The Adventures of Squirky the Alien

A Children's Book Series on Adoption


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You Are What You Know: Thoughts on Tan Pin Pin’s Adoption Film Pineapple Town from the 7 Letters Anthology

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A few months ago, Pin Pin told me she was going to do a short film on adoption as part of the 7 Letters Anthology.

She asked if I wanted to audition. (For some context: I met her a few years ago at an acting course at Tisch Asia where we giggled a lot.) I declined due to the filming schedule, but was thrilled to hear about the premise of her project. It’s so rare to have an adoption narrative be at the forefront of a film, much less a local adoption narrative.

Here’s the synopsis:

Pineapple Town is about a girl’s adopted mother trying to find out more about the birth mother in order to trace the roots of her adopted daughter. Tan Pin Pin helms the film, being the sole female director among the seven. As a documentary filmmaker, Pineapple Town marks as her first fictitious work.

This film is not an instant tearjerker like some of the other 7 Letters shorts. Pin Pin’s track record is in documentaries meticulously detailing the forgotten histories of Singapore. As such, the storytelling here is almost like objective reportage, as seen by how the adoptive mother fires question after question after question. Is this too much? she asks her husband on the attire she should wear to meet the birth mother. Where is she from? she asks the adoption agent. What is she like? she asks the lady who cared for the birth mother while she was pregnant. What is interesting is that the answers are never really what they seem but the adoptive mother chugs along anyway.

The adoptive mother’s search for the biological mother is an allegorical journey back to Singapore’s “motherland”, Malaysia. There is this idea that by going back to your roots, you would better understand who you really are. However, as an adoptive mother, I couldn’t help but take this film at a more literal level.

For one, I’m intrigued by how it’s not the adopted child looking for the biological mother, but the adoptive mother. What is in it for her? Would this be something I would do even if my son does not want to find out more about his birth parents?

At this point, only one word comes to mind: truth. The truth is, adoption comes about because someone is lacking and losing. The truth is, many want certain truths hidden because it creates trouble, but that doesn’t mean the search for gritty realities should be stopped.

I don’t think I’ve figured it all out yet. But I’m so glad a film like this is showing on the big screen. It may not be the biggest of stories, but for some of us, it’s the biggest truth we’ve seen being depicted in a local film. Thank you, Pin Pin.

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Images taken from SINdie

7 Letters is screening at Golden Village Cinemas till Aug 26. You can get your tickets here.

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Dear Readers

Most of the Squirky readers are too young to ping me on FB or drop me an e-mail. Most of the feedback I get is filtered through their parents, who are usually my friends or friends of friends or people I’ve met at events.

As such, I really do wonder what really goes on in the heads of kids who read Squirky books.

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This is my cousin’s son D. For a while, I was sent videos of him rattling off the titles of the books. It’s really cute to watch. It is my not-so-secret wish that lil’ D and all the young readers will always find a friend in Squirky.

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This is a drawing by Big E (what his mummy calls him). He has created a little art collection of Squirky portraits and I really do wonder what he thinks of Squirky as a muse. One of his drawings even depicted Squirky as a grown-up with a wife and children. That’s really a stretch of imagination and it’s awesome.

As a painfully shy kid, book characters often provided the most comfortable company for me. Since I’ve started writing this book series, I feel like it’s almost a responsibility to write Squirky as someone kids would enjoy hanging out with – fun, friendly and accepting.

In real life, I usually take a while to warm up to people. But it is through writing that I get out of my shell and try to be fun, friendly and accepting as well.


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Don’t Constrain God

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Don’t constrain God.

This is what a wise friend (and fellow adoptive parent) told me  when I asked her: What do I do when people tell me that I am lacking (Christian) faith in adopting? 

Most of my friends would never tell me that to my face, but I won’t be surprised if some of them think that way.

It had to take someone I don’t know very well to suggest  that I need to pray more boldly. Ask for the moon. Move the mountains. God rewards those who put their faith in him in impossible circumstances, doesn’t He?

After that, the person shared with me other “miracle” stories of women getting pregnant/having healthy babies to reinforce her point.

And all I could say at that point was, “Ah ok.”

The next day, I thought about what that person said and the circular path that led us to adoption. My very first “parenthood” prayer was this: “Dear God, I’d love to be a mother some day.” And He did make it happen with lots of tears and fears and struggles, but boy, did he make it happen in the most wonderful way when C came into our lives. My husband and I would like to categorically state that C is one of the greatest blessings in our lives and we would not have it any other way.

And so the next time this kind of comment happens, here’s how I’d like to respond:

“Yes, I believe God answers all my prayers. But sometimes, the answer takes you on an unexpected path. Sometimes, the miracle comes in a different form. The Bible tells us about adoptees who did wonderful things for God and His people – Moses (adopted by the Pharoh’s daughter), Queen Esther (adopted by Mordecai), Samuel (adopted by Eli). Forming a family by adoption is not any less than forming a family biologically.”

And yes: “Don’t constrain God.”


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Answering Awkward Adoption Questions

Squirky 3 Parent Guide 1

As an adoptive parent (especially in Asia), be expected to answer questions. A lot of questions. Whether you like it or not, you have become an ambassador for adoption. Given that this is still a topic that most people here are ignorant or have misconceptions about, try to regard these questions as opportunities to educate. Most of the time, the questions come from good intentions or pure curiosity.

However, I can understand how these questions can feel intrusive and even offensive at times. This is why it’s good to “prep” for such scenarios so that you establish your personal boundaries clearly while not being overly defensive to others. Here are a few common questions that my husband and I have received as adoptive parents. I’ve accompanied them with some suggestions on how to approach them. Hopefully, this section provides a helpful starting point for your family to deal with these challenging adoption queries.

Squirky 3 Parent Guide 21. Why did you adopt?

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this question, especially if asked by family and close friends. However, there will be times when you will be asked this by strangers or acquaintances. Do not feel obliged to reveal any more than you are comfortable with. You don’t have to deny or lie, but coming up with a “generic” response will help safeguard a level of privacy that you’d like for your family.

Suggested replies:

  • “My husband and I were not able to have a baby biologically and so we decided to adopt.” (No need to go into detailed infertility issues if you’re not comfortable talking about them.)
  • “We’ve always been open to adopting and providing love and care to a child who needs it.”

Squirky 3 Parent Guide 3

2. Aren’t you afraid that this child will have illnesses or mental disorders that you won’t know about till later?

This was a question posed by our parents and close friends when we informed them of our decision to adopt. It initially angered us because it is an extremely hard-hitting question. Instead of getting into heated arguments with them, we came up with a levelled response that assured them that we were ready to be adoptive parents.

 Suggested reply:

  • “Illnesses and mental disorders are developments that we cannot control in life. Every parent, whether adoptive or biological, faces such uncertainties. We are committed to being the best parents we can to the child we intend to adopt and that means providing unconditional love and care no matter what happens.”

 Squirky 3 Parent Guide 4 3. How much did you pay for this child?

In Asia, many of us aren’t afraid of asking each other about our salaries or how much we paid for property and cars. As such, it is very common to be asked this, even by acquaintances, and they probably are unaware of how offensive this question can sound when framed this way. No, your child is not a commodity. As such, answer this question in a way that makes them (hopefully) realise this.

Suggested reply:

  • “Do you mean to ask about what the adoption fees are like? About as much as giving birth to a child.”

Squirky 3 Parent Guide 5

4. Isn’t this child so lucky to have been adopted by you?

There’s this savior complex that surrounds the whole idea of adoption. People might tell you how noble or selfless you are to adopt. While this might seem flattering, it’s important to stay grounded and remind these people that adoption is a personal family decision that comes about through a variety of circumstances. At the end of the day, adoption is a blessing amidst a tragedy (separation from birth parents) and it is important as adoptive parents to be realistic about this aspect.

Suggested reply:

  • “Actually, we’re the lucky ones to have the privilege for this child to join our family. His/her birth parents must have sacrificed so much to let him/her go. He/she has been such a blessing to our lives.”

 Squirky 3 Parent Guide 6

5. Aren’t you afraid your adopted child will reject/leave you once he or she gets older?

 Another “hot” question that often comes from older relatives. Given how filial piety is valued in this part of the world, this is how we’ve tried to allay their concerns. We’re not sure if our reply works, but they don’t probe further after this!

Suggested reply:

“We fully expect our son to leave us when he’s grown-up and lead his own life. We don’t expect him to take care of us in our older years. In the meantime, we intend to bring him up and provide for him the best way we can. We can’t control how he responds to us as parents as he gets older, but we will always love and support him.”

(Illustrations courtesy of David Liew)

Would love to hear how other adoptive parents deal with these questions – feel free to leave a comment!


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Family. Always.

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Last year, while C. was throwing a huge tantrum about not getting some toy, I gave him a time-out in his room. Two minutes later (our usual time-out duration), my husband went to check on him and he was huddled in the corner of the room and sobbed,

“Mummy don’t want to be family.”

That just broke our hearts.

Later, my husband and I talked about why he would say something like this. He’s going to school everyday now (bumped up from three times a week) and is probably still adapting. He’s also starting to ask more complex questions like “Why is mummy a girl and I’m a boy?”. When my husband scolds him, he tells me “Daddy does not want to be my friend.” But family?! 😦

I remember an adoptive mum telling me that time-outs did not work for her tween daughter because her girl would feel very abandoned and would start yelling “No one wants me.” As such, she tweaked such discipline sessions such that she is in the same room while the daughter does her time-out.

And so, I tried a similar approach the other day. I sat by the door while C. had a meltdown about wanting to scoot when it was dinnertime. I sat by the door while he writhed on the floor. He kept telling me what he wanted and I kept explaining to him (being very careful not to shout or tsk or sound impatient) why he was in the room, why we needed to eat dinner soon and why he should not be talking to daddy and mummy this way. And after about 15 minutes of this back-and-forth, it’s like something broke through and he ran over to hug me and said, “Sorry Mummy.” He stopped crying almost immediately after that and ate dinner peacefully.

I’m not sure if it will work the next time round but I feel like that I need to be more aware of his temperament and current developmental stage – basically always observing what he best responds to at that point in time. The balance between parenting with love while not overcompensating is so tricky.

And also, all the stuff that I’ve been “preparing” for in writing the Squirky book series – it finally feels more real than ever.


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The Other Parenting Project

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2015 started out with some not-so-good news in the health department. As someone who’s been sickly from young, it’s not something I find surprising. But this time, the news rattled me more than usual. In an ideal world, it would be wonderful if C could have our company till he’s a full-fledged grown-up. However, with all the health scares I’ve been getting in recent years, I really, really need to work on a healthier lifestyle for the long-term.

With the parental responsibilities come a lack of sleep, little time to exercise or meditate, and eating takeout food because I often feel too lazy to cook my own food after cooking food for C. But while these circumstances are understandable to some extent, they’re also cop-out excuses. I could have easily used the time on social media and TV shows to sleep more or make a salad.

I also know I’m a lot more impatient and cranky when I’m tired or sick. So this year, my other parenting project besides working on the Squirky series would be to be a lot more disciplined healthwise . When I’m healthier and stronger, I’m also a better, happier parent (and person overall). It’ll hopefully also set a good example for C as well.


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Into Space We Go

blog2The Adventures of Squirky the Alien #2: What Happened to Planet Q? will be launched this weekend. We’ll be doing two events soon to commemorate its launch:

– Sat, 29 Nov, 11am – 12.30pm, MPH Parkway Parade

– Sat, 13 Dec, 2.30-3.30pm Sengkang Public Library Activity Room

We’ll also be going to Malaysia for a Squirky event in January – details to come soon.

There’s so much more to catch up on, so much more to reflect upon (especially given how this month is National Adoption Month) and will do that soon … very soon!