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Life without papa

Over the weekend, we celebrated Fathers’ Day. And I wrote a note on Instagram to the man:
Fathers_day_inst

And you know, I don’t think much about my father these days. It’s been almost 29 years. The past is in the past, the present is right here, right now. We’ve moved on in life.

Plus, I was all of six years old. It is easier to forget when your memories are fluid, constantly replaced by newer, fresher ones. And I think in that sense, God was kind to me.

But it’s not that I don’t remember. Oh, how I remember. I remember the little moments. I remember the moment my mother knew that he was dead, as we walked down the hospital corridor. She wailed, a heart wrenching noise that echoed in my young mind and never left. I remember bursting into inexplicable tears at the funeral, despite not quite grasping what death was.

Back then, my mother didn’t have the mental capacity to sit me down and explain what death meant. We just dealt with it in our way – moving on wordlessly, sweeping everything under the carpet, crying into the pillow late at night.

Time passed. It was a tough, lonely childhood. I grew up too fast. I learnt to survive, by putting up a strong, impenetrable shell to hide the vulnerability, the fragility. When you don’t have a father and other kids are questioning why you don’t have a father, you can’t cry about it. It’s a sign of weakness. You act as if you are doing as well, if not better than them, and then you change the topic even as your heart aches at the fact that you are different from them. You learn about privilege and social class. You learn that your studies and your smarts are the only things you possess that can help you get ahead in life – because you have nothing else in your name.

If I ever do think about my father these days, it’s usually to wonder what would have happened if he hadn’t died.

You see, I am not a very likeable person. I was never the sort of kid who was popular or well-liked by the teacher (and probably not now either!). I never say the right things. I can be harsh and judgmental. I cannot tolerate self-indulgence and weakness. And, especially at this age, I am not afraid of ridding my life of toxic people – so yes, I am heartless.

Maybe I’ll be a little softer. And kinder. And more positive, exuding with sunshine. Sweeter. Loveable. Happier. Gentler.

I don’t know. But to understand and accept me is to know just how much life without my father has shaped me.

It’s taken a while but I think I am finally comfortable in my own skin. I know who I am, what I am and I like me for me. I still have issues with esteem – I never get why my boss thinks I am good at what I do, I don’t know if I am clever enough to finally go on and get my Masters – but I am lucky to be surrounded by encouraging and supportive people.

There is no sense of bitterness or resentment at what I had to go through. I survived. And I am thankful I did so relatively unscathed. As an educator, I think I have seen enough to know that it could have turned out worse. But I also know that this ability to live through these tough times have served me well, allowed me to grit my teeth through anything that life has had to dish up.

And now as I see my littles build their relationship with their father, I sometimes take a step back, deliberately. We fulfil different needs in their lives, I know. And I am also starting to understand just what a father does and means to his children.

By God’s grace, we will indeed be parents to our children for this lifetime.

Family of Yann

Happy fathers’ day to my papa, wherever you may be. You were the first man that I knew and loved, the one who still makes my heart ache when I think of you.

Zac turns Two

Today, my bubba turns two.

Two years on, I still recall every moment of my labour and his birth in great detail. The contractions that came in waves, the nausea that had me running to the bathroom again and again. The relief that flooded my every fibre when the nurses at the delivery ward told me that I was 8cm dilated. The confusion that ran through my brains when I was asked to push. The quiet determination in trying all ways and means to get this baby out of my body. The bubbling joy that removed all traces of pain when they told me it was a boy. The contented love in seeing husband cuddle his newborn. The sense of completion when I held his tiny pink body in my arms and said, hello Zac.

This littlest one of ours, ah, he is everything that we have wanted and yet completely unexpected. The greatest beauty in parenting more than one child is in seeing how they develop and blossom into their own individual identities, despite coming from the same gene pool. Needless to say, Zac is so different from his brother and yet so alike.

Dear Zac,

And just like that, another year has passed. If your first year seemed to have zoomed past at scarily great speed, then this second year has been so much more FUN and ridiculously hilarious.

You, my darling boy, are the cheekiest little person in the world. I cannot believe the things that you get up to – jumping on papa and mummy’s bed as if it’s a trampoline, trying to sit on the cats, tossing your bowl and spoon off from the table when you are bored at the dining table, blowing raspberries with oodles of saliva, demanding more food in your bowl. And yet when we tell you off sternly, you simply crack us your sweetest grin, so wide that your eyes literally disappear into slits. Sometimes, I have to turn away so you cannot see me laugh. You are my THUG BABY, the one whose DNA is devoid of FEAR.

It’s of no wonder, then, that the teachers at your daycare are so in love with you. Yes, that was one of the things that we did, placing you in your brother’s daycare when you turned 21 months. You cried and cried in the first few weeks, and it broke my heart to see you sobbing away when I returned to pick you up.

But you know, we all expected you to be a trooper and you did so good. By the end of a month, you had more or less adjusted and while you would cling to me at drop off, you seemed to be enjoying yourself.

So back to the teachers. They gush about you all the time, and they would tell me how your smile melts their hearts. Once, your teacher Lina told me incredulously that you ate four servings of lunch. I burst out laughing. You do make it my money’s worth, I dare say.

School has been good for you though, despite my initial reservations at putting you there so early. Your vocabulary has increased tremendously and you come home humming songs. When we sing to you, you try to chime in, complete with actions. Even your skeptical grandmothers can see how school has helped you in becoming more verbal – they who were worried that you hardly spoke a word at home. You are such a funny little person, stringing words into short sentences like “I want do!” and “Papa wake up” and “Thank you mummy” and (more frequently) “sorry Aidan!”

You are my little tornado, my little bull. You have so, so, so much energy every single day. From the morning you are up, you are on the go go go. It’s so amazing how much zest for life you have. I wish that you will always have that joy for living, the tremendous love for doing. And that’s one thing I hope we, as parents, won’t go wrong.

I know that we are constantly on the sidelines saying, “No Zac, don’t do this and don’t do that.” We worry about your safety, worry about you getting yet another bump on the head. And yet at the same time, I try to remember that this is what will get you through life, this desire to try new things, to push boundaries and see what you can get out of it. It’s an important trait to have in life, and I never want to see you lose it or be forced to conform.

Parenting is a strange journey – there is no instruction manual, there is no pause button and more importantly, there is no way that we can ever go back to right the mistakes that we make. With you, we have the benefit of hindsight gained from the experience of parenting your brother but that doesn’t make us perfect parents, because you are so different from him. I can only hope that the seeds that we have laid today will form the foundation of a future for you – one where you are a good, kind, loving, empathetic man with that cheeky sense of humour and crazy love for living that you have today at the grand old age of two.

Ah yes, that’s where we are today. The age of two. You are my squishy bear, the one whom I am still nursing to sleep every night (you will now dictate which side to start first and when you are done). The one whom I am still baby wearing in my wrap. The one who doles out hugs and kisses, and has “conversations” with me when wrapped. The one whom I squeeze and kiss to death every single day because you are just so delectable. The one whom I will gaze upon in the quiet night after you have drifted off into slumberland, listening to your even breathing and then gently kissing your bouncy cheeks while sniffing your hair. The one who makes me smile as you zip down the corridor in typical Zac fashion. The one who is my last baby, who is showing me that the very last set of firsts should not be a source of sadness but a thing of impermanence, ready to be celebrated and cherished.

When you are older, all these may not make any sense to you or mean anything much. But know that these memories matter to your old mother, they will be what keeps me going when I am silver haired and have nothing to live for.

And right now, these are the memories that keep me afloat when times are hard – and they do get hard – and during moments when I feel like I may have failed as a mother.

Because these are beautiful memories that tell me that no matter what’s been said and done, you are happy and laughing and that’s all that is important.

Happy birthday, my darling Zac. I love you, baby boy and know that we will always have your back.

Stay fearless. Stay joyful.

Always,
Mummy.

The travelling pen: Spring

I recently embarked on a 10-day trip to England with a group of students. We were on the road quite a fair bit and on those long-distance bus rides, I would write. The next few entries are from those journeys.

We are in the coach, rolling our way towards Leeds. When we arrived, it was a gloomy, rainy and grey Manchester that greeted us. Today, it was a gloriously sunny Manchester that we bade farewell to – a Manchester that had brilliant cerulean sky, voluminous cotton candy clouds and a sun that was puffing up its chest with pride.

It’s a long ride, an hour or so. And yet I refuse to close my eyes and sleep. I feel as if I have to stay awake, to absorb the lush greenery that is rolling past my window. I want to commit it to memory and remember it forever. I love this landscape, this sight of the bare fir trees standing tall and undulating slopes.

My last trip to Europe was well over 10 years ago. And in this time, I have forgotten just how much I love being here, especially here in England. I love how elegantly aged the buildings are, how they are so charming in the haphazard way that they are standing. I love how they have embraced their heritage in their buildings and not buried it in their quest to keep up with the times. I love the cold crisp air, though there are moments when I feel as if my nose is about to drop off. I love the brownstone houses, the white window lattices, the smoke chuffing out of the chimneys. I love the spacious parks.

Mostly, though, I love the space. There is no sense of claustrophobia here. I can breathe. I can move calmly with a sense of purpose. There are no tall buildings crowding my steps, my life, my thoughts from all corners.

I don’t know when we will have the chance to come here again. One day, soon enough, I hope. I can’t wait to explore the cobbled streets with my boys.

The travelling pen: Finding myself again

I recently embarked on a 10-day trip to England with a group of students. We were on the road quite a fair bit and on those long-distance bus rides, I would write. The next few entries are from those journeys.

When I took this overseas trip on, I was really in two minds.

Look, I have two little ones at home. I have never been away from them since they were born. The only times I spent away from Aidan were when I weaned, delivered Zac in the hospital and when Zac was warded for his respiratory infections. As for Zac, well, I’ve been there since the day he was born.

Lest you think I’m being overly attached or sad, it’s a deliberate choice. I made the decision to take a pay cut and this job because it’s stable, has good hours and allows me to be home with my babies. With the husband’s crazy hours at work, one of us had to have reliable hours. Not working is not an option, for the sake of my bank account and my sanity. My littles needed a parent who was “grounded”.

So I took on this assignment with trepidation, especially since I faced such vocal objection from my mother (long story) which layered on the guilt.

But now that I am here, I am glad. I have been first and foremost a mother for the past four years. My thoughts are never far from my children, even when I supposedly am having some “me” time. My hours revolve around picking them up, dropping them off, fixing them dinner etc.

Here, I lose all these other identities. I am just me. I worry about myself and what I eat, what I wear, what I do. I don’t have to think about what foods to get for fussy little palates, how to keep them warm, what to do when they are bored.

I’m just me.

And sitting in the tour bus, as I travel down to Oxford, there is a sense of poetry as the scenery rolls past. The glorious blue sky with giant puffy clouds, the trees – sometimes bare and sometimes lush – and the vehicles that zoom by. I reflect and realise just how much I have missed travelling and exploring and soaking up the sights. I miss figuring out the subway system, miss stepping into a foreign shop and being delighted by its offerings. I miss taking photos. I miss the words and thoughts flowing out of my mind and my heart and onto a screen, to be immortalised.

I do miss simply being, me.

The phantom pain

Early this morning, husband took off on his business trip. We’ve never really been apart ever since we got together, barring his business trip to Chicago almost three years back.

And it feels odd.

We are not the sort who do things together all the time. He has a life and so do I. While we have a very, very large common pool of friends, we do have social connections that do not overlap. Even when we are together, we like to have our own space to do our own thing.

But now, as the partner who is left behind, I am feeling such a strange gap. It feels like someone amputated my limb and replaced it with a prosthetic. Like, I can do all these things by myself and I know I can handle this household with these two littles on my own. I can go for parent-teacher meeting, throw the kiddo a birthday party and juggle my full-time job and their schedules by myself (even though it’s tiring as hell).

The limb is working but feels empty, void. Like there is something bereft.

I suppose it’s natural, given that I am the one “left behind”. I suppose this means I am missing the man. I suppose that this also means that I have probably taken our partnership for granted. And I suppose this means I need to start getting used to it because there will probably be more of these trips.

I suppose this tells me that while yes, I can live without this man, I don’t want nor like to.

One day down, 13 more to go before my partner comes back and fills this gap up with his larger than life presence.

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