“Five years ago, at this very moment, you were trying to come out of mummy’s tummy but you couldn’t. So the doctor had to cut me up to take you out.”
“When you were a baby, papa could carry you in one hand, just like that.”
“When you were a baby, mummy carried you everywhere in the wrap and you would fall asleep in there.”
“When you were a newborn, you were so small and slept so much. Until you turned two weeks old and stopped sleeping.”
We were regaling the firstborn with all the stories of his babyhood this afternoon. Oh, there were plenty to share. Of all the times he refused to sleep and drove us nuts. Of all the times he giggled at us and brightened up our world in that nanosecond. Off all the times we rocked him gently in our arms, crooning lullaby after lullaby in the darkened room. Of all the times he fitted so neatly into the crook of our arms, his head floppy on our chests, his hair carrying that whiff of baby scent that we had so desperately wanted to bottle up and keep forever.
It then struck me how fast time was. Five years it had been since he came into our worlds and turned us into parents. The road has been equal parts acknowledged privilege, unbridled joy, sheer exhaustion, internal frustration, quiet retrospection and oodles of humility.
But most importantly, it has also been pure and utter love.
It’s not just the love that we have for our child, our beloved boy who came at a time when we were despondent and clawing so determinedly out of the barren pit we had found ourselves in. It’s also the love that he has for us, this unconditional and unselfish love that he has for us, and taught us about.
We are far from perfect, and there are times when we regret not being able to hold our tongues or keep our tempers in check. And yet, his love never faltered.
Every day, I look forward to waking up to his little voice going “good morning mummy”, before he plants a quick peck on my lips. When I drop him off in school, we hug and kiss for just a moment, enough to let us know that we love each other and that we will be waiting for that time when we are done for the day and can be together again. And when I finally rush off from work to pick him up, he never fails to fly towards me with the biggest of grins and the most exuberant of hugs.
He talks of growing up, of going to primary school. He wants to be a big boy. And whenever I sigh at this, he would ask me, “Why are you sad for me to grow up, mummy?”
Oh baby boy, it’s because you are fast outgrowing me. One day you will no longer want to nestle into my arms during music class. You will not want me to lie down with you at bedtime. You will not want to “cook” for me with your toy kitchen. You will not need me to read you books. Your hand will be bigger than mine, and no longer in mine as we walk. You will be too heavy for me to carry, and you will no longer lay your cheek down on my shoulder.
But grow up, my little man must. I do not have the power to hold back time and I shouldn’t want to. That’s not my job as a mother. I have to let him soar into the sky, in his own time, and learn to be his own person.
In the meantime, we will keep creating beautiful memories of even the seemingly most insignificant moments. And we will keep it in our pockets till the time comes when our children are off to explore the world on their own.
Happy fifth birthday, my darling. You are our dream come true.
While most people wrote a review or a recap of 2016 before the clock struck midnight on Dec 31, I didn’t. Mostly because I was lazy and procrastinating. But I suppose as I sit here waiting for the clock to hit 12am again the day before I officially grow older by another year, it is a good time to take stock of my 35th year.
For much of the past year, I stopped writing. Life, as I always said, got in the way. Juggling a career with two little people and working on my marriage and trying my best to remain a friend to the people I care about – that is quite the gig. Most days, I am existing by the skin of my teeth, perched on the edge of my seat. Other things simply had to take a backseat.
There were some regrets and even then, the regret petered out after a while. I simply had no time nor energy for regrets. And that sums up life in my 30s, really. I let go of many things and cut many people loose. For sentimental reasons initially, I mourned and thought about them often. Time proved to be a clarity check for me: it made me realise that given the many hats I am juggling, if certain things slid or certain people left my life, it just meant that they were not important enough for me or I was not important enough for them. And that is okay.
There are more important things to care for, such as my health. My scare with uveitis told me who were the ones who thought about me and cared for my well-being. It taught me that I should always put myself first, above all things. To this day, nobody knows, not even my optometrist knows why I came down with this strange and rare condition, but she has warned me that it can be triggered by stress. And this is why I need to ensure that I am well-nourished, mentally, physically and emotionally.
In my 35th year, I finally came to the epiphany that I am actually good at what I do. I used to think that I wasn’t cut out for it, that the bureaucracy and the red tape will be the death of me. I still think that certain processes and the way certain public sector people act are horribly time-consuming and useless. But I also know that I enjoy what I do, and that what I achieve is greater than any eye-rolling stupidity that I face in the long run.
More importantly, however, is the fact that I also accept my abilities and capabilities wholeheartedly. In the past, I never thought too highly of myself, believing that I was lucky to have generous and kind bosses. I would say things like, Oh I don’t know why they think I am good. Because, damn it, I work hard and I am good at what I do, and I need to learn to accept that.
On the home front, last year was challenging in so many ways. The husband got a new job and started jetting off for weeks on end. I will say that it has been incredibly hard, especially when my full-time job can be draining (dealing with teenagers on a regular basis is not easy, I will tell you). When he flew off a couple of weeks after my uveitis diagnosis, I panicked a little. I was so, so scared of it recurring. I will be lying if I said that there was not an ounce of resentment in my bones, and I will be lying if I said that all was well and rosy.
But as marriages go, there are ups and there are downs. At the end of the day, we work through it and we work it out. Are we still crazy in love? Yes. Are some days harder than others? OH YES.
Somebody once said to me that I shouldn’t have it hard since I have a helper. All I can say is, dude, my helper ain’t bringing up my kids. On most days, I do most child-related chores myself. Yeah, maybe that isn’t the smartest, but it’s just the way I function as a mother. I still like to bathe the kids, read to them and lie down with them in the dark as they drift off to sleep. It’s my chance to cuddle them and kiss them and show them that I love them even if I am not by their sides for the past nine hours. It’s their chance to refuel their love tanks and to seek refuge in the shelter that I provide.
And you know, that is ultimately the kind of feeling I want my kids to have with me as their mum. I want them to know that they are safe and loved, and that they can always come to me no matter what. One day, they will walk off and find their ways by themselves. They won’t need to hold my hands for much longer now. But always, when their ships are tired of sailing, they can always find their way home to me.
And speaking of sailing – we did a little bit of travelling in the past year and I want MORE. London in March, oh London. It still has a little piece of my heart, I long to go back again and again. We finally brought the littles to Disneyland in Hong Kong and it was so delightful. Then, we scuttled off to Bintan with our friends and their kids for a little getaway – everybody had so much fun! The kids loved having company, they got along famously and the parents are now talking about organising a long vacay.
So hey, THIRTY-SIX. You are here and I am ready for you. Bring it, 2017. Between you and I, I’m pretty sure we can rock this town.
Dear amazingly beautiful wife of mine, whose loins from which our offspring were birthed,
I cannot believe that we have spent exactly 17 years of our lives together. I still remember the day vividly: we were standing on top of the Sheares Bridge. As the clock struck midnight, the ships in the far off horizon released their flares and I asked you to be mine.
What a lucky man I was! Truly fortuitous! I count my lucky stars every other day!
And since you have been penning letters to me almost every year since then and I have never done so, I decided to do so today. To thank you for making me the luckiest sod on earth.
Thank you for incubating and subsequently birthing our two sons, the heirs to my esteemed family. My ancestors would be so proud of you! While they (the sons, not the dead ancestors) piss the crap out of me on a daily basis (because I am a magnificent grumpy old beast), I would not trade them for a million dollars in the world. (I may consider $1.5 million, though. Any takers?) My family thinks that they are my carbon copies but I reckon all their glorious and creative traits can only be from you. Because you are glorious and creative.
Thank you for lifting the household on your tiny, delicate shoulders. I will never wonder aloud why you are so tired. I know it is because your mind is always preoccupied by our needs. Without you, we won’t have toilet paper embossed with pretty flowers to clean our smelly backsides. Without you, we will not emerge from our baths smelling of organic lavender, our skins moisturised with lotions made only from natural ingredients. Without you, we will be eating rice, fried egg and dark soy sauce everyday as nobody will know what groceries to buy. Without you, our children will be uneducated heathens who do nothing but watch TV all day because YOU sorted out all their education and enrichment needs. I could go on, the list of our needs is surprisingly long. How on earth have I never noticed that in almost five years of parenthood, I will never know.
(Mostly because I am a MAN.)
Thank you for being so easy to love and please. Why, I don’t even have to buy you fancy jewellery or bring you out to expensive dinners to make you happy! All it takes is a trip to the hawker centre with a good char bee hoon and a solid cup of teh-si and your sweet, simple mind is satisfied. And you even buy your own jewellery and bags, out of your own pocket. Ha ha ha! You are quite the fool in love but as my idol Steve Jobs said, stay foolish!
Thank you for always putting our family first. You gave up your career to be the one who is grounded, so that our children can be picked up on time every single day (because you hate the thought of them seeing their friends leave while they remain in childcare). Even though you may be stressed from your own volume of work, you never fail to do this, because I have to work late every other day. Or travel to another continent for weeks on end. Meanwhile, you keep the household running, the children fed, bathed, read to and slept.
Thank you, most of all, for putting up with me all these years. As I said earlier, I am indeed the most magnificent grumpy old beast. Just like wine, I age and mature beautifully although I can be a teeny weeny bit short-tempered. Seriously, I don’t know why you put up with me. Oh wait, I do. It’s because you are just the most amazing and patient woman in the world! How lucky of me that you have both drop-dead gorgeous looks and virtue! Never mind that you are a bit on the, err, slender side, those un-wide hips have spawned two male descendants for my great family and THAT’S ALL THAT MATTERS.
So, 17 years huh. What an idiot you are, I mean, what great taste you have as am clearly a stud. I love you more than words can say and I love you so much that I hope when it is time for us to go, I will go first (only because you said you will haunt my new wife if I remarried after your death).
Written on behalf of my husband. I know he would have written this, if he could.
I’ve been itching for a change for a while now.
No, it’s got nothing to do with finding a new job. I mean, I am likely to remain in this position for the next couple of years since a) I have no idea what to do with myself other than teach, b) nobody would hire me, c) I need the subsidised childcare.
(Although yes, changes are a brewing in the workplace, what with the change in management. I am adopting a wait-and-see attitude, the changes may not be pretty but necessary.)
One of the changes that I have been pondering is the change in our living quarters. Back when we first got the flat, I thought we would never move. There’s so much that I love about it – the light falling through our large windows, the airy balcony, the large living room space, the central location. And these are still what holds me back from shifting.
But when the boys came along and we hired a helper, the space is slowly taken up by their things and their needs. And this space is becoming less and less…comforting. No, that’s not the right word, my home is still a great source of comfort to me. Rather, I find more and more flaws in this home. And I think that I want a clean slate to begin again, so better design a home that’s more in tune with our current needs.
And yet I can’t bear to leave this place, our first home with all its light and huge windows and amazing location. Decisions, decisions.
Once upon a time…
About two months ago, I quietly crossed the five-year mark of being in the organisation. I actually forgot all about it until the HR department informed me that I was getting a “long-service” award.
Wow. Has it been that long?
This is by far the job that I have stayed longest in, I can be considered what you call a serial job-hopper. Or a reformed job-hopper, anyway. Not that I am embarrassed about my job-hopping days – I see it as trying out everything that life and companies have to offer until I find something that fits my soul. Sounds dramatic but it is true, I am simply not someone who can work for the sake of working, I have to actually love what I do.
But when you stay in a job long enough, you start wondering if this is going to be it. Or at least, I do. I have an itchy foot, I am always looking out towards the horizon. There was a point in time when I was all ready to hand in my resignation, as troubled as I was about the bureaucracy and lack of progression in the organisation. I don’t like stagnating, one of the greatest thing about life, I think, is picking up new skills, new knowledge.
(Which is why I need to work, to keep my brains moving.)
I took a cursory glance at the options available to me, at the environment around me, and always, always, I go back to thinking, But I really enjoy teaching.
So I think, in a way, this is me for life. Not merely as an educator, but someone in the public sector.
As idealistic as it sounds, I feel like my career is fulfilling because I know that somewhere, somehow, I am doing good. The pay may suck, the progression is bogged down by red tape and archaic rules, and the lack of flexibility can kill. But when you see the kids growing, progressing through life, there is a gentle sense of satisfaction and you turn to the current cohort, hoping to mould them to be stronger, more resilient and more creative.
When I was in school, I swore that I would never join the civil service. I didn’t have the grades for it and bah, who wants to work for the government anyway when there are more hip and awesome places to go. I am eating my words now, although I will say that I am not working for the government but for the people. In my own little way, I am contributing to the little red dot that I call home.
So after five years, what next? I don’t know. This isn’t the time for me to move on yet, I still have no idea what my next steps will be. I don’t know if I am still relevant or sharp or clever enough for the private sector, heh. And there is more to be done, I just need to find out where and how I am needed.