I still remember when watching TV was a treat. That was in the early 1980s, when I was in grade school. Today, watching TV is something my 5-year-old preschooler takes for granted.
We didn’t have iPads or Apple TV back then, and television was something parentally regulated, so my activity of choice was reading books.
Coming from a family of writers, readers and book collectors, I was spoiled for choice, for while the businessman side of the family bought me versions with lots of colorful photos, my literary side would give me the originals, hardbounds from New York, perfectly wrapped in plastic the Locsin way, and in small print, with black-and-white or sepia-colored, hand-drawn illustrations.
And then there were our weekends, spent shuttling from one lesson to the next, from Miss Saturnino’s art classes in my aunt’s home, to ballet classes (I was the original Peppa Pig in a tutu) in Tita Chloe Romulo’s home, to swimming and tennis at Makati Sports Club.
Weekends always seemed to fly by too quickly, especially when I started riding horses. There just never seemed to be enough free hours in the week!
Today, kids are even more spoilt for choice. Sports have evolved so tremendously that nearly every athletic activity in the world is readily available and taught by internationally qualified trainers.
Back in my time, foreign coaches cost a small fortune, and having them was usually something we really looked forward to and took very seriously. (To this day, the coaching of my idol, Olympic and World Champion equestrienne Kathy Kusner of the US, comes to mind whenever I get on a horse. Having her in Manila was, and possibly still is, one of the highlights of my life.)
And then, of course, there is the seemingly infinite array of perpetually upgrading gadgets that kids today can readily purchase. Does anyone remember how expensive an Atari was? I remember holding it in my arms like it was gold. Today, my son has a Wii, a Kinect, an iPad, a Mini, and one more Wii and two more Kinects in his three sets of grandparents’ homes in Australia and the Philippines.
I think it’s insane, and while I love that the iPad is the perfect “yaya,” especially during family lunches and other time-consuming events, I think my son is missing out on the truly fun stuff—you know, like landing in the mud after falling off your horse, or getting whacked on the face by a tennis ball!
The odd thing is that when I ask my son how his day went, he often says, “It’s just okay, mom.”
He sounds so bored, and I can’t even begin to imagine why.
Admittedly, my son is “surgically attached” to his iPad. I even have to bring mine along, just in case his runs out of battery.
I wish his father would encourage him to do more sports, but my husband’s belief is that he’ll be able to do all that in school, so just let him enjoy doing what he wants. The question is, how will he know what he wants if he doesn’t know what’s out there?
And so, I manipulate my son’s exposure. I find it utterly pathetic that he thinks playing My Horse on his iPad is the same as riding a real horse, and since lessons here in Singapore are double the price in Manila, I bring him to a place that offers 10-minute horse rides for kids.
Since kids have notoriously short attention spans, this experience is just the perfect length of time to allow my son to build confidence astride a horse, and also, to prevent him from getting too bored and possibly acting up in order to get out of it.
This use of time, I learned from my son’s first swimming teacher, who liked to keep his lessons short and sweet at just half an hour for preschoolers.
I don’t know if trainers and centers in Manila are the same as over here, but for, say, golf or taekwondo lessons, the first lesson is always free, both from charge and obligation.
Of course, what happens when you show remote interest is that you get cornered into prepaying for a term, but at least parents are assured that their kids are genuinely interested in the class—and not just being forced into it by overzealous, hypercompetitive moms and dads.
My son has tried a couple of sports and creative classes. Some he liked, most he didn’t. But what I realized is that all kids have their own time and interests for things he didn’t even bat an eyelash at before. He is now suddenly into karate, and so off to karate lessons his dad and I will now have to go.
Unlike Manila kids, my son does not have the luxury of drivers and yaya to deliver him from one lesson to the next, especially on weekends, which is when we do our grocery shopping and run errands.
My husband and I work full-time. To make do, we try to incorporate education and exposure in everyday activities.
To make the mundane seem special, I make up special occasions for my son to look forward to. For example, I bring him to my office during school holidays. Since he likes dressing in a coat and tie (he thinks he’s Lenny Briscoe of “Law and Order”), he actually looks more like a banker than I do, and fits right into the CBD crowd. (I must admit that people do stop and stare a lot!).
While in my office, he is tasked to open the door and be friendly to callers. I call this time with him “Mommy-and-Gabby Date Day,” and each time, I do something different, like take a different mode of transport to and from work, or bring him on an actual “date” to try a cuisine he’s never had over lunch, or, if he’s really good, to catch a movie after work.
The good thing about being somewhat creative (and a former publicist), is that I am able to spin a story for the most ordinary of situations, which sometimes backfires when he repeats it to other people (who then give him, or me, this “What the…?” expression).
But it gets my son interested, and that’s what’s important.
For Mommy-and-Gabby date days in the office, I tell him he’s my boss, and boy, does he love that.
While being the miniature doorman in a financial institution may seem boring to other kids, it’s the biggest thrill to my 5-year old, so much so that when we’re home and he sees my company’s branding all over the place, he thinks he has offices everywhere!