EVERY Saturday I venture into the depths of hell. It’s called a tuition centre.
My waking nightmare takes place at Marine Parade Central, where my daughter attends ballet classes. The ballet was entirely her idea, thanks to watching Angelina Ballerina cartoons.
She still dances with all the grace of an elephant in a tutu, but she enjoys the classes.
To be honest, I’m just relieved that she was inspired by Angelina Ballerina first. She has since become infatuated with The Beatles’ movie “The Magical Mystery Tour” and wants to become a Beatle. I delicately point out that The Beatles are no longer together and if they didn’t reform by calling upon the children of John Lennon and George Harrison, then they’re unlikely to call upon mine. So until she gets the call to be the Fifth Beatle, it’s ballet hour for my girl every Saturday morning.
The journey up the lift to her ballet class can take days. International wars have begun and ended in less time. The hair turns greyer with every floor as we battle the hordes of tuition warriors. Thousands of cherubic, perspiring little ones squeeze themselves into the lift with a backpack that suggests they are off to hike the Himalayas. The bags are filled with reading books. The kids must have robbed their local Popular bookstore the night before.
My daughter has never had an English tuition lesson, but she has just co-authored her first children’s book.
That’s not a hollow boast. On this occasion, she really did co-write the book.
Following the humbling success of my first children’s book, Abbie Rose and the Magic Suitcase: The Day a Panda Really Saved My Life, which was inspired by my daughter – I asked her where she wanted to go in her next adventure.
She fancied swimming with dolphins.
So I put my daughter to work, and established a publishing sweatshop in her bedroom. Her desk was cleared, paper and pencils were provided and she was tasked with writing a new children’s storybook for her shameless, manipulative author father.
My daughter is four years old. (I might belong in a Dickensian novel, ordering London’s waifs and strays to compose enticing prose for a bowl of bread and dripping.)
Still, she scribbled furiously in silence.
Half an hour later, she emerged from the story factory formerly known as her bedroom brandishing two sheets of paper.
I read the story, the words of a four year old; the freed imagination of our baby running wild and almost wept. Her tale was terrific; engaging, creative, original and profound in its simplicity. There was a beginning, a middle and an end, a new character, a conflict, a hero, a resolution and a “happily ever after” – all wrapped up in a nifty social comment about the state of the planet, its fragile ecosystems and Man’s selfishness.
My heart was bursting with pride. I chased her around the living room for a bear hug and one of those sloppy kisses that embarrass her in public.
The story had the whimsical, priceless surrealism that can only truly come from a child – or a child-like – mind. My daughter had written the basic framework of a children’s book worthy of publication.
And yet, I can almost imagine the essay coming back from a tuition centre with lots of red pen criticising her incorrect spellings and lack of grammar (I’ve actually seen such pieces; insightful comprehension passages composed by gifted young writers, ruined by the red ink of the myopic educator.)
My daughter’s love of reading and writing had been passed down to her, naturally and organically, from her parents’ daily storytelling. Time was happily sacrificed on our part, but our little girl’s love of the written word is real; it’s not something that can always be manufactured in a tuition class. Instead of trundling up and down those insufferable floors of hell at Marine Parade Central every Saturday, children might spend those couple of hours more profitably reading and writing with their parents.
It’s a shared activity that is mutually beneficial. Children receive the parental praise they desperately crave and parents save a fortune on tuition fees. Everybody wins.
I certainly do. I feel like such a fraud. I’m currently on a book tour promoting my latest title – Abbie Rose and the Magic Suitcase: I Trapped A Dolphin but it Really Wasn’t My Fault – knowing that it was mostly written by my four year-old daughter.
If she ever grasps the concept of royalties, I’m finished.
About the Author: Neil Humphreys is one of Singapore’s best-selling authors. His works include Notes from an Even Smaller Island (2001), Scribbles from the Same Island (2003), and Final Notes from a Great Island: A Farewell Tour of Singapore (2006). Be My Baby (2008) chronicled his journey to parenthood and was his first international best-seller. His latest Singapore book, Return to a Sexy Island, is a No.1 national best-seller. Humphreys has written extensively for The Straits Times, TODAY, The New Paper, Men’s Health and Young Parents in Singapore. He currently lives in Bedok with his family and hopes his daughter will learn conversational Mandarin so she can teach her Dad.
First published in 22-05-2013.