How odd! Just as I was starting to pen this letter to you, you woke up and started bawling. It’s almost as if you knew. Well. I wouldn’t put it past you actually, you and your brother both. Every time your papa and I make a secret pact to do something together after your bedtimes, one of you would do something to delay bedtime. Like refusing to sleep. Or cry and wake up. We wouldn’t even talk about our plans, instead, we would exchange knowing glances but you guys just know.
Anyhow. Papa is off soothing you now so I shall continue slouching in the sofa and typing this.
Now. As you can tell from the header, this is a combined letter. Terrible, isn’t it? The thing is, I have no excuse. Other than that I am massively exhausted from work and the nightwakings (thanks to you). Words come up empty. I could not write, there was this huge mental block standing in my way. So here we are today. But it’s all good.
I cannot believe that you, my little squishy pie, is all of 10 months now. WHAT DID THE TIME GO?! Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was inhaling in the breathy newborn scent of your tiny being? Why are you suddenly this funny and adorable product of a garden gnome and a potato?
And you are funny! You are at the age where you are actively communicating to us now. Whether it is to express your displeasure at your brother snatching your toy away (your face crumples and you bawl) or to show your joy at having me back in the evenings (you sit and bounce on your cute little butt while flapping your arms vigorously) or to get me to hurry up and feed you your favourite yogurt (again that bouncing on your butt thing with impatient “EH EH EHHHHHH“).
Oddly enough, your favourite book is this Winnie the Pooh board book that I had carelessly tossed into our shopping cart at the supermarket a couple of years back, out of nostalgia (I used to love Pooh so much). It’s an action book that involves some pointing, bouncing and stretching. And you LOVE it. L-O-V-E. You now lift my hand up to point at the Pooh, flap your arms excitedly when it’s time to bounce and can pull yourself up onto your feet with my help when I tell you to stretch to the sky. And then you’d turn to look at me with this “HOLY CRAP WOW” face.
The other day, I came home during lunch to help por por fix the remote control. You were lying on the mattress, drinking your milk. You didn’t pause when you caught sight of me, but you looked at me and tapped my hand with yours. Once you were done though, you launched yourself at me and leaned into my face with your mouth wide open. It took me a split second before I realised that you wanted to kiss me on the mouth! And then you did it again. And again! I love baby open-mouthed kisses.
Also, this shows how much you love your food. You. Love. Food. You eat so much and are always asking for more. And you eat practically everything. I love seeing you wipe out your tray every evening. It could be creamy broccoli pasta or meatball pasta or pan fried salmon or toast soldiers. No worries, everything gets wiped out eventually.
(So your father’s son.)
On the flip side, you think that everything is food, from the soil in the flower pot to the cats’ litter.
You are also a pro at crawling now, although you don’t do it with as much fervour as your brother did. But you do it so very fast. Some days, I would turn for a heartbeat and then you were gone. There are also times when I would find you in the room, in front of the bookshelf and flipping a book. Oh, you have destroyed a book or two, but I have to say that you are pretty good at flipping pages. You have no idea just how much that makes my nerd mama’s heart melt. I hope you will learn to love and appreciate the beauty of words.
You’ve also started cruising (!!!) and you are constantly lunging for something. This evening, it was my dinner (I was sitting at the coffee table). Other times, you’d be grabbing my phone. And all of a sudden, I see that you are not holding on to any surface and standing up on your own. As quick as that moment began, it was over in a flash and you plopped down on your diapered butt, so gleeful.
Look, bubba, which part of “TOO FAST” do you not get? Did you not receive the memo that said you need to remain mama’s baby for a whole lot longer?
Oh and guess what is your first spoken word? That’s right buddy, it’s MA. Atta boy! And for the record, I am pretty sure you are referring to me and not to food (“mum mum” MY ASS CAN) or any other riff raff person. I am still your favourite person although it’s a close fight among your por por, papa and gor gor for second place.
Your papa and I were just remarking one morning that it feels like a shock to know that you are already 10 months old. Maybe it’s a second-born thing but we feel like we haven’t really enjoyed your babyhood properly. I feel slightly panicky at the thought of you turning one. You can’t, you simply cannot. I refuse to have a toddler in my household. WHERE IS MY BABY?
I love you so much, my littlest man. Every day, I am thankful for you, thankful that I wished and hoped for another child of my own, thankful that you came along the way you did, thankful for the way you complete our family.
We may not have any money, we may not live in a swanky condo with a fancy view, we may eat simple meals. But you are worth more than anything money can buy.
We love you to the moon and back, bubba, and we will always have your back.
We finally sold our dining table today.
For a few reasons – space being one of them – we decided that our current table was not right for our needs and we decided that it had to go. And silly me, I sat on it for the longest time because I felt, well, sentimental.
It’s a good table. It’s a beautifully made one. We fell in love with it once we saw it and decided it was worth all that money to buy it. It’s seen us through several Christmas dinners, and New Year’s Eve dinners and birthday celebrations. We thought it was going to last us forever for it didn’t look like the sort of table that would be ruined that easily or quickly – it was sturdy, reliable and hardy.
But it had to go. And so I finally put it up for sale.
A lovely couple came by today, said they liked it and paid for it immediately. And when they left, I felt odd. Like, hey, my table was finally sold. Amid the sadness though, was also a tinge of relief. It was sold. No matter how hard it was for me to part with it, it had become dead weight, something that was dragging us down. We could not move on with our plans without it being sold, everything else was centered around it.
So yes, goodbye to my dining table. I feel a little silly writing about it but I told you I am a sentimental fool.
When I was six, my father died.
I remember every single detail of his funeral.
Most adults would be surprised that my memories of his wake are so vivid and real. I remember not wanting to see my papa’s body because I was scared. Scared of what, I cannot tell you now, for it was something I could not articulate then as well. I remember fooling around with my cousins, jumping around like there was an invisible hop scotch engraved on the ground. I remember bursting into tears and bawling non-stop, and being passed around by the adults as there was no one who could console me. I remember the white tee shirt and little piece of straw token pinned to my sleeve.
And the most lasting memory of his funeral, that stayed with me all these years, was the tune that the awful marching band played during the procession: Auld Lang Syne.
This morning, as I woke up to the news that Mr Lee Kuan Yew had passed away, it was Auld Lang Syne that surfaced in my mind immediately.
Funny how some things never leave your subconscious.
When I was a kid, watching the NDP on TV at home was a must. My mother and I would seat ourselves in front of the telly after dinner and watch the entire programme in its entirety, year after year. The only times I missed doing this was when the man and I were camping out at some field somewhere, hoping to shoot the fireworks.
“Every year also the same thing,” my mother would tsk as the contingents marched across the screen. But it never stopped her from watching anyway.
But the moment that we were both waiting for was not the fireworks, but when Mr Lee appeared. We would clap and cheer loudly, as if he could hear us.
“My hero!” my mother would exclaim.
And year after year, it started to become apparent that he was getting on in years, especially after the death of his beloved wife. He looked frail and papery thin, almost as if even cracking a smile was costing him some effort.
The man and I would murmur something along the lines of “look at him, he’s getting so fragile now” and we knew he would die one day.
But we never thought that the day would come. Ever.
You know how we think that some people will never die and they will always be around by the sheer power of their strength and determination?
That’s how I thought of him.
I must confess that as I became a young adult, I stopped idolising Mr Lee and took a harder, more critical view of my government’s policies. The truth is, I do not agree to many of them. But this does not mean that I lost my respect of the man.
His methods may not work for this generation, this era, but the turbulent times probably needed someone as decisive, unapologetic, combative and single-minded as him. I will never understand fully what it was like to live in those uncertain times but seeing how I am a product of his legacy, his methods must have worked.
I am an educated woman with a family of my own. We have a roof over our heads and decent jobs. My children receive subsidised childcare, which allow me to go to work. Our transportation system – say what you will – is stable, reliable, clean and efficient. I never had to worry about the colour of my skin or my gender hindering my progress in school and at work. I have access to delicious, cheap and hygienic food. When I take my boys out for walks, we can duck under the trees for shade. My estate is clean and safe for my kids. I speak two languages fluently. My passport allows me to travel freely and it is highly sought after.
Coming from a single-parent family of a low-income earner, I reckon I have done pretty good, thanks to Mr Lee and his master plan.
This morning, as we watched PM Lee deliver his speech in three languages, I choked back tears. Here is a man who had to put aside his grief as a son to address the nation as an office holder.
“So, so sad,” I muttered to myself repeatedly.
Aidan, the sensitive child that he is, caught on that mama was feeling low. “What’s wrong, mummy?” he asked. How do you explain a death to a three-year-old?
So I said, “Mr Lee Kuan Yew is the founding father of Singapore, he created Singapore. He has died. He was somebody’s papa and somebody’s gong gong, just like how you have your yeye and nai nai and por por. His grandchildren have lost a gong gong and his children have lost a papa. And it’s very sad. He is gone and no longer with us anymore.”
Bless my child, he probably did not understand most of what I had said, but he repeated solemnly after me, “Oh, he is not here anymore.”
Today, I realised that my boys will never know a Singapore that is so infused with the life of Mr Lee Kuan Yew. To them, he will be but a character in the history books, someone they read about during history or social studies lessons. They will never have the privilege of seeing him walk up the stairs of the National Stadium, clad in his party white and waving to the crowd.
And so I write this, in the hopes that they will one day read my words and see that he was not just a man in the story books, but someone who had meant a lot to their mama.
Dear sir, I am sure you did not go gently into the good night, and you probably fought a good fight. Your work here is done and your beloved wife is waiting for you on the other side. Farewell, be at peace, and know that your presence will be sorely missed. Thank you for all that you have done.
Photo shamelessly taken from iheartapple.
Little man turns three. I cannot believe it. Whatever happened to my baby? Suddenly, he is all long limbs and sinewy muscles. The baby fats have all but melted off his frame. He is all boy now, running here and there and everywhere.
And yet, he is still very much our little boo boo. Every night, he tells me that he wants to “sleep with mummy”. Before he falls asleep, he must, must put his hand on my belly button and then lie his head on my lap. When papa teases him and calls him “baby”, he retorts that he is NOT papa’s baby but he is “mummy’s baby”. He lets us hug and kiss him silly. We play fun little games and sing songs with lyrics that we make up on the spot. He “cooks” for us. He likes to ask me to feed him his yogurt even though he is perfectly capable of feeding himself. He only wants papa to open the car door for him. He says “thank you” and “sorry” in the cutest, sweetest manner.
I still cannot resist kissing his cheeks, even though they are no longer deliciously juicy. I still love to carry him and have him nestle against my neck. I still sniff at his sweaty noggin, pretending that he still retains that sweet baby scent. I still love it when he calls me “mama” every once in a while.
I wish I can bottle up every moment with him. I wish I can remember every single funny thing that he says, every single new thing that he does which astounds us. I wish I can keep him at this age forever, this delightful age where he constantly amazes us with the little facets of his personality.
Three years ago, my life changed. It was turned topsy turvy and I found myself crying and laughing at the same time, as I cradled the tiny little being whom we had made, and who was irrevocably connected to us.
My son was born and he taught me what unconditional love is all about. I thought I knew everything but I was wrong.
Everything is still work in progress, of course. We are still figuring our way around this parenting gig. I still wonder if I am doing the right thing. I still wage battles to protect my family and to bring up my children the way I want to.
But then, I look at my little man and I think, I must have done something right. I must have done something good in order to have him in my life.
Once upon a time, he was but a mere flicker of hope. Today, he is my son.
Happy birthday to my boo boo boy. We love you madly, to the moon and back.
Today, I went for a course at work, one that was mandatory and which I wasn’t looking forward to because, hello, I had a crapload of work to clear. I had brought along my iPad, thinking I would be bored out of my wits and would require some form of online consolation.
But it turned out to be completely different from what I had expected. I ended up NOT falling asleep and I left feeling more empowered and inspired than before.
Let me backtrack.
Ever since I went back to work after my maternity leave, I have felt like I no longer exist as a whole but in pieces. As the responsibilities and making piled up at work, I started feeling as if I was in a constant juggling act. I rush to work in the mornings after dropping off Aidan at daycare (and Zac at my in-laws’ on certain days of the week), and then I work, work, work. Come evening time, I rush to pick Aidan up before zipping home. Then comes dinner, bath and bedtime. Before you know it, it’s late and I am so exhausted, I fall asleep in my son’s bed or on the sofa.
Then, there’s the boys’ constant battle with the bugs, which is so, so, so draining. If you think it’s hard to see your child falling sick, try having two kids taking turns to be ill for eight months in a row. Also, try leaving your sick child with a caregiver so that you can go tend to other people’s children. It is a rotten feeling.
I’m in pieces, barely whole.
And of course, something’s gotta give. I made a mistake at work, which was picked up by a senior member of my team. She chose to escalate it upwards to the directors, even though the mistake was not even close to being grave. Thankfully, my boss stood up for me and told me I was doing great and that there was nothing to worry about. (I love that woman and I will forever be grateful to her for believing in me.)
I don’t care for politics. I don’t care for climbing that ladder. I really don’t give a fuck when it comes to things like that. I just want to work, earn my keep and then go home to my boys. And yet I find myself being embroiled in such petty power play again.
That incident planted a seed of something in me.
Over the course of the next few months, I worked my ass off but there was a sense that I no longer knew what I was working for. Call it an itch that could not be scratched, put it that way.
And then, at today’s training, we were asked to think about the different roles that we play in life – mother, wife, daughter, teacher, employee etc. Then we were asked to think about what we would want the important people in our lives to say to us when we are celebrating our 80th birthday.
I thought hard about that one. What would I want my loved ones to say? What would I want to say to myself, when I am wizened and wrinkled and (hopefully) wise?
Suddenly a light went off in my mind.
I know what I want to do with my life, I just never had the guts to try because, gawd, I have a mother to support financially and my kids and the house and insurance and things like that. I have obligations and people with obligations work so that they can fulfil these obligations.
But what if I never tried to combine everything that I want and need? What if I never tried to have my cake and eat it too? What would I say to myself when I am 80?
“Happy birthday, Me. I wished you had done more yoga, shot more pictures and used your words to earn your keep. I wished you had spent more time with your children. I wished you had been a wife, mother, daughter, friend who connected.”
So, I am trying. I have found a co-conspirator, we are having fun hatching ideas and plans. Maybe this won’t work, maybe it will. Maybe I will continue being a rat in that wheel for another 10, 20 years.
But damn, I will try.