Farewell, Mr Lee Kuan Yew

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

sm lee press conference

Photo shamelessly taken from iheartapple.

Aidan is three!

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.

The young and the restless

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.”

No.

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.

Almost three

And just like that, my first-born is fast approaching his third birthday. I know, I know, we all say the same thing but honestly, where did the time go? How did he go from a pipe dream to a newborn to a chubby baby to a funny toddler to a precocious preschooler in so short a time? I look at photos of him when he was littler and my heart goes all funny: a mix of intense love and bittersweet wrench.

If Zac is my redemption at motherhood, then Aidan is my miracle. He is the child that almost never was, the one who came into our lives so shockingly when we were expecting nothing. And he is the child who made me a mother, who taught me what this motherhood gig is all about.

He amazes us every single day. He says the darnest things, this boy, and every so often, husband and I would exchange incredulous looks of “did you hear that?!” over his head. We are just so fascinated by his development and personality. I mean, when he was a baby, he was a happy, chubby little thing (we are very blessed in that both our babies are happy babies) who was so very easily loved. But now, the nuances of his personality are slowly emerging and it’s pretty exciting to witness it.

For instance, he is not very good with new people. When we go to birthday parties, he’s the kid who hangs with his parents and doesn’t want to join the other kids initially. He’d rather play by himself, which is exactly like me. I hate parties and I hate being in an environment where I am the new kid. But, like me, once he warms up, he becomes the ringleader, everyone’s friend. That’s pretty evident from his progress in school. According to his teacher, he loves to chat with his friends, even if his friends are not capable of responding verbally to him yet! And everyone knows Aidan – whenever I pick him up from school, I always get little kids pointing and shouting his name at me. It’s hilarious!

He’s mostly a happy chappy who loves to sing – just like papa and mama. He comes home warbling new songs, which are mostly tunes that we know, and he loves it when we sing along with him. We’ve been meaning to enrol him in music classes, hopefully once the transitions at home have settled.

One thing that we are so very thankful for is his acceptance of his little brother. The first few weeks were tough, undoubtedly, as he struggles with the knowledge that the attention of his parents are being diverted. But now, he is a loving brother who is just as affectionate with Zac as he is with us. He would reach for Zac’s hand and say, “Zac, hold hands, Zac.” Or he would pat Zac when the latter is crying. Or he would console Zac in the car seat with “don’t cry! We are going to NTUC, Zac.”

There are times when he drives us absolutely nuts, of course. But it’s your typical toddler will, trying to assert his independence. And we get that, so we try to remain patient and calm. It doesn’t always work, of course, but these incidents are far and few these days. (Let’s talk when he enters disequilibrium again.)

So there you have it, my almost three-year-old in a nutshell. There’s a whole lot more, of course, but these days I find myself writing less and less about him. Well, I am just writing less and less in general but I am also a little more mindful about putting my kid out on the inter webs now that he’s no longer an itty bitty baby. There are some things that we can share and then there’s stuff that should firmly remain offline.

We are still not too sure how we are going to celebrate his birthday, to be honest. Big parties with fancy food and entertainment are not quite our thing. But one thing’s for sure, we will be celebrating as a family of four.

I love my little man.

Eight months of Zac

Dear Zac,

Happy eight months young! And wahey, mama is actually on time with this post. But seriously, bubba, what’s up with you growing so fast? I was just telling your papa that I cannot believe we are already at eight months.

This month has been pretty amazing for you. We have witnessed so many moments of you doing big awesome things, and I cannot recall just how many times I thought to myself, I need to include this in the post.

For starters, you actually started crawling. Like, belly crawling proper. It’s pretty cool because your brother would NOT crawl despite us tempting him with all sorts of things, until he was nine months old. He would kind of roll his way around like a fat sausage. But you, on the other hand, are pretty motivated by material things. We’d put something you want – a toy, our phones – in front of you and you’d drag your body determinedly towards it. You don’t do it for fun though, it’s almost as if you don’t know that you are now certified mobile.

It probably stems from the fact you managed to pull yourself up to a sitting position from lying down. It’s really cute, actually, the way you do it. You’d go into the downward dog position and then somehow shuffle your limbs until you can sort of flop sideways onto your bum. It’s just too damn cute seeing that little butt in the air and those delicious thighs standing up.

You are fast becoming a chatty one and your squawking soliloquy usually takes place in the car. One day, you started babbling in the car. And then it happened again, the next day. And then the day after. It’s a good thing, because it means you have stopped crying in the car seat! Fist bump! You have no idea how much of a relief it is to drive in absolute peace.

There are times when I wonder if you are not given as much attention as your brother. I really try, my squishy one, I do. I treasure the moments we have in the mornings, just you and me. I hate that I have to rush to work and cut short those times when you are smiling sweetly at me and babbling in your breathy baby voice. I love to haul you into my arms and squeeze you tight, even though you usually try to wriggle your way out.

My favourite way of spending time with you, however, is when you are snug against my chest in the wrap. I love baby wearing you. I love looking down at you and seeing you stare up at me. I love it when you snuggle against me as you snooze. I love that I can simply tilt my head to give you a big smooshy kiss just like that.

(I think your papa feels the same way, I have to fight him off during the weekends because he is absolutely insistent on baby wearing you too. Hah!)

Okay bubs, mama’s gotta go. You have been ill for the past week or so, you and your brother have been taking turns spiking strange fevers that disappear in the day. I didn’t sleep well last night because you didn’t sleep well last night.

Dear little man of mine, remember that we will always have your back, no matter what. Love you to the moon and back.

Mama

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