Right now, at this very moment, I am feeling a little like an octopus. I have my hands tied in so many areas – my full-time job as an educator; being a mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend; working on my Masters. Sometimes, it feels like one hand is slipping and I am barely keeping that role in place. Sometimes, I feel like I am spread so thin that I am barely functioning.
I breathe. And then plunge headlong into the madness.
It’s my own “fault”, really. I opted to take on this Masters, I pushed for it to happen. But it’s also because I really wanted it, I wanted my brains to start churning again and lapping up all the beautiful knowledge that I don’t currently have. So I don’t complain. I don’t cry. I compartmentalise, push the guilt out of sight (try having your kids crying at bedtime because you aren’t there to put them to bed), and work.
(And drink copious amounts of tea, coffee and wine. Good wine helps!)
Mondays to Thursdays, I spend the bulk of the night working on my classes. Sometimes I end at 12am, that’s early. Most nights see me up till 1am, 2am. There’s so much that I don’t know and so much that I need to research about. But the more I read, the more intrigued I become. And then come Saturday evenings, I have video-conferences to attend.
The studies have been incredibly fulfilling in so many ways. I am learning so much more than I would have on my own. I am so aware of my shortcomings – I feel really stupid some days! My classmates are so amazingly intelligent.
And more importantly, I am relishing the challenge. It’s a struggle on many days and on many fronts, but I know that I can do it. And then I rise above it and deliver.
It’s been three months of living like a zombie with my eyebags having eyebags. But guess what? I wouldn’t have it any other way. This life, right now, is full of chaos but I am not drowning, I am soaring. And I know I will miss it so, so much when it is over.
(PS: This song is so reflective of my current mood, it’s breathtakingly beautiful.)
Exactly three years ago, at this very hour, I was trying to sleep. And failing. Terribly. Because you were then in my womb and you were preparing to make your appearance into this world. And boy, did you make it known to me that you were READY. TO. BE. OUT.
The contractions, oh, the contractions. They came in waves and robbed me of my sleep. I breathed and dozed and cringed and groaned. Goodness knows where I got the strength to withstand the never-ending torrent of pain. But I did. (And those people who talk of forgetting the pain? LIARS.)
12 hours after you started making your descent, out you came. But first, you had to tear the walls of my interior while you were making your grand appearance. And this, my darling, is our first taste of your personality.
At almost three (because it isn’t the hour yet), you dictate your own pace. You are such a little individual, you refuse to live by our hour. Instead, you choose what you want to do and when you want to do it. Nobody can force you to do anything, instead, you will go about it your own way.
Take a simple task such as getting a shower. Even after numerous warnings in advance, you do not comply. Instead, you will tell me, “I am practising the piano, Mummy” or “I am still building my ship/airplane/train/X-Wing fighter/whatever mode of transport”. I will leave you be and true enough, when you decide that it is time to shower, you will waltz into the bathroom.
It can be extremely frustrating, especially on days when I have to attend to my lessons after you go to bed and things are running behind schedule. But at the same time, I know that I have to let you go your own way. I shouldn’t clip your wings and confine you to a rigid world when you are still in the midst of testing the boundaries of your independence. And in time to come, this streak will serve you well as an adult. In the meantime, I just have to be patient and heave a big sigh inward.
Pace aside, you also have this complete and utter disregard for your safety. You just MOVE, no matter how, no matter what. There are times when I wonder if I had birthed a tornado instead of a child. You are always tearing around the house and I know I should stop you but then you are so freaking cute as you run around on your chubby little legs.
Oh yes, the chubs. Let’s talk about that. I love, LOVE that you are such a squishy pie. I love to hug you, to squeeze you tightly in my arms, to kiss your bouncy cheeks. You are my baby bear. I love that you still fit so snugly into my arms and you still allow me to kiss and snuggle up to you at bedtime.
But do you sleep? Hell no. Again, this thing with going at your own pace. You have perfected an elaborate dance which I have to adhere to. First, you tell me you want to nurse. And then you say that you are done and command me to lie down with your brother. But you will not sleep. Instead, you talk and sing songs and recite rhymes and talk some more (and your grandmothers thought that you were mute at two?!). Finally, you command me down to your bed, tell me you are thirsty, run out to get water, run back and ask to nurse before you drift off to sleep.
Really, I could go on and on about the things that you do and the things that you say but I daresay a post on my blog will not suffice. Nothing but seeing you in person can capture the kind of personality that you are. You are extremely annoying but so damn cute. You are extremely stubborn but so damn funny.
I mean, you are the kid who bursts into our bedroom at 6-freaking-AM and shouts, “I am here! Wake up Mummy! The sun is up!”
But you are also the kid who still wants mummy to carry him, and wraps his arms around my neck so lovingly. You are the kid who rolls on top of me to say “good morning” and to give me my good morning kiss. You are the kid who, when I pretend to be sad, will grab me by the neck, kiss me soundly on the lips and say, “I kiss you! You like?” You are the kid who chuckles so infectiously at the silliest things in the world. You are the kid who is ever so generous with your brother when he demands something that you have (although you are also the kid who will bop your brother on the face like a thug when you are pissed off with him). You are the kid who can play nicely with your brother without us actively supervising you. You are the kid who dances like nobody is watching. You are the kid who eats like a champ and tries everything. You are the kid who sometimes wake up and say, “Mummy I wake up already.” (You are also the kid who wakes up, talks up a storm LOUDLY and demands that we all wake up with you, unlike your brother who could quietly babble to himself until we were ready to be awake.)
I could go on and on but oh there aren’t enough words to say how much you mean to me. I love everything about you, from your smelly, sweaty head to your delicious little toes. From the moment I knew of your existence as a bunch of microscopic cells, I have loved you with everything that my fragile human heart can muster and more.
I don’t know if you will ever understand the depth of your mother’s love. But remember that no matter what, no matter where you do, our arms will always be a safe, open harbour for you to return to.
To my baby bubba, I love you to the moon and back. Stay fearless. Stay joyful.
“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.