Book review: Dear Tua Ee

Posted on August 8, 2011 
Filed Under Anita, Book Review, The Star

By Anita Matthews
Published in ParenThots, The Star, Aug 8, 2011

By Eng Seng
Publisher: Chiang Siew Lee

This book brought back memories – warm fuzzy ones, painfully sad bits and mostly, how ignorant first parents are, yours truly included. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being ignorant or being parents for the first time. No matter how much parents arm themselves with books, doctors and advice from well-meaning friends and family members; nothing beats the firsthand experience of an infant in a couple’s life.

Dear Tua Ee underscores the turbulent journey parents embark on when their first-born arrives. Authored from an infant’s perspective, the book charts Eng Seng’s parents experiences in attending to his needs from diaper changes, bottle feeds, baby food, toys, teeth, hair, fever, rash, lullabies that work, and more.

The book begins with a who’s who list of people Eng Seng encounters from birth to 24 months and it is told through a series of letters to his aunt Tua Ee, who lives in Brazil. It opens on the fourth day after his arrival as he recounts his parents’ obsession with photographing him from every angle although his eyes are still shut.

Naturally the adults are worried about Eng Seng’s sleepy behaviour forgetting that he can hear them loud and clear. Eng Seng, however, is more interested in harnessing energy to keep his parents and nanny entertained at night. Indeed, the little fellow instinctively understands his priorities and purpose in the world.

Eng Seng also shreds the popular practice of parents adjusting their entire schedule to fit a baby into their lives. If at all, babies have to adjust their daily pattern to suit the adults. For instance, Eng Seng knows he has to wake up at night to entertain his parents as they are out working during the day.

He also knows that nanny prefers to feed him on demand while his parents feed by the clock even though he is not hungry. He also has to take note which adult is tucking him in bed as the nanny prefers to let him sleep on his tummy but his parents rather he lie on his back.

Truly it is a chore to switch modes and, of course, as Eng Seng notes, a regular routine is better than an inconsistent one.

Not to mention that the adults assume that serving gooey, gruel-like brown stuff that does not look anything like food is appetising. As Eng Seng points out: “I have just learnt a new skill. It is called spitting.”

Month by month, Eng Seng punctures his parents perceptions on how infants ought to act and react. The discoveries are largely fun with some frustrating bits which get resolved when the parents get Eng Seng’s drift – like finger pointing to indicate where he wants to go or riding escalators up and down which gives him infinite joy.

Babies are very easy to please once parents look at the world from their viewpoint.

Eng Seng’s entry into toddlerhood opens a new vista for his parents as they grapple with the idea of letting go. Many parents, Eng Seng’s included, invest in a playpen to limit the child’s movement. This upsets Eng Seng a great deal as he had assumed that growing up meant an open ticket to explore the kitchen, all the rooms in the house and climb the stairs. Not one to be defeated, Eng Seng takes the opportunity to exercise his vocal chords in the playpen.

Naturally his parents prefer it if his vocal chords are used for reciting the alphabet or numbers. Eng Seng does his best to comply to demonstrate his understanding of give and take. Like when Rachel Chi Chi steals a kiss from Eng Seng – he reciprocates by nibbling her ear. That very act receives a roar of approval from his father.

Learning parenting skills from an infant’s perspective is truly invaluable. Eng Seng’s daily adventures are delivered in straight-faced prose peppered with innuendoes. Parents, especially, first timers, underestimate the power of their young infant’s communication skills. Since we were all once babies, it does pay to look at the world from a baby’s perspective.

The bonus of Dear Tua Ee is Eng Seng’s firsthand observation of how his mother’s belly grows when she is carrying his baby sister. While his father tries to explain how babies arrive, no one bothers to explain how the stork got it in his mum’s belly in the first place.

The arrival of his sister Cheng Yen also signals the end of his series of letters to Tua Ee. Eng Seng is roped into the role of big brother and has his hands full in the years ahead. His collection of thoughts prove to be a useful tried and tested parenting template that his parents gratefully apply in raising his younger sister.

Eng Seng’s letters which were published in the Style section of The New Sunday Times in 1992 were left untouched until recently when his parents decided to compile them into a book. According to the book’s website, the authors currently live in Singapore.

Eng Seng is now pursuing his Masters at Stanford University, California, and his sister is a student at Northwestern University.

This book deserves a spot on the parenting shelves at bookstores and homes of parents-to-be for its invaluably entertaining insights that rival the standard Dr Stoppard staple.


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