Author Archives: jokohhoe

Do you want to die?

euthanasia2I ask my young son the question to urge him to avoid recklessness, heed caution and guard his life – look before crossing the road; don’t stand behind stationary vehicles because the driver may not be aware that you’re there; don’t play with fire; and the list goes on…

The question is now asked as a matter of intellectual and public debate, as the topic of euthanasia makes headline news. I took an elective course on this while at university – (ahem…) some years ago. Although equally contentious then, it was at least clearly an issue of morals and ethics.

Today, it’s all about personal autonomy – the right of an individual to choose what he or she wants. This must, I think, be the curse of modernization. When medical science is limited, resources are underdeveloped and people are fighting for mere survival, no one even thinks of the possibility to legalize suicide.

The bottom-line: Let’s help those who want to die, die.

In my opinion, that’s what it is. It’s even termed “assisted suicide”.

Whether it should be…

  • determined beforehand while one is still “legally competent” (e.g., through an Advanced Medical Directive);
  • an expected service of healthcare professionals (“assisted dying”) or loving gesture of family members (e.g., through a “living will” or a “Power of Attorney”);
  • done through an act of commission (active euthanasia) and not just omission (passive euthanasia, e.g., physician-assisted suicide);
  • intentional and deliberated without any change of mind (possibly leading to involuntary euthanasia) or subject to situational variables that allow a patient to revoke his dying wishes (voluntary euthanasia);

… these are just the technicalities.

The Right to Live – and to Die?

It’s one thing to assert the human right to live; it’s uncannily strange to insist on the right to die. In a similar vein, have you noticed how your spirit quickens when you hear of a person who has cheated Death – such as the recent testimony of Suzanne Chin (“I Have Been Blessed with a Second Chance”, The Straits Times, Mar 24, 2013) – or fought a good fight for his/her life albeit unsuccessfully? We celebrate martyrs who live – and die – for a cause. In contrast, there’s nothing very noble about a person who simply wishes to die and gives in to Death.

I’ll leave the legalities to our Chief Justice, Sundaresh Menon, who wrote a good piece about the various arguments and theories involved, and the very “slippery slope” concerning this issue. (“Assisted Dying: A matter of life and death”, The Straits Times, Mar 24, 2013). For the man/woman on the street, it boils down to that timeless question we all face one day: What is the purpose of life?

Life – and Death – Matters.

For those of us who believe in a higher-order Creator who brought the universe into being, the sanctity of human life is undisputed. If we did not have the liberty to dictate our birth, why do we now think we can “play God” and self-determine our death?

I will unabashedly admit that more than death itself, I fear pain – and the agony inflicted on your loved ones who have to witness your suffering but are helpless to do anything. Thus I pray that when my time comes to leave the earth, it will be swift and straightforward. But that does not mean I want to decide when that “time” would be.

Life is complicated enough without unnecessarily complicating life-and-death matters. Instead of focusing the debate on how to die “well” (which is as subjective as living “well”), we should focus our energies on how to adequately provide available means of care and improved pain relief – so that no one would ever have to feel the need to consider an early death.


Primary One Milestone: Better than expected?

toby in schoolAfter a week, Primary One finally took a toll on our 6-year-old.

He had been holding up well considering we’d expected tears and tantrums going to primary school. In fact, he even volunteered on the first day to be the student who prompts the class to stand and greet the teacher. Somewhat surprised, I asked how it came to be: The teacher asked who had a loud voice and he raised his hand. By default, he has now become class monitor and takes down names of classmates who are naughty when the teacher is out of class.

“I’m not sure about this… won’t it make him unpopular?” My husband was concerned.

“Well, leadership isn’t about being a people-pleaser,” I shrugged (I should know!). “Anyway, this is but one of many life lessons he’s got to learn sooner or later growing up.”

More immediately, my son is learning the life lesson of what it means to be brave and stand on his own against his fears. After the first two days of school, when P1 parents were allowed to lurk around the canteen at recess time, the lament of “why is school so long?” (yes, it unfortunately is for a 6-year-old who’s not been to full-day childcare) has become “I miss Mummy”.

The wave of sadness overcomes him at recess – possibly because everyone who knows how long he takes to eat has scared him about the problem he’s going to have with the limited break time. Yesterday, en-route to the canteen stall to buy his much anticipated sushi, he “couldn’t control it – the tears just came”. So he went back to his table empty-handed.

At night, he broke down and talked about all the “what-if’s” – What if his form teacher isn’t around for him to go to for help? What if there’s no teacher in the canteen to help him call Mum? What if there’s no one in the general office because they all went out for lunch… (Well, I must say my husband’s preparation training of what-if’s has worked – perhaps too well…)

“I want to talk to the school counsellor (the children were already introduced to her, bless the school!) but I don’t know how to contact her,” he said, in-between tears.

“Why don’t you talk to my school counsellor?” I offered.

“Who’s that?”

“Gary Koh.”

“That’s my father!!” he wailed.

“He’s a school counsellor,” I tried.

“It’s a different school!”

(Okay, not funny and not helping, Mum!)

Today, I snuck into his snack box a few riddles and jokes I’d copied on post-it notes, and told him there’d be a surprise for him at recess. Hopefully that cheers him up.

It makes me wonder why the big talk about P1 is all about choice of school and school of choice. I think it’s more about growing up, milestones and parenting. Our family has entered a wonderful phase for impartation of values and learning together, with promises of countless memories that could be cherished by my son for the rest of his life.

“Yay! It’s Library Day today!”

“Mum, I luuuvvve PE!” (after his first PE class)

“Chinese is boring.” (Day 1)

“Chinese was better today. But my Chinese teacher hardly smiles.” (Day 2)

“Chinese was good! It was fun! And I saw my teacher smile.” (Day 3: Phew!)

“How did you do it, Mum?” (First close encounter with his school principal personally handing him his wallet in class – I met her when I returned to pass him his wallet he’d dropped in the car and she offered to take it to him.)

My son has grown up! And as parents, we’ve made the first step in letting go. It all seems too soon; our babies grow up too fast… but I’m a proud Mum!

Traditions of the Untraditional


I’d never have thought of myself as a traditional person, but here, I am espousing the importance of family traditions, which have their emphasis in my home during Christmas.

  • Putting Up the Tree

Whenever the Christmas decorations in town start going up, it’s a reminder to put up our Christmas tree. With Christmas music blasting in the background, we set up the tree beginning with the lights, then the ornaments, the streamers, and finally, the star! The anticipation of finishing it all with the Christmas star reminds us of how the wise men and shepherds travelled from afar, guided by the star in the east, to the awaited Saviour whose birth we celebrate at Christmas.

  • Growing Ornaments

When our child was born, we decided to purchase or select a special Christmas tree ornament on which we’d record the year and our son’s “nth Christmas”. It’s heartwarming to witness my son’s delight at discovering all of the ornaments representing the number of years he’s been on this earth to celebrate Christmas.

  • The Nativity

We couldn’t resist purchasing a wooden set that we saw while on holiday in New Zealand. Now that we have a child, it’s become his favourite toy that he gets to play with only during Christmas. Two years ago, we read somewhere that a fun activity to do with children is to hide Baby Jesus and have a little game of Hide & Seek on Christmas morning to find Him. It sure helps add excitement to the real meaning of Christmas apart from waking up to see if Santa’s visited with presents.

  • The Christmas Gift Box

To put the “Christ” back in Christmas, I decided to try an activity suggested by a Focus on the Family book. I gather 6-12 items that represent who Jesus and wrap them up in a box to be opened as the final present on Christmas Day. Usually, the corresponding Bible verse is attached to explain the gift God has given us through His Son Jesus. For example, a light bulb would represent Jesus as the “Light of the World” that brings salvation to mankind (John 8:12).

  • Christmas Family Movie

We used to make it a point to watch the black-and-white classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, each Christmas. It’s more difficult to make that our family traditional Christmas movie with a preschooler in the house, so we watch The First Noel instead, which is a much shorter animated cartoon with familiar Christmas carols and a catchy rhyme. We might just do both as our son grows older!

  • Advent – Countdown to Christmas Day

Most recently, I chanced upon a family devotional that explained how the season of Advent came to be and is celebrated in different countries. This is a new tradition I’m trying out, although we’ve missed the first couple of days and have had to do it without the “head of the household” since my husband is overseas for work.

Having encountered many young people in the course of our work with no “real family”, my husband and I typically try to invite at least one such person we know of to join us in one or more of our simple traditions. Our son appears to enjoy this aspect of Christmas the most as he loves the company and the feeling of an “enlarged” family.

And I guess that’s what gives traditions their place in our home. When traditions have their purpose, even the unconventional (like me) can learn to appreciate and cherish them!

Crappiest Mom Alive!

“*Scream* He’s giving trouble going to Chinese again… Even if he’s sick, we’re already here at the school and he better be going to class… going to throw a  fit – maybe I will!!!” [SEND]

My husband’s WhatsApp reply acknowledging my ranting and raving came almost 2 hours later. (Okay, so he was overseas and it took him a while to get wifi access.)

I was asked to write about the wonderful “21st Century Woman”, perhaps even take the opportunity to present a glowing report about myself :). But with all that’s happened on the mothering front over the past two weeks or so, I feel like the crabbiest – and crappiest – mom alive!

Just before the school holidays, my son went into hysterics going to the kindergarten he’s grown to love so much over the past 1.5 years. On one of the mornings, I spent an hour in the kindergarten carpark playing the waiting game (you know, the one where you see whose will breaks first?) before I finally managed to half-threaten, half-coax him to enter the school. Even then, I had to get his teacher’s help to pluck him from me and talk him into going to class.

“Did something happen to him at school?” asked concerned relatives and friends.

“Did something happen to him at home?” asked concerned teachers.

“Maybe it didn’t happen to him but to his classmate. Some children get affected when the teacher reprimands another child because they treat it as if personally directed at them.”

That made a lot of sense, as I could well imagine my son being overly emotional in his creative-sensitive way. On the way home after dropping my husband off at the airport, he had commented on the CD playing in the car, “That’s a very touching song, Mom. It makes me want Daddy. Waaaaaahhh… waaaahhh!!!” And all I could think of was, “Get a grip! Oh no, let’s not start… here we go again.”

“Maybe it’s just a phase?”

I LOVE that last idea. It always helps to know that bad things come but they also go. Especially when it’s something I can’t explain and thus, can’t control.

How do women – especially mothers – do it? Probably in response to my tiresome bemoaning of my situation, a colleague recommended I watch I Don’t Know How She Does It starring Sarah Jessica Parker. The movie raises the question, “How do you keep life together without losing it?”

Over the past week alone, I’ve lost it – my composure, my patience, my temper, my sanity even! I can definitely resonate with some of the lines from the movie:

  • I love my work, although sometimes I wish I didn’t love it so much.

The problem is managing work together with the other aspects of life – all with a constant smile and calm, without working up a sweat from racing from one meeting to your next mummy-errand, and with your makeup and hair intact.

  • You’re allowed to miss your children.

I just wish mine was in a nice-to-behold state when I feel mushy about him; not grating against my nerves and begging for some much-needed discipline!

  • You can’t go on like that.

Tell me about it.

  • Don’t you think about not having to worry about priorities all the time?

Everyday. That’s why I don’t plan holidays; my husband does that.

According to the show, mothers of young children don’t sleep through the night; they make lists – of what they need to do the following day! I don’t have a list of what makes a successful 21st Century woman or mother; I have just one word – REAL. I admire the woman who admits her imperfections, who understands her limitations, who’s not afraid to show up dishevelled in public when it can’t be helped, and who celebrates what she’s done right instead of beating herself up constantly for the could-have’s and should-have’s.

Enough of the perfectly manicured and composed housewife – anyone who spends the day with kids would know that’s bogus! Enough of the woman celebrated for having it all – well-paying career, well-managed family plus personal time for regular fitness routines and spas. Let’s be real – life will throw you curve balls and will require tough decisions. I’m personally just thankful that when I’m not at my best or I’ve made a boo-boo, I’ve a husband who reminds me that I’ve got at least some things right!


Which School?

I’m at that life stage when the no. 1 question asked of me as a parent is, “Where are you sending your son next year?”

Yep, my son is going to Primary One next year. And no, I haven’t decided where I’m sending him; I haven’t done any parent volunteerism in any school (and understand it’s too late to even try that now); I haven’t pulled any strings; I haven’t a clue when exactly primary school registration for next year starts; I don’t fully comprehend the complex system of the different phases of queuing and balloting for a place in a choice school, and so the recent news that the Ministry of Education will now give Singaporeans full priority over Permanent Residents in primary school registration hasn’t made a dent on me.

I can hear your gasp of utter disbelief and shock. Perhaps even disgust, “Such a terrible mother!”

“I’m sure you could use your position at Focus on the Family to get him into a good school.”

“Why don’t you offer to conduct family life talks and workshops for free for X-branded school? I’m sure they’ll let your son in then.”

“You should sign up to be a member of Y organization so you can get bumped up the queue.”

Well-intended words of comfort and advice.

The fact is, I don’t actually mind sending my child to the nearest neighbourhood school, if that is the only school with a vacancy for him. I’ve been trying to convince my husband that there could be hidden benefits in a school that isn’t over-crowded like the rest of Singapore, and where the teacher-student ratio could be smaller and allow my son more individualized attention. The irony is that I have attended “branded schools” all my student life and my husband the very opposite.

Okay, I’m sure you’re wondering why I don’t just enrol my son then in my alumni “branded” primary school. The reason is simple – it’s too far from home.

Let me qualify that I have given some thought to my child’s schooling:

  • Proximity of school to home. I do not wish for my son to spend 2 hours a day travelling to and from school, having either to wake up really early or come home really late. Those hours could be better spent doing fun stuff.
  • Proximity of school to workplace. I’d like to still have the opportunity to send and fetch my son to and from school as much as my flexi-work allows. I find those times invaluable in catching my son at a time when he would typically want to share about his day, before the distractions of life take over.
  • Environment in school. Like it or not, we adopt the culture of the place we’re at. Chances are, my child won’t lack stimulation or challenge. What I need to guard against is probably my child striving to achieve something that is always just beyond his reach or pegged to his self-worth. Environment is also shaped by who my child hangs out with and the parents of the kids he hangs out with, who inevitably impart their values through their child and to mine. Experience in my line of work has taught me that good parents aren’t found only in certain schools.
  • Nurturing teachers. It has long been debated whether good schools have better teachers, and if the teacher determines how well the students perform. My son’s first experience with formal learning was very much aided by his nurturing teachers, who are not of a “branded” kindergarten.
  • Match between the school and my child. I need to know how my child is wired. What pace of learning suits him best? What kind of environment would enable him to excel and fully develop as a holistic person? Which place would best shape his character and hone his natural talents?
  • Direct investment in my child. To be honest, I did consider becoming a parent volunteer. But with time being an already scarce commodity, it occurred to me that I’d rather spend my free time bonding with my son. Research after all indicates a link between a strong parent-child relationship and a child’s academic success!
  • School is about learning and not mere achieving. Learning character and values must take priority. I love Theodore Roosevelt’s quote: To educate a person in the mind but not in morals is to educate a menace to society. With the current spate of news highlighting brilliant scholars who’ve gone off the track, it seems that branded schools don’t have it all.
  • The bigger picture. I am reassured that primary school education is compulsory in Singapore. By that vein, my son has to be allowed into some school. More important than the school my son attends is the fact that I’m as involved in his life as I can be. And more important than the grades he produces is the person he becomes.

The primary school registration exercise is a great life lesson and test of us as parents. Like any other parent, we want the best for our child. But what defines “the best”? Is it the exposure to better and multiple opportunities that branded schools promise? Are “branded” families one-up on “neighborhood” families?

At the end of the day, I’ve come to realize that I have more control over my child’s schooling than I’d probably care to admit – in providing the kind of home environment that would far outweigh or complement the influence of whichever school he ends up in. That is not just encouraging, but empowering!

Chinese New Year Tradition

We recently asked people on our Focus on the Family Facebook page to share their favorite Chinese New Year family tradition. Apart from one not-so-polite remark, the rest shared of food, fun and family time.

A colleague remarked that CNY for us is akin to Thanksgiving or Christmas in the States. One common thing all these holidays share is not so much the festivity but the recognition of the importance of family.

Well, I had a number of firsts this Chinese New Year:

1.       We had an unintended Chinese New Year “movie reunion”.

A friend’s friend had block-booked a movie screening of Courageous after having watched and been moved by the movie. I thought I’d helped promote the movie by getting my immediate family some tickets. At the end of the day, I had taken a total of 17 tickets for our parents, siblings and their spouses. It was the first time my husband’s mother was meeting my sister’s husband of slightly over a year. My mother hadn’t seen my step-sister-in-law since her firstborn turned 2; she’s now expecting her 4th child. My father hadn’t been to the cinema to watch a show for possibly more than 30 years. It was an unlikely reunion.

2.       We had the largest Chinese New Year reunion dinner since we got married.

Reunion dinners usually take place at my husband’s grandmother’s house – also his childhood home and where we spent the first year of our married life. For the first time, we were joined by his elder sister and her family, who didn’t have a reunion dinner with her husband’s family; my father-in-law and his remarried family who happened to be in town for the New Year; as well as an aunt-in-law who lives in New Zealand and typically doesn’t visit over CNY.

3.       We took a family trip on the first 2 days of Chinese New Year.

We’d never been away for Chinese New Year. “Chu Yi” (first day of Chinese New Year) is typically spent having lunch at my grandmother-in-law’s place – the pit stop for all the aunts/uncles/cousins on my husband’s side, followed by a string of visitations on my own relatives. This year my sister-in-law invited us to join her family on a short getaway to Bintan. It was an opportunity for my son to spend some time playing with his closest boy cousin, without the usual rush to finish up dinner and get home in time for bed and school the following day.

Apart from too much sun and each of us fighting off something or other that we appeared to be coming down with, it was a good time of food, fun and family time. My sister-in-law whipped up her trademark pesto pasta in the villa’s kitchenette. My son had his first attempt at reverse bungy (which he’s likely not to repeat – but for which we’re proud that he was brave enough to try!) and walking on water in the zorb ball. My husband and I caught The Three Idiots on TV – our first Hindi film.

Most significantly, we spent time talking and catching up in an unhurried manner – including a discussion over breakfast on our values and beliefs.

Perhaps all of this could become a yearly affair…

Wedding Rings

When the man handed back our rings to us, they were so shiny that we could barely recognize them. I held mine in my hand for a while, trying to read the inscription I knew was on the inside of the ring, to also ensure I was putting it on the right way. But it just gleamed back at me such that I could hardly make out the words.

For a split moment, I felt the girlish excitement of being married once again. Then human nature hit and I turned to my husband and said insidiously, “You see, this is what you should have done for our 10th anniversary.” We could potentially have started a fight there and then.

As we walked out of the jewelry shop, I realized that what I was expecting was some romance. In that brief moment of collecting our rings, I had somehow envisaged my typically spontaneous husband holding onto my ring, asking me again for my hand, lovingly placing the ring on my finger and saying, “I marry you again. And every day of our lives!”

Even better that it would have been done in front of others – embarrassing oneself in order to express one’s love has a romantic ring to it; that willingness to devote love at your own expense is like saying, “I love you so much I’d lay down my life (aka my pride) for you”! Instead, what happened was more like, “Nah, here’s your ring. See, isn’t it shiny? Now put it back on.”

I learned in this very brief experience how intricately romance and spontaneity are linked. Romance is when, in the spur of the moment, your lover does something nice for or to you that’s unexpected. The surprise element arises because it catches you unaware, such as:

  • Receiving flowers at your office from your spouse, out of the blue and for no reason      at all – not even as a gesture of apology or to set the mood for intimacy that night.
  • Coming home to a house that’s been cleaned and tidied up without your knowledge.
  • Hearing the sound of your favorite music as you exit the bathroom after washing up for the night (even though your spouse doesn’t believe in having the music on when you go to bed). Better yet, to have a quick romantic dance in the bedroom before retiring to bed.
  • Having your favorite snack produced out of nowhere when settling down with your      spouse for a bout of TV watching.
  • Being stopped in the middle of the walkway or mall by your spouse who takes you in his arms and kisses you in public, just as if you were in Paris!

(*I hope my husband’s getting the hint…!!!)

After 10 years of marriage, I’ve learned to stop simply pointing the finger at my spouse. What is more productive is to ask myself what I can learn. Undoubtedly, I would have to ask myself when was the last time I did something romantic for my husband. If you’re anything like me, you probably can’t remember! But if you do, write me!!!