Happy school holiday to you and your family!

Today is the start of a oneweek holiday for secondary schools in Sarawak. Many parents and guardians welcome such a break f rom school. It means being able to wake up a bit later in the morning instead of before dawn just to beat the school hour rush. For these parents and guardians, such a break also means a time to relax and unwind. It also means the opportunity to sleep a bit later in the evening and perhaps watch a late night movie or two.

Guardians do not mean only grandparents but also aunts, uncles and other people who look after those who are unable to manage their own affairs. I am guardian to my nieces because their parents work or live in other towns of Malaysia.

I treat them like my own daughters and do many things for them including signing their report cards and lending them money. Until recently, I also had to wake up before sunr ise just to send my younger niece to school.

She had refused to take the usual school bus because the operator increased the monthly bus fare for a student to RM200 per return trip. We told her to just pay the bus fare and accept the fact that everything had gone up with the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax and hike in petrol prices. Initially, she was adamant and insisted I send her to school every morning. Being a responsible aunt, I did not want her to have any excuses to miss school or, even worse, quit school.

Believing also that all children should pursue the highest education possible for a bright future, I took it upon myself to send her to school every day until she decided to take the bus again. I t t o o k h e r o n e w h o l e month and my son to make her change her mind.

My son pointed out to her that it was not r ight for her to depend on me to fer r y her ear ly i n the morning when I worked night shifts. Unlike me, my son doesn’t talk much. However, when he talks, he talks sense and I was really thankful that he managed to talk some sense into that stubborn niece of mine. For the sake of schoolchildren in the neighbourhood, sometimes I wish that the old bus company, Chin Lian Long, was operating in my housing estate again.

For years now, no public bus has ever stepped into the housing estate where I live. The sheltered bus stops which remain remind me of the good old days when my mother used to send both my nieces to their school, SRK St Teresa, by bus. At 6am, the Chin Lian Long bus would arrive sharp at the bus stop in front of our lane.

My mother and the gi r l s would disembark in front of SMK St Joseph, which is opposite SRK St Teresa, at Tun Openg Road before 7am. The old lady would wait for the girls in school until it was time for them to take the bus home. Those were the days I did not have to wor ry about sending the girls to school and picking them up again. A lot of water has f lowed under the bridge now. My older niece is in college and can drive a car.

My younger niece is in Upper Six and right now, she is with her parents in Bintulu. Both my nieces spend their school holidays with their parents. Sometimes, I wish they will stay back in Kuching and help me look after my mother who is suffering from dementia. But looking after a loved one with dementia can be annoying and stressful. I do not blame the young girls for running away from their grandmother whenever they can. My mother, for instance, asks the same question repeatedly throughout the day. “Stay calm and be patient” is the advice to caregivers of dementia patients.

“Whatever, just be pat ient,” advises a cousin. But sometimes, I do lose my patience. I am, after all, only human. My younger niece has brought her laptop with her to Bintulu. Besides catching up with the neighbours, I think she is going to spend a lot of time this holiday watching movies on the Youtube and playing games on the computer. Me anwhi l e, my nephew, Chris and his family are travelling in their family car to another town to catch up with relatives there. A modern parent , Chr i s believes that his children should learn to appreciate Mother Nature while they are young. He plans to show his son and three daughters how t o f ish in the smal l r iver that flows beside the village where he used to spend his holidays as young boy.

I am sure hi s children will have lots of fun exploring the lovely outdoors there. My late brother’s 16-year-old daughter, meanwhile, will be busy earning her pocket money by working at a coffeeshop this holiday. An orphan, she has no much t ime for fun. Li fe for her i s mostly work and little play. According to some experts, it is good for teens to take on a part-time job.

There are many benefits and I will just touch on three here. Part-time work teaches teens responsible money management, enables them to contribute to their own college fund and helps them to use their free time constructively. Thi s pa r t i cul a r ni e c e i s indeed very tight with her hard earned money and she is saving for college. Before rushing off to work, all students, particularly teenagers, are advised to check their par t- t ime work places thoroughly and make sure that they are decent places to work in.

When I was a teenager, I never had the opportunity to work part-time because it never crossed my mind to do so. That is the truth straight from my heart. The closest thing I did to a part-time job was to give tuition to a lower secondary student when I was in upper secondary school. That was also for a few months only.

My parents were over-protective. There were many things that they forbade me to do when I was a schoolgirl. Among them was coming home late or going out late at night. So more often than not, I’d spend the short school holidays staying put in Sibu, my hometown, reading story books and daydreaming and the longer school holidays at my grandpa rent s ’ f a rm in Kanowi t , reading more story books and enjoying the fresh air and rustic lifestyle. What about you, my friends? How did you spend your school holidays?