Monday, February 23, 2009

Lemony Snicket

Shin's favorite character in literature was Odysseus from Homer's "The Iliad", because he was brave, smart and resourceful. Maybe not on quite the same level, I had a strong childhood memory of Violet, Klaus, and Sunny from "A Series of Unfortunate Events" by Lemony Snicket (I even loved the author's pseudonym).

The back cover of the book and the first lines of the story start, "If you are the sort of person that likes happy endings then you should put this book down and buy some other book. Not only does this book not have a happy ending, it doesn't have a very happy beginning, and for that matter very few happy middles." Which of course made me want to ready the book immediately to find out what happens.

The story starts with Violet, Klaus and Sunny becoming orphans when their parents perish when their home burns down. The rest of the story is about them survinging bad guardians and the evil Count Olaf who is after the family fortune. The story appeals to me becuase the kids are so smart, brave and resourceful that they get themselves out of such bad perdicaments. And I like it becuase I always liked suspence better then action and the series is just a long exercise in suspense. I once read someone describe the difference between action and suspence. He said action is "there is a bomb under the table and it blows up", suspense is "there is a bomb under the table...".

So I intoduced these books to Josie, not quite sure how she would take to them. I liked the being able to introduce a story that might make her feel less alone with her loss (here I mean alone as in unusual), and like the theme of persevering through adversity. She loves them and we are now on book 4, "The Miserable Mill". I bought the actual book for the first book but we listened to the audiobooks for the others.

It's been a useful reference in talking to Josie about loss. When I spoke to Josie in Shin's final weeks I read her a list of some things children are confused about. I told the list said that some children wonder if they are considered orphans if they lose a parent. Josie said she knew she was not an orphan, "like Violet, Klaus and Sunny, they lost both their parents" Josie said. Also, in the story at one part it says that "unless you have lost someone very close to you, you can't imagine the sense of loss the children felt". Josie said "I have, I can".

This weekend was Josie's 6th birthday. We went ice skating with friends on her birthday and then over the weekend we went to the Forrest Adventure at Bedok Reservoir. The Forrest Adventure is a rope walkway through the trees. I'd heard about it but we had never gone before. I had assumed that parents would go with the kids, but the kids course is kids only. So Josie said she wanted to do it and as she started, I realized how difficult and scary this was going to be for her (something like 5 to 10 meters high) and thought I've probably made a mistake. But step by step she worked her way through the course. At one point, she wasn't really tall enough to reach the support rope, she felt stuck and scared and was whimpering and called to her grandmother for help. Nana said there isn't anything she can do from down on the ground. So Josie just worked it out on her own and got through the hard part.

I was filled with a strong emotion of pride in her. Smart, brave and resourceful. Shin would have loved to have seen this. Her little Odysseus, my little Violet.

36 comments:

Kathie said...

Hi Tony,

I like Josie's picture on the left!

Look at her, so focused and resolved. Hmm, outward bound activities are good to train children's resurcefulness I think.

Josie, bravo!!

Leighbee said...

How absolutely fantastic - so much like her Mummy... a strength of character stronger than imaginable!

Anonymous said...

That's good training for Josie and she has the strength and courage. Well done Josie! :)Glad to know that all is well and you all are coping well...Time will "heal" and Shin must be very happy to know Josie has done that and Tony has given her all the necessary education and training to prepare her.:)

Anonymous said...

Hi Tony,

Am very interested in the books you mentioned. Where do i get them?

And yes! I feel so proud of Josie! Way to go, girl!

Am tempted to let my girl try too! Haha.

Regards
Evelyn

Anonymous said...

Did Shin have anything for Josie's
birthday?

Tony said...

Hi Evelyn,

You should be able to find the book in most bookstores. We were in the library at marine parade and i looked it up on the system. They have a lot of the books in the library system but a lot of them seemed to be checked out already. Its a 13 book series. Just look for "A Series of Unfortunate Events" by Lemony Snicket. There is a movie as well, but I wanted to go through the books as well.

An as I mentioned we are actually listening to the audiobooks. I happen to be a big fan of audiobooks. I have an account with Audible.com were I get two books a month for US$20. I look forward to my two downloads per month and recently I've been picking up Lemony Snicket books. I download them onto my ipod and then we either listen to it in the car or i connect my ipod to speakers and we listen to it at home. Josie begs to listen to more.

But I'd warn, that I don't think the book will appeal to everyone. I'd also warn that the risk of the forrest adventure backfiring is pretty high too. I was really worried that Josie was going to sit down and cry in the middle of it. Which means all the kids behind her would have to wait and the instructors would have to work their way to her to get her down. But its probably worth checking out.

Tony

Tony said...

Hi Anon,

No, Shin didn't get anything for Josie's birthday. I guess she didn't really know she would make it to her birthday and it wasn't quite close enough to start planning it yet either. I think that it was ok. Josie mentioned she missed Shin at one point on her birthday, but I just wanted her to have a happy day and thought we could spend time remembering Shin at another time. And I think Josie was able to do that.

Tony

Anonymous said...

tony, i got emotional reading this myself! and i, too, feel very proud of josie. you are a great, great writer by the way. i really enjoyed this entry.

i think the kids will very much enjoy reading these kinds of detailed accounts of them when they are much older. i wish my parents had kept something like this for me when i was younger.

Anonymous said...

I think too that is ok that Shin didn't have a present for Josie for her 6th birthday but she had prepared some for her future birthdays,right?

Just wonder how you respond to her when she mentioned that she missed Shin? Is not quite advisable if you "ignore" or didn't address that properly because she may feel that she shouldn't tell you that even though your intention is good. Is good that you tell her that is good that she miss Shin and Shin will be happy to know that and so let's have a happy birthday today...maybe that will be a better response? Sorry if I am wrong. Just concern and a bit worry that Josie may feel that she shouldn't mention if you hadn't address "positively" to her missing of Shin.

tony said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Tony said...

Hi Anon,

No need for "sorry if I'm wrong". I smile thinking of anonymous readers who are concerned and looking out for Josie, making sure I'm letting her express herself.

But, yes, don't worry, I'm all ears to her when she mentions Shin. She doesn't bring up Shin that often. Maybe once every few days. At other times when I try to raise the topic and ask her how she is feeling she rarely want to continue the conversation. So when she does bring Shin up, I'll listen carefully and try a few questions to see if I can really understand what's on her mind.

For the party, I only meant that I was wondering If I should mention aloud something along the lines that "and Shin is here in our hearts", or something like that. But I decided just to let the party go on and we can talk about Shin another time.

And yes she left a few items for a few key birthdays.

Tony

Josephine said...

Hi Tony, I'm glad to hear Josie is doing well! How is Toby? Did he ask for Shin? Or is he really too young to understand? I've a 3 yr old son & i'd be most worried if i've to leave him now. He is very attached to me at this age & i'd imagine him crying for me at night & i don't think my hubby could cope.

Anonymous said...

And still you continue to teach. I love the fact that in spite of Josie's tender age you are reading/listening to books that she can understand and relate to. As an adult I think I will check out some of those books at the library and extend my education. So sorry that we had only "The Little Red Hen" etc. to read to our children.

Josie is a very special six-year-old. Happy Birthday to her and may she continue to be the special child that she is. You are doing such a very great job as Josie and Toby's Dad. Keep up the good work and please continue to teach all of us who read this blog each day.

Karen said...

Hi Tony,

I am sure Shin is looking down from above smiling and feeling imensely proud of Josie.

Will definitely love to give her & Toby a big hug if I ever had the opportunity to see them.
Take care Tony and Wow, you're ......no amount of words can describe you!!!

karen

Anonymous said...

Thanks Tony for your reply and understanding the reason for my asking. :)

Anon 11.02pm

Anonymous said...

Yes, we tend to "neglect" Toby recently because Toby is at the stage of "know and don't know" and the impression and impact on him may not be as "deep" as Josie. But I am sure Tony didn't neglect him.

Tony, I am getting more and more relieve that you will be a really good and attentive daddy who Josie and Toby can go to for shelter,love,encourage and listening ears. :)

Take care of yourself and make sure you also give yourself "breathing and peaceful moments" and even "griefing and missing" moments to enable yourself to move on this long journey. :)

Anon 11.02pm

Leighbee said...

Just a quick note to any technophobes like myself - if you click on the photographs you get to enjoy a full sized version of Princess Josies determination!

Tony said...

Hi Josephine,

I recall that over the past couple of years one of things that made me most emotional was the thought of Toby or Josie crying for their mother. Surprisingly, Toby and Josie have almost never cried. Toby will cry when he I won't give him something he wants, but he hasn't really cried over Shin. I'm surprised by this and have been wondering what it means. I've started writing a full post on it, but not sure how to conclude it.

Even though he is only 3, I realize he has a pretty clear idea of what is happening. As I wrote in the previous post about the kids, he expresses himself in odd ways. It starts off "I don't want mangos anymore". But what it really meant was that he takes back his previous request of our helper, Elisa, to go back to the Philippines to get more mangos. He doesn't want a new Auntie, he is feeling insecure about loss and wants stability.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tony, for Toby at age of 3, sometimes they don't really understand the underlying meaning of what they said.

Eg, I have a 3 yrs old kid who will tell me he wants to buy me biscuits, give me money when he grows up...nobody teach him all that...

I think Toby said that because he is selecting (which is basic instinct in everyone),ie, if given 2 choices, even kids at age 3, will know which one he wants and will forgo the other...so we adults thought he understand but actually he is only selecting and making his preferred choice. So I guess Toby still don't really understand, even age of 3 has his/her pride which in the past parents won't think about pride for a 3 yrs old kid.

Such as the comment that he made asking that Aunty Jin to be your bedmate...because of lack of security (loss of mummy), so he is using a "replacement" concept...but is important that you need to correct him and tell him that is not right, can't just ignore or feel that he is so "cute".

But sometimes could also be that 3 yrs old kid don't really know how to express his grief,etc...such that when a mother is pregnant, different kid react and express differently to the feeling of jealousy/insecurity....some will be happy, some will be "naughtier" (to attract attention), some will be more obedient, some will cry, some won't express...so you may have to observe and ask to find out the underlying reason of Toby's reaction of not crying for Shin may not due to him forgetting or not missing Shin,etc...may not be as simple as we thought but yet it can be simple too...very profound..

Just like Josie and Toby grow up under same environment,ppl, but both character and reactions are different.

All that takes time and they also changing constantly but the most important is to correct them, observe, ask, instill right values,etc.:)

LeeHJ said...

Hi Tony,

Thank you for continuing the blog entries. Honestly, I thought it would have ended with Shin's passing away. I'm so glad that you kept it up. Thank you very much for sharing.

I have a daughter who is the same age as Toby. Sometimes, I think leaving her at such a young age might not be too bad afterall. Time will heal the loss.

Josephine said...

Hi Tony, thanks for sharing! i'm amazed that Toby is taking it well for his age. Maybe because you & Shin had got him prepared early. Or do you think he finds comfort in Josie's company & also takes clue from her?

My friend lost his wife last year to an accident when their only daughter was 4 yrs old. He didn't know how to handle the child's constant cries for mummy. He detached himself from the child to cope. Now the child is living with grandparents. She seems to have forgotten mummy & that is sad, isn't it?

Are Josie & Toby more attached to you? Do they miss Shin? Kids tend to have a "favourite parent". My son always choses mummy over daddy. Maybe thats unhealthy.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tony, I missed out some sentences below:

Hi Tony, for Toby at age of 3, sometimes they don't really understand the underlying meaning of what they said.

Eg, I have a 3 yrs old kid who will tell me he wants to buy me biscuits, give me money when he grows up...nobody teach him all that...AND HE DOESN'T WANT TO BUY FOR HIS DADDY BUT WHEN HE IS ANGRY WITH ME,HE WILL SAY I DON'T WANT TO GIVE YOU BISCUITS, I WILL GIVE TO DADDY...SO EVEN A 3 YRS OLD KID KNOW HOW TO REACT AND SAY WORDS WHICH SURPRISE US BUT I DON'T THINK HE REALLY KNOWS THE MEANING BUT JUST SIMPLY CHOICES HE MAKE BETWEEN MUMMY AND DADDY THAT REFLECTS HIS MOOD AND FEELING. :)

I think Toby said that because he is selecting (which is basic instinct in everyone),ie, if given 2 choices, even kids at age 3, will know which one he wants and will forgo the other...so we adults thought he understand but actually he is only selecting and making his preferred choice. So I guess Toby still don't really understand, even age of 3 has his/her pride which in the past parents won't think about pride for a 3 yrs old kid.

Such as the comment that he made asking that Aunty Jin to be your bedmate...because of lack of security (loss of mummy), so he is using a "replacement" concept...but is important that you need to correct him and tell him that is not right, can't just ignore or feel that he is so "cute".

But sometimes could also be that 3 yrs old kid don't really know how to express his grief,etc...such that when a mother is pregnant, different kid react and express differently to the feeling of jealousy/insecurity....some will be happy, some will be "naughtier" (to attract attention), some will be more obedient, some will cry, some won't express...so you may have to observe and ask to find out the underlying reason of Toby's reaction of not crying for Shin may not due to him forgetting or not missing Shin,etc...may not be as simple as we thought but yet it can be simple too...very profound..

Just like Josie and Toby grow up under same environment,ppl, but both character and reactions are different.

All that takes time and they also changing constantly but the most important is to correct them, observe, ask, instill right values,etc.:)

Kathie said...

Hi Tony and all,

Like to share this: Adapted from Healing Through the Shadow of Loss, by Deborah Morris Coryell (Inner Traditions, 2004).

Among the most frequently repeated phrases about suffering is that “time heals all wounds” or “this too shall pass.” Time passes. It does not heal. Healing is an active process not a passive one.

If we have a cut and do nothing to clean it out or do not apply a salve, it will probably still form a scab. It may take longer and first develop an infection but the wound will most likely close and leave a scar.

When we experience woundings to our heart, soul, and mind, if feels as if we have been torn open. Sometimes we are bleeding, figuratively, from every orifice of our bodies. Eventually the bleeding stops and the wound closes, but what has closed inside? Have we healed or just closed up with our anger, fear, resentment, and doubt inside?

As we begin to explore the meaning of healing through loss, we come upon the ancient spiritual roots of the healing arts. To heal is to come back into that lost wholeness. How can you activate healing loss in your life?

Healing and curing are two very different concepts. Healing is a spiritual idea and curing is a medical one. Healing is an active process. It doesn’t happen to us; we must participate in the process of our healing. Healing happens for us. It is a gift we give to ourselves in the moment we decide to stay “open” to that which has broken us.

In pain management used for patients with chronic pain, it is taught not to tighten around the pain but to relax and allow the pain to be present. The idea is that when pain is resisted, it intensifies. When we breathe deeply and acknowledge the presence of pain, it has room to move and can dissipate more readily. Pain is there to tell us something, to warn us of possible danger. This is as true for emotional, spiritual, and mental pain as it is for physical pain. When pain speaks, we need to listen. All it takes is paying attention to our pain so that when it comes we remember to breathe and get soft. We don’t want to fight with our pain. We want to learn from it.

Time does not heal. But healing does take time. Give yourself the gift of time. To become whole means that as we open to pain, we open to the loss. We break open and, as a consequence, we get bigger and include more of life. We include what would have been “lost” to us if our hearts and minds had closed against the pain. We include what would have been lost if we had not take the time to heal. As singer/songwriter Carly Simon tells us: “There’s more room in a broken heart.” Unquote.

Healing takes time. What we don't want is to lock away those emotional pains without knowing what it've done to us. At 3, kids are already capable of understanding concepts of fairness, rejection and loss. It's just that they have yet to master language, hence they may not be able to express themselves fully. But it doesn't mean they don't get the full sense of things happening. Also, boys are conditioned to be less expressive and tend develop slowly in terms of their linguistic skills, hence you probably hear less from Toby.

There is a hypothesis that the access to our memory files is language. Hence, most of us can only remember things as far back as perhaps 4 or 5.

So just try to make sure both Josie and Toby don't lock away Shin's passing on as rejecting them. But rest assure children are little reasonable beings. :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Tony,

I looked through the photos on the right panel, and saw some of your marriage photos. Both of u met and got married in Singapore?

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm i don't know if we are reading too much about the children's feelings. Maybe they are just simple and that's where their innocence come in. They take things just as they are and they adapt to changes fairly well. More than what we adults expect or feel.........

Both my girls didn't cry very much too since their Daddy passed away. They are almost the same age as Josie and Toby. As a parent, i try to keep their lifestyle and routine unchanged so as not to affect them. Pardon me for saying this, Tony - i suppose Josie and Toby are more or less 'conditioned', got used to not having mummy around to do things with/for them since Shin may not be able to do that when she felt ill. Hence their expectation is not that high and with you doing a great job in maintaining a 'normal routine' life for them - they adjust fairly well? (Having said that, I just want to add on that I am sure Shin did make use of every chance/ time she had to do things with/for Josie and Toby.)

My elder girl still do things like calling daddy on his mobile. Someone who study psychology mentioned that i need to look into her feelings but i reckon that is just sign of her missing daddy - period. Maybe i should read up on psychology and try to unveil something more serious?

A friend shared that he lost his daddy (the parents separated) since he was 7. His sister was 9 then. It did not affect him but as he recalled, it affected his sister especially in her teenage years. As such, he shared that the manifestation of loss may not be immediate, may be years later. I am not sure that comforts me.

Regards
Evelyn

Anonymous said...

Hi Tony,

I took a closer look at the pictures and felt a sense of pride for Josie.

I am sure not many 6 years old girl can accomplished that!!!

And indeed she has the determined look on her face. I do not see fear in her! You must be really proud of her! Many of us are!

Regards
Evelyn

Anonymous said...

I think we all are concern about ony, Josie and Toby, especially the 2 little treasures because we don't know what's the "impact" on them,even when they are growing up.

I think is good that we all share but I believe is a good reference or "reminder" for Tony to look out for too.

I think all our experiences and sharing may be applicable in some or a few ways or not at all to Josie and Toby because every kids are different but really good to know more and be aware of all the possibilities and ways to cope.

Tony, can see that you are coping quite well. :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Tony,

I think your mom really deserves a great hug. I noticed that she has been supporting you and looking after the kids from behind the scene. I think the love she has given to the kids has more or less helped them cope better with the lost.

Take care,

Tony said...

Hi Kathie,

Very insightful. Thanks for that.

Tony

Tony said...

Hi Anon,

Yes we are both US citizens, but we met in Singapore in 1998 and got married in 2000 here in Singapore.

Tony

Tony said...

Hi Anon,

Yes, my mother, Carol, deserves big hugs. One friend asked me why I didn't comment more about what a great job she is going making things easier for the kids. I've also been asked that since she's a nurse, and had first started to move out her at the end of 2008, why she wasn't more involved in Shin's last days.

The quick answers is that I've been planning another kids update post where I planned to explain how having their grandmother her is making a big difference for the kids. And it just so happened that when Shin passed, Carol, was on a 2 week holiday to Egypt. A trip she planned a year ago with friends, and I encouraged her not to cancel. I think we were surprised how quickly Shin deteriorated, but I also told her that the kids and I will really need her after Shin passes, so she should take the time to catch up with friends. Anyway, I'll write more later.

Tony

Tony said...

Hi Evelyn,

I thought one of the reasons they don't cry much might be that they had lots of time to adjust to Shin having cancer (and you are right that their routine had already changed as Shin got weaker). But it is interesting to here that your kids are similar and they did not have much time to prepare.

I've also read that phone conversations are a good way to get kids to express their thoughts and feelings. Next time your daughter calls her daddy you should encourage her to tell him things and see where that takes her.

Tony

Anonymous said...

the look of sheer bravery and determination on josie's face is captured so clearly in that picture. she's going to love reading this entry with its photo when she's older.

not sure if you realize the magnitude of the gift you are leaving for them when they are older. think many parents can learn from this--not just single parents.

it can be said of all people, as adults, that we begin to wonder what's shaped us into the people we are today, and that we wish we had some window into our past to see our development throughout life that has given way to our strengths and weaknesses. so many of my memories from my childhood are blurry or simply nonexistent, with the exception of a few key moments throughout life. i wish i had maintained vivid memories of more "key moments" as i have learned much about myself from the few i've retained.

documenting these experiences for your kids until they are a little older is a terrific way for them to "relive" their lives in the future, and to connect their older/adult personas with their childhood experiences. it is also an excellent way to document the smooth transition from life with their mother to life after she passed. they'll be able to witness their strength as children and the truth in the phrase that "life moves on", and how with the love, care and support of family, it is possible.

simply, josie and toby are very lucky to have you as a father, tony.

writerinresidence said...

Bravo Josie! She looks just like Shin. Lemony Snicket is a great series...my kids loved it, too!

Anonymous said...

We are all eager to know the impact of Shin's passing on Josie and Toby. The road ahead is long and now is probably way too soon to tell. However, any sign of them coping well is both encouraging and heartwarming.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tony,

I was pondering about what i wrote earlier on and come to the following conclusion:-

The key to make the children adapt well is to be constant. (that's what all parenting books encourages isn't it?) If losing a parent means they have to shift house or instant change of caregiver etc - i suspect that will make it harder for the children to adapt.

In the case of my children, i reckon they got used to it pretty fast as there are many occasions where my husband have to travel overseas for work, sometimes as long as 3 weeks. So to some extend, they got used to Daddy not being around all the time. That's where the constant phone conversations comes in.

I don't get a chance to hear my girl's conversation with Daddy as she usually hang up when no one answers the phone.

Evelyn