Roots and Wings: Can Apples come from Durian trees?
"The world is made more beautiful through our differences."
One of my favourite photos is a photo of myself as a two-year-old, sitting on the speckled marbled floor of my first home, a small three-room flat in Toa Payoh in Singapore, holding a microphone and singing. A Reader’s Digest magazine is on that floor too, and I’d like to think that even as a toddler, I was drawn to the written word.
It speaks to me because it shows me that way back then, someone, perhaps my father who took that photo, or my mother who urged him to do so, recognised that this was a special moment. Fast forward nearly 40 years later and I still have an affinity for singing and writing.
I believe that we are all born with special gifts and talents. .
The world is made more beautiful through our differences.
Yet how often we aspire to be the same, to measure ourselves against the same yardstick, to test ourselves against the same parameters.
From a young age, children are measured against growth charts for height, weight, head circumference, taught to learn certain things by a certain age and expected to reach certain milestones in their development.
Parents often get stressed out about how much their child is eating, how much they think he or she should be eating and how tall or how short their child is in comparison to other children. They worry about when their child will start crawling or uttering their first word. Some parents even force their left-handed children to write with their right-hand because they want them to conform to a right-handed world, believing that they are doing their child a favour.
The comparison continues with parents comparing their children’s grades in school and trading stories about who made in into law school, or medical school etc.
But we are all made different. Unlike what society tends to tell us, we are not made for a one-size-fits-all system.
Parenting as gardening
As St. Therese of Lisieux puts it in her excellent autobiography The Story of A Soul: “The brilliance of the rose and the whiteness of the lily don’t take away the perfume of the lowly violet or the delightful simplicity of the daisy… I understood that if all the little flowers wanted to be roses, nature would lose its springtime adornment, and the fields would no longer be sprinkled with little flowers…”
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One of my favourite storybooks is ‘The Giving Tree’ by Shel Silverstein.
The themes of love and sacrifice are intrinsically intertwined in our lives and it helps to always reflect on where we are, where we’ve come from and where we are going.
This column is my ‘journal’ of sorts, to explore the intersection between the roots and wings of this life.
I often think of parenting as being akin to gardening. Parenting requires nurturing a child and his or her gifts and talents so that they can grow well and blossom fully.
Gardening takes a lot of care, nurturing and understanding of the type of plant to be cultivated. Every one of us is like a different type of plant. Some plants require much watering to blossom, some would die with too much water. Some plants require constant sunlight, some just a brush of sun every now and then.
Different plants need different environments to flourish. I wish I could grow a durian tree in my backyard here in Los Angeles, but that is not going to happen anytime soon. So too, some kids thrive within a structured learning environment, and some kids thrive with more creative space. The same goes for grown-ups too. Some thrive in a 9-to-5 work environment, some need the flexibility to manage their own time.
Different plants produce different fruit with different times for harvest. No one expects a durian tree to produce apple fruit.
And like plants, we all reach maturity at different times.
My parents remember that I used to hum television theme songs from the time I was a toddler and in one of the photos from my first birthday, a little plastic piano keyboard is among the gifts pictured. I’m grateful that my parents recognised my gift for music and fostered that love for music with piano lessons. I am blessed that they supported my decision to study and pursue music as a career.
How do we nurture the talent and gifts that we see in our children? Like little saplings, they need the right amount of water, sunlight, the right amount of challenges to help them grow strong, the right amount of support to help them grow tall. They need the space to reach their place in the sky.
How do we nurture the same in ourselves?
That which we sometimes fear to accomplish, we admire in those who break the mould. We celebrate the entrepreneurs who had the foresight and the courage to challenge conventional stereotypes, or to be outstanding in their field.
We all need a space, a playground to learn how to be different. To learn how to play within the boundaries and yet build and create extraordinary things.
For children, school is usually that default space, and hopefully, children are being challenged within the school system to think creatively and hopefully their creative endeavours will be celebrated, rather than curbed and squished into some pre-fabricated box of answers.
For grown-ups, I think the trick is to challenge oneself to think outside of our fears and complacency. Do we love the job we have? Do we feel truly alive when we are involved with what we do for a living? Or are we just toeing that line, following the crowd to make a decent living?
Have we opened up all of our gifts? Or are some still left wrapped up, unopened and undiscovered?
Life is always a question of balance, of course, and what works for one may not work for another, but life is also filled with examples of people who chose to challenge themselves into undertaking careers and vocations that they were passionate about.
After all, we only have this life to live.
I hope to give Claire the space to play and explore her innate talents and gifts. I won’t correct her if she paints her trees purple and her sky pink. She has the rest of her life to colour her skies blue. For now, I want to be able to give her the space to play in the sandbox and to build as she dreams, without compromise, without expectations, without fear.