Reading Peter Buffet’s Life Is What You Make It (And Then Digressing)

Read With A View (This is Angsana Bintan)

With sand and (clean!) sea to keep Rockstar occupied recently in Bintan, I got to read Peter Buffet's Life Is What You Make It, and it occurred to me..... It doesn't feel like we generally live an affluent life here, because Hong Kong is such an expensive town (blanket statement alert), but occasionally we..... have an idea.

Sorry ah... Yucky pic to illustrate my "clean!" emphasis above and why we let Rockstar go to town on Bintan beach but not so much here... This is taken while JD was swimming at Sai Kung - and yes, that's a battery and wayy not the only one... (Also, I get rashes)

1) Listening to a mum I met recently describe how applying to 6 primary schools in Hong Kong would cost more than HKD 10,000 (non-refundable) just for application and processing fees........ (Quite easy to hit 10k btw... For eg if you simply apply to French International School and Singapore International School you would already run up about HKD 6,000... And I only know this from Birthday Party Conversation, one of the mums in the group added she was applying to her catchment area ESF primary school as well as the two private independent schools under the ESF umbrella - which are wayyy far from where we live on HK Island - at which point she also communicated a willingness to move out to Sha Tin or Discovery Bay (daily ferry) and commute back into Central for work... I just mention because more and more I start to understand why last we checked the apartment we bought (and eventually sold) as an investment years before we became parents commanded slightly better rent per sq foot than the much swankier digs we are now putting up in - it was in the area of a certain rabidly oversubscribed International School of the Chinese persuasion... :D)

2) Remembering a girlfriend's advice, whose son could tell Maserati from Ferrari from Porsche at an early age (like many boys, her son loved cars, she thought it was good motivation to work on her toddler's observation skills, pronunciation, counting when they drove around HK), never to respond to Rockstar with, "We can't afford it," but instead use "We don't need it" - because they'd met kids who could get mean at the family's perceived erm, lower economic status (they're "just" regular investment bankers), when their son went, "my parents can't afford -".....

These things just continue to amaze me, which is why I think they're entertaining enough to mention. Technically the child has nothing right, it's the parents who are rich?

Oh btw while we were sitting here, the family just behind us had a boy about 4 inches taller than Rockstar in the care of a helper (2 little kids, 2 helpers)... At one point we realized the helper had left him standing pant-less not 3 feet away from us... When, still standing there, he also started peeing and the 2 helpers couldn't stop laughing, his poor newspaper-reading Caucasian dad who had been sitting further off looked up and got quite embarrassed... The family left soon after...

Hence I loved when Peter Buffet talked about the randomness of the family you are born in. How you did nothing to "deserve" being born in a slum in India, which is the exact same amount you would've done to "deserve" being born into one of the richest families in America. Most of the people around us might not be from one of the richest families in America, but I think they're a little further away from being born in a slum in India.

"Good parenting, it seemed, could conquer at least some of the difficulties that attached to being poor. Bad parenting could easily squander the supposed advantages that accrued to affluence." Mr Buffet Junior was describing how a friend who'd taught both Children's Aid kids as well as those in an exclusive private school in Manhattan charging ~USD 30,000 annually drew similarities between the neglected, "fatherless" ones, the limit-testers, the needy and clingy ones - in both groups. In other words, some of the kids behaved the same.

(At which point it's a little humbling to note kids might make less of a distinction between career-obsessed parents at work all day and those who are in jail.)

Mr Buffet points out it's much easier to break out the plastic and buy something than to spend time on the floor with your young child figuring out how his/her mind works (and technically you can do that with a plain cardboard box, not the expensive stuff). Stuff, is not necessarily love. He described how his mum would come into his schools and watch quietly or try to understand more about how he was being taught, and how that level of interest in his well-being affected him. What I took away was to this day he remembers this about his childhood, when he's grown and has had umpteen life experiences, umpteen fights with his parents.

As a former addicted-to-work-and-achievement person who placed her self worth in said things, I agree about the stuff. I remember buying expensive clothes to dress him in when I'd had a lousy day at work. Yeah I took a beating at work, but I'm dressing my baby in Jacadi. The Rockstar has been good for the addiction - the strong Mum-don't-push personality is a constant reminder not to look to my child for an achievement-fix, Praise the Lord.

It occurred to me, in moments of anxiety of the What Will I Do With Myself When He's Grown And I Have No Career sort, that I could only ever be a professional for several decades (if I was lucky), but I would be a parent for the rest of our lives. 

Mr Buffet defines true privilege as existence of real choice - his freedom in choosing to do what he loved (music) for a living. (As opposed to say, having the "choice" between doctor/ lawyer/ investment banker.) I like to define it also as parental love. It is not love if it comes with strings attached. But it is love to want the best for your child. (Not your ego, your child.)

The line between wanting a child to achieve for himself, as opposed to achieving for you, is not an easy one to navigate. So I'm kinda trying to avoid the more Stage Parent-ish conversations as much as I can - not just because it might be annoying, but because I'm human and it might provide a little too much self-doubt. What if I'm not doing it right, what if they've got it right? You need SOME drilling to get in the basics, I don't want my kid to work for their kid someday, their kid's a brat.....!

Phew, glad to get that off my chest there. Every time I get out of my self-imposed little bubble to check out the obsessive achievement-chasing parenting-of-young-child thing and talk to a few advocates, I remain unconvinced. BUT I feel more stressed (because they obviously believe it - and have you ever tried talking an obsessive parent into a less-obsessive standpoint? It's like Yeah, Yeah, Uh-huh, Uh-huh....... <Obsess><Obsess><Obsess><Be Obnoxious><Obsess>.) I'd like to enjoy the parenting experience, thank you very much. I was blessed with a child, allow me to enjoy that remarkable blessing, please.

That always snaps me back. Perspective is a wonderful thing. Years ago before I got pregnant, two of my close friends had been trying for some time to have children. It becomes hard to get truly worked up over your child not say, being the Absolute Top Student in Kindy (uh, they don't have that, right?), after you watch your friends trying for years to get pregnant. When, despite horrible complications, pain, and seemingly insurmountable odds, a friend chooses to keep trying rather than get back on the Pill. 

Life is what you make it. Oh, but don't forget to add a little prayer to life. Who says He doesn't answer prayers, He gives you what you need when you didn't even know it was what you most needed.

That I can remember, every night after I discovered I was pregnant (and my friend was still trying despite bad complications - yet genuinely happy for me), I prayed for her. Their application to adopt came through and a beautiful baby girl went home with them around the time Rockstar was born. It was bizarrely fast - maybe just 2 months' wait (after a standard year to complete the application for submission I think), astounding one of our confinement nannies who used to work the local orphanage circuit...   

My friend stopped putting herself at risk trying to conceive naturally after that. Then one day, she happened to see her and her husband's medical history with new eyes. One of the last things I remember her telling me before she left Hong Kong was of the unexpected blessing that their daughter did not inherit their family medical history.

Who says He doesn't answer prayers.

(Oh yeah - my other friend - she got pregnant after a few years).

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About Aileen

I blog about living and raising my son in Hong Kong - where toddlers have entrance interviews, parents keep test score spreadsheets, private school debentures can trade for more than half a million USD. Raising Rockstar's the most important thing I'll ever do. We show our true colors by the choices we make in bringing up our children. My blog is a message to my toddler son, about what the world and his parents are like today - for when he becomes a teenager and knows everything.
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  • zmun2

    You are so right about the almost impossible task of talking an obsessive parent into a less-obsessive standpoint. Some parents even think it is absolutely right to have their children achieve for them, for their own glory.