


Featured image by Sean Chong. 

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Cancer Journey

by Brenda Tan

IT HAS been about five months since my stomach cancer diagnosis in February, and I’ve completed six out of 12 of my chemotherapy cycles.

I’m currently at the midpoint of my cancer treatment and it’s a good time to review my cancer journey to date:

1. I don’t like being called a “cancer warrior”

A few friends, to cheer me on this journey, have called me a “cancer warrior”. I usually chuckle over this unexpected moniker because the image of a warrior – armed, tired and bloody from a battle – isn’t my experience of what I go through.

I don’t mean to belittle other cancer patients who are brave and courageous in facing their cancer treatments with the mentality of a warrior, but for me, I see my cancer as part of my life journey in living through it, rather than “fighting for my life”.

I see my cancer as part of my life journey in living through it, rather than “fighting for my life”.


2. Cancer has its own vocabulary

“Cancer warrior” is just part of the vocabulary that I have encountered while on this journey. Other terms referring to the cancer patient include “cancer survivor” (the definition has been expanded to include patients undergoing treatment), or “cancer overcomer” (a recent term, as some cancer patients don’t identify with either the label “warrior’ or “survivor”).

I too, don’t think these labels suit what I feel about my condition, but I’m stumped about how to deal with people’s sensitivities around cancer, especially when I tell them I have cancer. It sometimes feels like I’m not suppose to say “I have cancer” because then “cancer wins”. I wonder if people label diabetics as “diabetes warriors”? Or if saying someone has a history of hypertension means “hypertension wins”? There seems to be a taboo around talking about living with cancer even when more people are diagnosed with cancer year on year, due to cancer screenings and early detection.

It sometimes feels like I’m not suppose to say “I have cancer” because then “cancer wins”.

And then there are the medical jargon I had to learn about my condition and treatment, which led me to discover some really interesting facts about cancer.

For example, according to the information booklet from National University Cancer Institute, Singapore (NCIS), there are about 200 known types of cancer. Each cancer would have a different treatment, and actually, each cancer patient has his or her own personal treatment plan tailored to their cancer, its extent, and the health of the patient.

Even a term like “chemotherapy” doesn’t refer to only one kind of drug or treatment. Chemotherapy is a course of treatment that involves medication that is taken orally, applied, or infused to the body. Some cancers require treatments like radiotherapy, where radiation is used to destroy cancer cells, or hormone therapy, where hormones are used to impede cancer growth.

For many patients, the treatment plan involves a combination of treatments – I’ve had surgery to remove my stomach, and I opted for infusion (rather than oral medication) for my chemotherapy.

The treatment plan is also a guide rather than something set in stone. Each time before I go for my chemotherapy session, I have to get a blood test done to check my health status. I’ve had to postpone some of my chemotherapy sessions by a week due to low white blood count. Therefore, I don’t have an “end date” for my treatment plan, even though I have only six more chemotherapy sessions ahead of me.

With this basic knowledge about types of cancer and its different treatment plans, it is little wonder that whenever I see cancer quackery with headlines like “Eat this fruit to cure cancer!” or “Chemo kills more than cancer!” that are re-posted online, I wish I could ask the people who write these articles what type of cancer the article said eating the fruit would cure, or which particular chemotherapy drug is the one killing more than the cancer itself. When an article can’t get the basics about cancer right, it’s a sure sign that the article is a hoax set up to prey on readers’ fear about cancer.


3. The real heroes are the doctors and nurses

In my consultations with my oncologist, she not only guides me in what to expect in terms of my treatment, but she will also tailor the dosage of my chemotherapy drugs, according to how I react to the drugs in the past cycles and my current health status.

Most people really don’t realise the high level of skill and care that go into each individual’s cancer treatment plans, nor the number of medical staff involved in the treatment. Just for chemotherapy, there are the nurses who extract my blood samples, the laboratory staff who perform the blood test, the pharmacists who prepare the chemo drugs according to the dosage that the oncologist prescribes, the chemo ward nurses who administer the chemo drugs to the patient! Besides these medical staff, there are also the administrative and counselling staff who help with arranging dates for medical appointments or insurance and payment issues, or provide counselling to patients and family members who require a listening ear.

Most people really don’t realise the high level of skill and care that go into each individual’s cancer treatment plans, nor the number of medical staff involved in the treatment.

Each time I go for my chemotherapy session at the National University Hospital, I’m in awe at how focused on the patients each staff is, and the length they would go to see to the needs of their patients, regardless of the role they hold.

My chemo ward nurses, for example, are always on their feet, administering the infusion drugs (with some infusion needing specialised procedures), explaining procedures to new patients, making patients feel more comfortable during the infusion or just helping patients to the loo. They do all these while maintaining a cheerful smile to keep the spirits of their patients up.


4. Adapting is normal

While I’ve noted before that I’ve tried to keep as close to our home routines as much as possible, my family and I do have to adapt to my condition.

Then again, I had to adapt when I got married and live away from my family, and again when I left teaching to care for my firstborn. We had to adapt when my husband and I set up our business, and yet again, when the two younger kids came along. We adapted when the business took off, and when the kids went to school.

Life is a series of changes and adapting to these changes, which is why I don’t see my cancer as something that sends us on a tailspin, but as merely one more of life’s challenges to adapt to.

Life is a series of changes and adapting to these changes, which is why I don’t see my cancer as something that sends us on a tailspin, but as merely one more of life’s challenges to adapt to.

What really helps in dealing with any change is making a conscious choice to embrace these changes with positivity.


5. Having a sunshine week to look forward to helps

Each of my chemotherapy cycles is a two-week period.

I have three chemo drugs that I have to receive via infusion. Two of the drugs are infused in the chemo ward over a period of about 4 hours, while the third one is infused over 46 hours. Thanks to medical advances, I’m fitted with a portacath which not only helps with the infusion at the chemo ward, but allows for a portable infusion device to administer the 46-hour infusion over the two days when I’m home. When the 46 hours are up, I make another trip to NUH to remove the device.

I begin to feel the effects from the chemo drugs on the day I start my infusion at the ward. Day 1 is a relatively easy day, as health-wise I’m feeling strongest. But by day 3, when I remove the infusion device, all I want to do is to hide in a darkened room and sleep. The effects of the chemotherapy lasts about 7 days (my “chemo week”), and some time about day 8 or 9, I wake up feeling like sunshine and blue skies have appeared after a long, dark period of haze.

Thus far, each chemo week has its own challenging aspects and intensity in the side effects, which my oncologist warns me, may be cumulative. Some weeks, I’d have more intensive sensations of nausea and be weak from many bouts of diarrhoea, but during other weeks I don’t experience these side effects at such levels. What’s consistent though, is that my energy level is low, I am sensitive to light, sound, and temperature, and my hair loss gets more obvious, even though my oncologist assures me that I won’t go bald, and therefore, don’t need to shave.

What gets me through my chemo week besides being in a darkened room, wearing PC-glasses when I’m on my computer, reminding my kids to be quiet, and meditating in prayer during the worse of it, is knowing that there’s a sunshine week to look forward to.

While my sunshine week is now shortening due to the cumulative effect of the chemotherapy, I still enjoy my return to my usual energy level, to connect with friends, to cook for my family, or work on business matters.

While my sunshine week is now shortening due to the cumulative effect of the chemotherapy, I still enjoy my return to my usual energy level, to connect with friends, to cook for my family, or work on business matters


Because I’ve begun to get a better sense of what to expect during my chemotherapy cycles, I find that not only am I able to cope well with my cancer treatments, I’m in fact looking forward to my visits to the chemo ward for my “chemo-spa”:

I get a very comfortable chair in the chemo ward (they are like first-class seats on the best airline), which I make more comfortable with a cushion from home and a picnic of my favourite snacks to last me through the 4 hours of infusion. I make sure too, that I have my favourite movies on my iPad (even though there’s a TV for each cubicle) and my yarn to crochet the time away, while enjoying my “flight” to nowhere.

These happy comforts are packed in my roll-on cabin bag, which makes me feel even more like I’m embarking on a journey to better health!


Brenda is a columnist, and a friend, of The Middle Ground. Read her other pieces, in a series of occasional columns on her journey with stomach cancer:

  1. No stomach for cancer
  2. Reframing cancer as an opportunity to grow
  3. Mummy musings: Mothering through cancer


Featured image by Sean Chong. 

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Holidays Kids

by Brenda Tan

IT’S now mid-June and we’re firmly in the second half of the June school holidays.

For those of us who have planned a family trip overseas for the later part of the June holidays, good for you! Enjoy your family getaway! For those of us who have returned from our overseas holidays earlier, you may not be feeling so fantastic, as you may now be saddled with your kids saying to you: “I’m soooooooo bored!”

By now you may be battling with the children over their screen-time consumption. Or having to preside over the umpteenth argument about how the elder sibling is bullying the younger sibling or how the younger sibling is annoying the elder sibling.

So what can we parents possibly do to ensure that there is peace in the house, and that our kids are engaged in more meaningful activities until the night we have to re-set our alarm clocks? And what can we do to ensure that our sanity lasts until the little monsters angels get back onto the school routine?

1..Get kids to own their routine

For the first half of the holidays, I sent my 10-year-old Ah Girl and 8-year-old Di-di to two kids’ camps, each lasting three days in the first and second week of June. Camp activities were highly structured with games, crafts, and stories – unlike the rest of their holidays. Therefore, I suggested to Ah Girl and Di-di to think about what they want to do each day, and create a daily time table for what they wanted to do for the remaining holidays by week. Being older, Ah Girl’s time table was more detailed (some activities were even down-to-the-minute!), while Di-di’s activities went by the hour.  I reminded them to include “screen time” in their plan, “open time” for unscheduled “anything” activity (but would not include extra screen time), and long periods of “reading time”. Their time table also included revisions for English, Math, and Mother Tongue. After all, as an ex-primary school teacher, it’s just kindness on my part (and better than any Teachers’ Day gift) to return them to their teachers, still having some semblance of literacy and numeracy skills. Also, I had the kids slot in “household chores”, so that they can create some order in their universe, mainly by leavening out their bookshelves, toy chests, and wardrobes of treasures that they have outgrown. Through this exercise, Ah Girl observed that: “Planning is so hard! How do our schools plan our teachers’ time tables so they know when and where to go?” Good point, kid. Glad you noticed that.

The beauty of this activity, my fellow long-suffering parents, is that not only are our kids engaged for a few hours in drawing up their time table, and typing it into your computer to print it out, but that they are more likely to follow this time table that they created! I no longer have to tell them to get off the screen, but ask them, “Eh, what’s on your time table now?” And they get going onto the activity they planned! I don’t even mind the acronym Ah Girl made (bless her Singapore soul) for post-dinner activity to fit into the tiny space in her time table: “HOWMAD” for Hanging Out With Mum And Dad.

2..Read… and do

The holiday is a fantastic time for the kids to engage in long uninterrupted reading. I envy my kids’ range of really good books to pick and choose from – and many of these are from local writers too! I bought 2 book series for my kids, which are also available in the national libraries – the “Sherlock Sam” and the “Danger Dan” series. I love them because they are gender neutral reads, and excellent for sharing between my kids! There are also a lot of good children’s books and series from local writers like the Amos Lee books and Ellie Belly books. We have some reviews of these children’s books that you may like to check out too. Besides fiction, we also enjoy non-fiction such as kid’s cookbooks, paper folding, drawing and craft books. These books engage the kids and provide them hours of fun in developing a new skill or idea. My kids look forward to “open time” to experiment and try out activities from these books.

3..Games and Toys

I’ve invested in a few world-map floor jigsaw puzzles when I was homeschooling Kor-kor, and these are “toys” that the young’uns now get to play with. We also have board games and card games that we pick up to play during our more active HOWMAD. The holidays are when the LEGO bricks get a workout during “open time”. And the Playmobil sets. And their costume box. And when all else fails, their imagination, to come up with some quite hair-raising hijinks… But I’m fine with what they do, as long as my house remains intact. Remember when I allow my kids to schedule “screen time” for their time table? I was merciful and allowed them to schedule a “touch typing time” too – dance mat touch typing has been my go-to site for all my kids to learn to type as it’s not only free, but it’s really, really well-made. Technically, this is the only digital game they can play outside of ”screen time”.


I refrain from having the kids creating a “down-to-the-minute” schedule simply because they need pocket time to synthesis their activities by simply day-dreaming. Allowing them free time — time to be “bored” — helps them not to be afraid of empty time or find it needful for an adult to entertain them or fill it with yet another busy activity. Lepaking well is an art that has to be practiced. Our HOWMADs sometimes resemble nothing more than the kids lounging around us talking nonsense in meandering topics, often starting with a “why” question leading to a “How would you do that?” leading to another “why” question and so on. And these questions are not always directed to the kids. It does help when Dad is a professional process facilitator, but giving time to divergent “silly” brainstorming sometimes develops into something that can bring a delight.

5..Go outside

No, I don’t mean head out to the museums, the mall, the many June holiday kids-centric exhibits, or the more expensive children entertainments centres like Kidszania or the theme parks. I don’t even mean bringing them out to the parks or go cycling on the PCN. While these outings are excellent places to entertain and engage the kids in interesting, educational, and healthy fun, just merely getting the kids outside the house into the corridor would be a quick break from being cooped up in the house. A pail of water and a couple of sponges and super soakers on a hot day is fun enough. (Just ensure that the neighbours along the corridors are in on the activity.) Getting the kids to start a herb garden in the corridor might help the kids enjoy eating the food with herbs they harvested.

Or just make them sit at the corridor with a pair of binoculars to do some birdwatching and recording, or cloud sketching.

While they’re safe just outside the gate, the noise level in the house goes down, and you can almost feel like the kids are back in school again.


Featured image by Sean Chong.

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By Brenda Tan

WHEN I read the news report recently about the national family council Families For Life‘s (FFL) survey on family, I wasn’t really expecting any jaw-dropping new facts about the Singapore family situation.

After all, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that long working hours are an obstacle to family time. Furthermore, while one in 10 respondents said that they spent six hours or less with their immediate families each week, this figure isn’t alarming if one considers that young people do have a greater need for socialising with friends, rather than with immediate family members during the week.  How else would we expect our young people to find a life partner, especially if they were to only focus on work and then go straight home to hang out with their parents?

However, what was interesting to me was what the council members had to say about what else affected family time.

FFL council chairman Ching Wei Hong believed that there were many factors affecting family time, including the intrusion of technology and gadgets, and the ubiquity of social media.

Another council member, Claire Nazar, suggested that Singaporeans need to “make conscious efforts to sacrifice their usual ‘screen time’ on their smartphones, laptops, TVs”,  to spend quality “face time” with their families. “If they can make the conscious decision to do this on a regular basis, they may find that they do have the time to bond with their families on a meaningful basis after all,” she said.

Frankly, while I acknowledge that there is increasing “screen time”, I’m not convinced that screens are as much of a hindrance to “meaningful” family bonding time as the council members make it out to be.

When I was in primary school, the television in my home would be turned on from “Mari-kita” to “Mari-kita”. In the early 80s, television didn’t have 24-hour programming. It would start its transmission with the national anthem at about 3pm, and end with the national anthem at night, past my bedtime. Even in the mid-90s, when we had 24-hour programming, watching TV was the main activity that my family engaged in – together as well as separately. Certainly, not all shows appealed to everyone in the family the way Under One Roof or Puah Chu Kang Pte Ltd did; I fed mainly on the English channels in the smaller TV in dad’s room when I got home from school, while granny would park herself in front of the larger living room TV for her Channel 8 melodrama fix.

Of course, in those days, the newspapers also carried similar warnings that spending too much time in front of the television set affected “family bonding time”, and that watching violent TV programmes would make you violent as well.

The irony now though, is that my large-screen HDTV is hardly turned on. My kids prefer watching their individual small screens, consuming personalised media tailored to their preferences via YouTube and other such media channels. Is their consumption of screen time more than when I was their age? I think it is probably less than mine, considering the greater number of school activities and homework my kids have, compared to my days in primary school.

As for the concern about “meaningful bonding time”, I looked at the survey and was highly impressed at the A* grades for “state of relationship and communication between family members”. With results that are 91 per cent and above, respondents feel that they have a good relationship with their children, with families readily lending support to each other. They feel a strong emotional connection to their family, and are satisfied with their family life. Those surveyed also feel their family members communicate openly and honestly, and despite the concerns of the FFL council members, the respondents feel they spend sufficient quality time with their family.

Families exist on a spectrum: there are nuclear families, some with both parents working, others are single income households; there are single parent families, multigenerational families, even extended families living within one compound. There isn’t really a single snapshot of a “typical” Singaporean family.

Growing up, my dad was a single parent, and the sole breadwinner of our household. I doubt I saw him more than six hours a week in my teenage years – I certainly watched more TV than spent time with him each week! Pa was a self-employed electrician/odd-job man who kept highly irregular hours. His weekends were usually spent with his friends on overnight sea fishing trips. Pa kept us fed on plenty of fresh fish and seafood, and my fondest memory of him is our time spent watching Japan Hour (his favourite TV show) on Sunday evenings in my late teens.

We didn’t do much of the stuff I do with my kids now, like regular cycling trips as a family on our PCNs or go for a family movie night (Oh no! Not another “screen”!). Unlike my kids who get to fly to Taiwan and Vietnam for our family holidays, I remember my single trip abroad with my dad, his girlfriend and my brother to Kota Tinggi waterfalls, which ended in a minor disaster when the car’s fan-belt snapped and we had to drive back to Singapore in a hurry to get it fixed. Needless to say, it was memorable for the stress, worry and missed “bonding” opportunity, but it was a family memory that I look back with fondness at Pa’s attempt to create a family outing for my brother and me.

Don’t get me wrong – I do think we need to be mindful to connect with our family beyond just sharing a living space together. And I do think that we could create plenty of good family memories via the many activities that Family for Life has planned via their #IChooseFamilyTime campaign, listed on their website. My kids certainly look forward to cycling with their dad to the upcoming Car-free Sunday on 29 May 2016, during which FFL will kick off their year-long series of picnics for the family.

In fact, I see our technology and screens as a means to connect with family members who live overseas or who travel a lot for work. Certainly, my kids always look forward to seeing what the view outside Daddy’s hotel room looks like on FaceTime. Even for myself, I get to see the hijinks my baby nephews are up to via my brother’s Facebook page, and it gives my brother and I something to touch base over, at our occasional family dinners.

Besides, the Internet also provides families with lots of ideas about how to engage with our children or our aged parents. After all, even FFL hopes to engage Singaporeans via social media and its website. It has even planned for “Facebook Live” chat sessions, with the first one to be held on 27 May 2016, with our Minister of Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin, and a panel of parents who will share their personal experiences on the topic of family time.

I doubt the council expects parents to sacrifice their “screen time” for “meaningful family bonding time” during that time.


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by Brenda Tan

WHEN I became a mother 17 years ago, I left teaching to be a stay-at-home mum.

I went from teaching a classroom of 44 boys to a classroom of one baby boy.

Motherhood for me has always been about teaching – nurturing and guiding my children so that they can learn to be independent and thrive in their own life’s journey.

My curriculum is simple as there are lessons to be learnt in everything we engage in. Eating is a lesson in nutrition, culture and social behaviour. Playing is a lesson in daydreaming, exploration, collaboration, creating. Our daily routines are lessons in self-discipline, duty and responsibility.

My role as “mother-teacher” was later cemented when I had to homeschool my eldest at primary two.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to homeschool the younger kids, which allowed me to pay more attention to my professional work with my husband. Later, with home support from my in-laws, I was also able to pursue solo work assignments that required me to travel in the region to as far away as Nigeria.

Despite business success in a field that no longer resembled a classroom, I was still mother-teacher to my trio: Kor-kor (17), Ah Girl (10) and Di-di (8).

And then in February this year, I found out that I have stomach cancer.

I am honest with the kids about my health and what I will be going through because I believe it is the lack of information that will make kids worry more. However, because of my children’s ages, I’m mindful of what is appropriate to share for each of them. So, while Kor-kor visited me at the hospital soon after my gastrectomy, the younger ones were only able to visit me days later, when most of the tubes attached to monitor my post-op condition were removed. Kor-kor also visited me daily when I was warded for my first chemotherapy session as he was able to use public transport on his own, but the younger ones only accompanied me to the hospital on that first day.

Thus, my cancer journey became an object lesson in my life-long curriculum for my kids.

After all, cancer doesn’t stop me from being a mother.

I’m proud to say that my kids are real troopers. We’ve kept close to our home routines – for instance, dinner is still at 6pm, to meet the younger kids’ bedtime at 8:30pm. The kids still chill with me after homework is done, reading, playing or going online. Dinner is still noisy, with lots of chatter about school hijinks.

What’s obviously different now though, is that apart from mummy’s short hairstyle, she no longer goes out because of her low immunity. Daddy now has the privilege to keep the younger ones’ cycling adventures and reading adventures going, with participation at Car-free Sundays and regular library visits. Kor-kor the teenager doesn’t always go with them, but he’s now become my indispensable proxy to buy things that I can’t get from online grocery stores or other online shops.

But my cancer does have an impact and I miss some things I used to do, or would have done, with them as their mother:

  1. Stalking Kor-kor’s first day at Polytechnic
    I don’t even have an obligatory picture of him entering the school gates, much less being able to attend a ‘Welcome Parents’ event organised by the poly.
  2. Volunteering at Ah Girl’s school for her first Singapore Youth Festival dance presentation
    At such events, I’d be giving the make-up kit a good workout, getting the children looking their stage-best, and sharing the giggling enthusiasm of putting on a good show.
  3. Being a perpetual parent volunteer at Di-di’s school
    This I miss most, as Di-di’s school was the one I taught at 17 years ago, and never quite left as it’s so near our home. My last involvement as a parent volunteer this year was to help in a committee to prepare for the school’s Games Day, which I wasn’t able to attend.

Despite missing being involved in these milestone events in my children’s educational journey, I’m still grateful for the adults who looked out for them. In fact, I’m immensely grateful to the mother of one of Ah Girl’s friends, who had WhatsApp-ed many photos of Ah Girl’s SYF preparations and performance to me that day.

“What have you learned about mummy’s cancer?” I asked Ah Girl recently. She had donated her hair twice to make wigs for cancer patients via recycleyourhair.blogspot.sg, and unlike her brothers, had showed more concerns about the implications of me having cancer.

“Cancer is scary because people die from it,” she said. “But sometimes you cannot choose what is going to happen. Sometimes in life, things don’t go your way. But even in these times, we can still find good things to be thankful for.”

Words that gladden a mother’s heart.


Brenda is a columnist, and a friend, of The Middle Ground. Read her first piece, in a series of occasional columns on her journey with stomach cancer, here. She is also a mother to three children and this year’s Mother’s Day is her first celebration since she was diagnosed with cancer.

This piece is a part of our Mother’s Day series of columns, showcasing the views and experiences of real mums in Singapore. Read Pam’sJean’s and Esther’s pieces, and check out our video too.


Featured image 安心 by Flickr user Toshimasa Ishibashi. (CC BY 2.0). 

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