Sunday, November 4, 2012

I've Crashed

Hello friends!

Thought I'd pop in today to share what it's like when a person steamrolling on pure adrenaline crashes. It's hilarious!

So, I've been on hyperdrive since the school term started in September, right? After a glorious summer filled with nothing but sunshine and swimming, we were thrust back into real life with the first day of school. Suddenly, I realized the kids needed clothes (what did they wear all summer?) because, somehow, they had grown since their last school year. So I went shopping, which was only about 35% successful because not everything fit and every single fall coat had puff sleeves. Just like last year. Really, this fashion mistake has to end; puff sleeves should not dominate nice sleeves - a humane ratio should be one pea coat with puff sleeves for every ninety-nine without.

So sewed for the kids - fall hoodies, sweaters, altered pants..... And then remembered the Bella Bag pattern I'd been procrastinating royally with, so did that. And did a crazy Bella Bag auction/sale thing.
Then Emily had a birthday party. That was fun.
Then finished up the wooden bakesets and got them shop-ready.
And I was at the post office almost every other day, mailing stuff out - quivers, wooden toys, bags.
Then the stores started decorating in orange-and-black and I was rudely reminded: Halloween! Costumes! Scream!
There followed fabric shopping. Measuring. Drafting. More sewing. Fitting. Finishing.
And sprinkled in the mix were teacher conferences, classroom volunteering, medical appointments, guest posts, judging a cardboard competition, swimming lessons. And an odd, mysterious obligation to cook robust meals like curry, roasts and meat pastries. Suddenly, I missed the menu of summer - piecemeal buffets of crudites, buns, chips and whatever parts of animals one could find in the fridge to slap on the grill.

And then it was two months later and we'd arrived at Jenna's birthday party. Our last party of the year. One heckuva joyride.

You guys in the US don't have the kinds of exams we have in Singapore (and in the UK and other commonwealth countries). At the end of sixth grade, tenth grade and twelfth grade (translation: Primary Six, Secondary Four and JC2), we have these mammoth standardized exams that span several weeks and cover about two years' worth of curriculum. If you've watched the Harry Potter movies, you'll know what I'm talking about. We have papers every day (sometimes two a day) for two to three weeks. There are lab exams (Science) and studio exams (Art and Music) and theory papers. Everyone in the country in those three grade levels swots for them for months. We do nothing but study - notes, textbooks, study guides, sample papers. We have dry-runs, called The Preliminary Exams, in our individual schools to prepare for the real exams. After the Prelims, the teachers get together and swop exam papers so every other school gets even more exam papers for their students to practise on. 

By the time the real exams come (complete with proctors from other schools and rows upon rows of desks), the students are veritable machines - they've eaten, drunk, slept and dreamt nothing but exam topics. People discover caffeine for the first time who've never needed it before. Parents cook special tonics for their kids who've never cooked tonics before. Educators throughout the country get together to strategize study tips and predict the sorts of topics that will be featured in that year's examination. Everyone's sleep cycle turns nocturnal. The entire country is buzzing with adrenaline. The newspapers run stories on the performance of the students and entire schools after each paper. People laugh and weep and mourn and rejoice as if in the midst of national crisis. For many of us, it means a place among the somewhat-limited spots in the local Universities, or else the opening of a door that takes us overseas and away from home for the first time in our lives. For some, it means scholarships and promises of prestigious careers that translate to financial relief and pride for their families. For others, it simply marks the end of formal education and the freedom to do full-time work in their parents' food business or an apprenticeship for their future vocation.

It's a manic coming-of-age but it makes even more significant the national collective sigh of relief when it's all over. Those first few days after the last exam paper are about the best in any kid's life - some of us ceremoniously toss our textbooks and notes down the trash chutes; some of us camp out all night in town, drifting from cinema theater to eatery and back to cinema theater; some of us just sleep and sleep and sleep. It is exhilarating and feels almost as if one has been liberated from captivity. I lived through it both as a student and a teacher. It is not fun on so many levels. But it is not for cowards, either. I remember doing quite a few things for my graduating students just to keep them going - little notes, small funny gifts, meeting them at a coffee shop to go over an exam question, explaining electromagnetic theory over the phone. 

When I first moved to the US, I couldn't wrap my mind around this thing called High School Graduation. Why do people throw parties and invite all and sundry, I asked my (100% American) husband? Was there a major exam the kids did particularly well in? Oh, you mean every kid celebrates it? Did they get places in colleges of their choice, then? What -they haven't even applied for colleges? Whoa! They collected credits? That's it? They didn't swot for papers? Sleep at 3 am four straight weeks? No study-group sleepovers on a diet of McVities Digestives and coffee? And there's a prom? Like dancing, you mean? I'm sooooooooooo letting my kids grow up in this country. No stress!

Yesterday, after Jenna's party, it felt like I'd just finished an exam. Not the captivity part - I mean, obviously sewing, partying, costuming and woodworking are fun in ways studying never was. But just the sense of no longer having deadlines, or to check things off multiple lists - now, those felt familiar. Also, I was famished. I ate an entire dinner and immediately felt like I needed a whole second meal. I checked out Revolutionary Road from the library so I could watch myself into a depressed, languishing stupor. I hung up the Halloween costumes, feeling completely detached as I wondered, "Where did you come from? You look handmade. Who made you? Did I?" I cleaned the entire house so that, apart from the streamers and balloons, one couldn't tell that we'd just had thirteen kids here eating, crafting and playing dress-up all afternoon.

Then in the evening, we set the clocks back and I asked the husband to watch the movie with me. And both fell asleep on the sofa within minutes, never even making it to the TV room. Somehow transported myself to bed and slept for 12 hours straight, which is three times as much sleep per night as I usually get in September and October. It felt completely wrong.

I wouldn't encourage you to try this at home. I think that only certain personality types can handle this. For one, you'd have to be naturally manic. And for another, you'd have to be Singaporean and accustomed to exam stress. Finally, you'd need to be incurably sentimental, so you can tell yourself there's an expiration date on the number of years you can do this for your children before they grow up and choose other toys and other costumes and other ways to celebrate their birthdays.

Today is a good day. I did nothing. I ordered Chinese take-out. Tomorrow I'm going back to the pool. Then the girls and I are going to pack shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child. A whole week to do one task! Unbelievable! Who takes that much time to do anything?

And after that, there are any number of things to be done. I look forward to all of them. But for now, I'm off to watch Kate & Leo. I leave you with a few things:

1    Remember those wooden toys I made earlier this month?

I don't have the time to make new sets in time for Christmas (or the near future) but would anyone be interested in just the blanks? I was thinking that I could make sets of wooden blanks - the sprinkle jars, the jam tarts, the cookies, the donuts, and even the cupcakes - holes drilled, candles nailed etc) and you buy them and paint them yourself. Or give them to your kids as art kits (add your own acrylic paints and brushes and varnish). I also have peg dolls blanks of all sizes, so you could custom-order your family configuration and paint them yourself. Email me if you're interested. I don't know the prices yet - so your emailing me is merely to indicate your interest and not necessarily your commitment to buy them, okay? It will help me decide if it's worth doing and if I have enough supplies.

2   I'm planning to write a few more process posts in the coming weeks. Some topics: blogging, drawing, the difference in drape between an Aline bias-cut skirt and a semi-circular skirt, that sort of thing. And next year I might be brave and try a commercial pattern for the first time in my life and journal my (barf) frightening experience. Any other process topics you'd like me to write about? And I don't mean tutorials on specific items e.g. "I want a tutorial for your cardboard mailbox." I will happily ignore you.    

3 One photo from Jenna's party: 140 glo-bracelets for an in-the-dark treasure hunt. These were little kids, so we made it really easy to find them!

I'll post about the actual party later. It was all indoors, which was horrible for photos, so don't expect many. Next year we're doing her party in July, at the swimming pool (Mother's idea, obviously). The lifeguards will be running the thing and I'll be doing laps, stopping only to light the candles on the cake. Whoo!


  1. You DID sleep!! Hurray! It's about time! ;)

  2. I am really struggling with Johnny's necessarily indoor party - our house is tiny! Love your in the dark treasure hunt!

    I had exams for high school - in Austria. They weren't nearly as stressful as they would have been, though, because I was headed to a US university, and once they let you in all they care about is that you actually graduate! I agree that the US approach is bizarre, but much calmer!

  3. I'd be really interested in the process of draping a woven top on a dress form. I don't know if this is up your alley or not, though. I cannot seem to get a woven shell pattern to fit me, but I don't know where to begin with my own. Kids clothes, I can do, potbellies are easy.

  4. I love the idea of the glow in the dark bracelets.
    What a great idea - this would be great fun on a camping trip too.

  5. Oh yeah, I remember those exam days! Months of studying, doing mock papers over and over, giving mock exams with extra strict marking (just to prepare us for the worst!), making revision timetables, being fed ground almonds to increase brain power -- it was intense and exhilarating!

    Sadly, nowadays it also means the time when student suicide helplines are activated - the pressure from schools and families is so immense that many children feel they just can't cope.

    Now I look back in wonder at my 16-year old brain, which could tackle a 3 hour exam on higher mathematics, followed by one on Literature, take a 2-day break, and then continue on with 9 more exams. :)

  6. Yes!! I would definitely be interested in a blank wooden bakery kit!! My kids would have a blast designing and painting their own baked goods.

  7. A couple of thoughts:

    1. Do they still do Primary 3 streaming exams? If so, you left that one out. The joys of exam stress at the age of 9 - where if you fail, your whole life is ruined, RUINED! What fun.

    2. I stayed up for 48 hours straight when I last moved. I thought I could credit determination - damn those stupid exam drills!

    3. Chinese take-out - from where?!

    Thanks for the memories/nightmares of Singaporean exam stress. I think. x

  8. Omg PSLE. Don't remind me. We have to face the beginnings of that nightmare once we head home at the end of the year. The older kid is not looking forward to it after three years in overseas school systems. Hope you have a good long rest after all this busy business! Having fun is hard work!!! ;)

  9. Hey, that sounds like France, too. I discovered caffeine then , as well... and you describe that "after" feeling very well !
    I hope you are not too depressed by Revolutionary Road, today...

  10. So when is your book, "Insanely Awesome Kids' Celebrations" coming out????

    Always in awe and admiration,


  11. wow, glad you are taking it easy :) we had final exams too, but nothing as bad as what you described!
    As for process, well, you probably won't like to hear this, but... how about a series on drafting tops for women (ie adult female bodies)?
    And, if you make the pea coats, I hope you share the details!

  12. Ohhhh Exams.. I still have dreams, no nightmares, and I suddenly wake up thinking I have an exam to take.. Scary stuff..

  13. Oh those days. In my state back in India, standard 10 and 12 are most important. Poor students would start studying 10th syllabus when they are in 9th and 12th syllabus in 11th standard. For 4 years student and her whole family would forget what life is. All the joys or celebrations get banned. For each subject they would write or study dozens of exam papers getting from different schools before the annual exam. And in 3 hours of exams they would write may be 30-60 full pages. At night, they would get nightmares that they are late for exam or couldn’t finish the paper or maths equation is trying to eat them. And very few unfortunate ones would take their lives when they find out that they failed. Definitely the students in USA are lucky that they don’t have to go through this much study stress.

  14. I think it's not the exams that are stressful, it was the parents' expectations that put a toll on the students. During my time, my parents were concerned but never pressured me, for that I am forever thankful... So I had the chance to play all the sports that I liked, was naughty enough to get canned by the Headmaster, did moderately well at Secondary 5, and still managed to graduate LLB. I am not bragging, but I really, really love my parents for their understanding and for giving me the opportunity to experience more than just studying for exams.


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