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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Parenting

Old is gold: Beware the beast in us

Posted: 27 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

There are many circumstances that can test our patience to the max and bring out our ugly side.

The refrain of a song, Say You, Say Me, brings back memories of working life in the 1980s. I remember how a "say you, say me" episode could spark off a cold war or seething anger, which could explode at the slightest trigger. The atmosphere would be tense and ripe for open hostile confrontation and a nasty exchange of words.

To be dragged into the cesspool of mud-slinging, name-calling, and even character assassination as an unwilling witness was a task anyone would do well to avoid. Both parties were unlikely to listen to reason and were bent on being the loudest voice in this unleashing of fury. Diplomacy and quoting extenuating circumstances didn't usually help to pacify the situation when both sides were so heated up.

Once, I tried pulling out my favourite "stunt" – a quotation I had mastered. I announced: "There is so much good in the worst of us and so much bad in the best of us that it does not behove any of us to talk about the rest of us."

An uncomfortable silence ensued as both sides collected themselves and tried to figure out what I was hitting at. In their negative frame of mind, they had rejected all overtures for peace, but this time I succeeded in diverting their attention away from each other, and to me instead. Any short reprieve was welcome. It didn't matter that they thought I was trying to be a smart alec, and they certainly weren't impressed.

The good, the bad and the ugly are in most of us, though in different measures. It's possible for a normally even-tempered, genteel and courteous person to be suddenly transformed into a short-fused, uncouth savage when provoked. When our feathers are ruffled and our tolerance stretched beyond limits, we're thrown off guard and our sour side emerges.

Our uncivil parts are constantly vying for mastery over our emotions. Stress, coupled with fatigue and sleep deprivation, only serve to aggravate matters. When our expectations aren't met and goals are thwarted, it's a feat for most of us to remain calm and composed.

One place to observe human behaviour at its worst is on the road. We balk at the selfishness, aggressiveness and callousness of people who enjoy wielding power behind the wheels. Hours of bumper-to-bumper jams, congestion at bottlenecks, road bullies who behave like they're kings of the road, reckless drivers who endanger innocent lives, and daredevils who flout all rules – these are enough to rile many road users and cause them to spew curses.

A joke comes to mind about a little girl who asked her mum an innocent question: "Why do all the idiots come out to the road only when Dad is driving?"

Road rage isn't peculiar to men. Women, being more articulate, are capable of an expressive tirade of cursing and swearing. A Singaporean motivational speaker related an amusing incident he encountered while driving on a narrow road in the outskirts of Malacca.

With his other friends in a convoy, they were following at snail's speed, an orang asli guide who was leading them to his village on an old scooter. They were holding up the traffic as the road was too narrow for the cars behind to overtake them. A trail of Malaysian cars honked loudly and noisily behind them, venting their frustration at the Singaporeans. When the Malaysians finally overtook the Singaporeans at a broader stretch of road, they gave them a nasty earful, followed by dirty looks and crude hand gestures.

The speaker said he wished he had the opportunity to shout back at them and tell them that Singaporeans could drive as fast, if not faster, than Malaysians, if only they knew what was happening. His concluding remark was that misunderstandings often occur because there are some things in life that we can't explain.

The intrinsic problem behind our unbecoming reactions is our lack of patience. In this fast-paced, digital age of instant gratification and quick fixes, patience is becoming a rare commodity. Ironically, we expect to learn patience instantly, and in our hurry, we often miss it.

The test of patience can be observed in the crowded waiting room of a specialist clinic in a government hospital. One day, I accompanied my husband to the eye clinic after his cataract operation, and I had time aplenty to observe a graphic display of human behaviour.

When the waiting time stretched beyond the third and fourth hour, signs of restlessness set in. The patients fidgeted and looked at their watches intermittently. Grimaces and sighs of exasperation were followed by audible complaints. Some got up and paced the room, while others grumbled openly to themselves and their neighbours.

One man demanded an explanation why patients holding numbers after his were called earlier, whilst his number was deliberately missed out. Another patient, an ex-army man, openly chided his wife for nagging him to check with his doctor if his number had been missed out.

Then there was the patient who laughed at himself for being a born loser. Though he was starving, he resisted going to the canteen for fear of missing his turn. Finally, there was another patient who had a computer on his lap. He was so engrossed in whatever he was doing that he was oblivious to the fact that four hours had slipped by.

My husband was one of the last to be called. Thankfully he kept his cool and accepted the long wait as part and parcel of life.

Old is gold is a platform for readers age 55 and above to share their wealth of experience and take on life.E-mail: star2@thestar.com.my. Published contributions will be paid, so please include your full name, IC number, address and phone number.

Beating retirement blues

Posted: 27 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Live modestly while you're gainfully employed so that there will be more savings and less adjustments upon your retirement.

Recently, I took a break from work to attend a two-day workshop designed to equip older working professionals with the know-how to cope financially. One exercise generated some surprising responses from course participants. We were asked to work out how a 55-year-old breadwinner could continue to support a homemaker wife, a son doing national service, and a bedridden mother being looked after by a maid – if he loses his S$7,000-a-month job.

To a hard-headed financial writer like myself, the first thing the breadwinner should do is to check if the investment strategy he uses to deploy his S$700,000 CPF savings and cash can generate sufficient passive income to carry on with the lifestyle his family is used to.

Other responses were sometimes bizarre, such as the suggestion to bump off the ailing mother in order to send the maid home. Others were hilarious, like the advice from one person who said the son should live permanently in the army barracks so his room could be rented out for extra income.

The consensus was that the breadwinner and his wife should both try to get part-time jobs, as their CPF nest egg would be insufficient to last them through their golden years even though it seemed like a large sum. There would also have to be painful adjustments to be made, such as getting rid of the family car and the maid – in short, giving up the lifestyle to which they had become accustomed.

Since this exercise relates to a typical Singaporean family, it's a chilling reminder of the fate which may befall us if we fail to do proper financial planning while still gainfully employed. It's also a problem which may become more prevalent, since Singaporeans aged between 45 and 64 make up about 29.5% of the resident population.

Financial Issues

A report released last year by the Institute of Policy Studies, based on interviews with 5,000 senior citizens in 2011, sheds some light on the financial issues faced after retirement. It noted that one in five respondents had no savings by the end of each month. For those aged 75 and older, the figure rose to an even more worrying 40%. Among the respondents looking for a job after retiring, more than half said they needed money for current expenses.

In light of this, it should come as no surprise that a financial adviser is likely to serve up a blunt message: Save your way to retirement – and try not to spend more than you earn.

Still, I don't believe in trying to cut expenses to the bone and confining myself to a fixed budget every day just to reap some savings. Such strictures make a person feel small and kill the spirit. Our lives lie ahead for us to enjoy. It would be very miserable if we have to worry about how we spend our money all the time. That condemns us to a life of mediocrity and makes us unwilling to take any kind of risks.

Having said that, I have many friends who stopped working in their late 40s or early 50s, and chose to live only on their savings and investments. They don't seem to be any worse off for it. Indeed, they live rich and fulfilling lives. One of them volunteers twice a week at a hospice after giving up a career as a high-flying investment banker, while another is a former partner with a top accounting firm who spends her time teaching preschool children for free.

Common Trait

One common trait is that they have tended to live below their means even while they were holding high-paying jobs, which would have enabled them to live a much more lavish lifestyle if they chose to. They're more likely to be savers than spenders.

But that doesn't mean that they're miserly about how they spend their money. Rather, it's more a matter of making better use of the money they earn in order to enjoy the finer things in life, as they consider the value of each purchase before deciding to hand over their cash.

And since they have always lived modestly, they don't feel the need to make any big adjustments to their lifestyle after they stop working, like downsizing to a smaller house, or switching from driving a flashy luxury car to using public transport. It's life as usual for them, job or no job.

Another trait is their high personal involvement in managing their own money. They gauge the risk of each investment carefully before they put in the money. You're unlikely to find them getting panicked by a sudden rout in the stock market, or joining the queue to buy a condo in order not to miss the boat because real estate prices are going up.

Maybe some of my friends' excellent traits have rubbed off on me, based on the personality profile provided free for each participant in our course. Mine described my personality type as having learnt how to master money and use some of it for enjoyment.

"This balanced way of operating gives them a real sense of security when it comes to financial matters," it said. The description is flattering. I hope it holds true. – The Straits Times, Singapore/Asia News Network

6 ways you can teach kids about good, clean fun

Posted: 27 Mar 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Enforce healthy habits in your kids but make it fun! And remember, you've got to do the same as you're telling them to do.

Do your kids whine about washing their hands before dinner? Or run from the bathroom because bathing just boring? Parents have an important role in teaching cleanliness, but it can be hard to teach kids about hygiene because they don't see what all the fuss is about. After all, part of the fun in childhood and playtime is making a mess and getting dirty.

But parents have to be pragmatic and drill in the importance of keeping clean. It's really a matter of survival. Children are especially susceptible to illnesses and infections caused by germs. These can be spread by simply holding someone's hand, or picking up bugs and leaves at the playground. So, to avoid trips to the clinic, it's best to keep the germs away by washing, scrubbing and showering.

Because parents and guardians can't be around all the time, it's best to teach kids healthy, clean habits at home, and from as young as possible. The learning process doesn't have to be dull. The idea of rules and regulations can be daunting to little ones, but not when it's shared with a smile and plenty of fun.

Anti-Germ Superheroes

Get your kids to make a face and cover their mouths when they sneeze or cough. Tell them that they're superheroes out on a quest to stop germs from spreading. Make them try the "Dracula": cough or sneeze into the crook of their elbow rather than into their hands.

Sing-Along Song

To get the most effective cleansing, wash their hands with warm soapy water for 20 seconds. Rinse, then dry them with a clean cloth or paper towel. A hand sanitiser can be a good substitute if there's no running water. Make up a hand washing song with your kids – singing out the steps as they scrub and rinse. Change the tune or mix it up with different words every time. You can do the same when teaching kids how to shower or bathe properly. Make up songs so they remember to scrub every part of their body and wash them properly.

Make Up A Game

Another important example to set is to avoid touching your face with your fingers. That's one of the easiest ways of contracting a cold or an eye infection. Come up with a challenge to see who can keep their fingers off their face the longest. The first one caught has to miss out on a treat.

Own A Colour

Make it a rule that everyone in the family use their own cups and utensils. Kids are often encouraged to share, but they may unknowingly pass on germs when they think nothing of sharing drinks with friends. Ask each child to choose a plate, cup and utensils in their favourite colour, and make it their permanent colour at home.

Learn On The Tablet

No one likes nagging parents, but things learned via gadgets are cool. So download educational apps like Pepi Wash, a role-playing game designed to let kids learn about hygiene in an interactive manner. The colourful, quirky app takes players through various tasks – putting clothes in the washing machine, washing your hands at the sink, shampooing your hair, and even using the toilet. Kids will enjoy interacting with the characters and learn a thing or two about washing up at the same time.

Be A Role Model

Instead of reminders, set a good example in front of the kids. Wash up more often before eating, after blowing your nose, after using the bathroom, and after handling pets. Kids take after their parents, so it's a good idea to start looking into your own healthy habits and make sure you're doing what you're telling them to do.

When kids learn to be mindful and responsible for their hygiene from young, it becomes a habit. They're more likely to care about their cleanliness and grooming as they grow into teens. Personal hygiene is crucial with the onset of puberty. Parents with teens must make it a point to have regular discussions about cleanliness, especially when the need for deodorant, shaving and acne treatment come into play.

The best bet would be to have frequent showers, with products that suit the spectrum of your needs. One such product is the Aiken Antibacterial Shower Crème Extra Protection, a gentle yet effective remedy that eliminates 99.9% of harmful bacteria from the skin. Infused with antibacterial extracts of rosemary, bergamot and ginseng, the concoction deeply cleanses and purifies skin from excess sebum and impurities, and is safe and gentle even for children.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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