I don’t know about you but I think I have had enough of 2016, thank you very much.
Every morning, I wake up to a string of notifications from my NYT app, informing me that sometime in the night, something nasty has happened somewhere in the world. I wake up to an axe-wielding man running amok in a train in Germany. I wake up to a revellers in a gay nightclub getting gunned down by a closet gay man in Orlando. I wake up to shootings here, there and everywhere in the States. I wake up to a toddler being dragged off by a gator. I wake up to a gorilla being shot to death because a child went into its enclosure and suddenly everybody is a parenting/wildlife expert. I wake up to China threatening everyone from the Hague to the Philippines. I wake up to the deaths of Prince/Muhammad Ali/Harper Lee/David Bowie/Alan Rickman/Glenn Frey/Anton Yelchin/you name it, we’ve got it. (Death by one’s own car in one’s own driveway? SERIOUSLY?) I wake up to an attempted coup in Turkey.
I also wake up to the sacking of some random dude who was mouthing off against Singapore for not having Pokemon Go. Are you fucking kidding me? I mean, I get that he is a dumbass but THAT INTERNET MOB THO.
Then there’s Brexit, the appointment of some blonde buffoon to the post of Foreign Minister in the UK and the bizarre meteoric rise of a similar ginger buffoon in the US WHO COULD POSSIBLY BE THE NEXT PRESIDENT OF THE USA.
I am sorry but what the hell is going on?
To say that I am gobsmacked is an understatement. And as a mother, as an educator, I worry and fear. That our children are too insulated and protected from the hard truths. That we are setting them up for failure in life eventually because of the choices that we are making today. That the world we are handing to them is a crazy, cruel, strange one.
For his birthday this year, I got the man (and I, heh heh) a pair of tickets to watch Les Misérables. Really, it stemmed from the fact that I had no idea what else to buy for him and I thought that a day at the theatre catching the holy grail of all musicals was just perfect.
You see, the two of us met through a love for singing. And we were lucky enough to sing together for seven years. We sang, and travelled the world, and won accolades and made some pretty beautiful memories together. And in our world of choristers, Les Miserables was like the ultimate goal.
We dreamt of putting up a production like this in Singapore. We would have loved to try. We thought of who amongst us could take on the roles of Valjean, Eponine etc. And we memorised the lyrics and sang together – at the pub after practice, at someone’s place, at the beach, outside the arcade.
I first watched the musical when I was 14. It was the first time the production was staged in Singapore and my mother had struck the lottery. So off we went! The seats were high up in the stalls but no matter, I remembered being so entranced by the singing, the backdrop, the plot. I cried when Eponine died.
In the interim, I fell in love with the 10th anniversary concert cast, the so-called dream cast. I mean, it WAS the dream cast. Colm Wilkinson, Ruthie Henshall, Lea Salonga, Michael Ball, Philip Quast – they were perfection! Just watch the video of Ruthie Henshall singing I dreamed a dream and you will understand. I still get goosebumps to this day.
So 20 years later, who better to watch this with again, other than my partner in life?
Let me tell you, even as the prologue was playing, I had tears in my eyes. The iconic strains that rose up majestically in the air, whipped into life by an Adele lookalike (from the back) conductor (YAY LADY CONDUCTOR!). And the tears kept threatening to fall, scene after scene. It was all I could do to stop myself from bawling AND singing loudly along, as if it’s a luxe karaoke session.
It was such a dream come true. (Especially after that awful movie adaptation. What can I say, I am a purist.) ((Also, watch this. Just pure magic.)
I had gotten us really good tickets so we were close enough but not too close to the stage. And that gave us a fantastic view of every expression, every turn of the prop, every flicker of gunfire. My two years as a theatre student in JC – and a choir girl – certainly opened my eyes to the wondrous tricks and mechanisms behind the lighting and the props. That Javert death scene was so clever! And I can tell you that it sure as hell ain’t easy to sing and dance and act at the same time! Most people can barely handle one task, let alone excel in all three.
Kudos to the cast of this production – they were perfect for their roles. The actors playing Valjean and Javert stand out, as expected. Their exchanges, their duets were so utterly perfect while the singer portraying Eponine really reminded me of Lea Salonga.
The only quibble we had was with their singing: The actor portraying Enjolras, for instance, was constantly out of rhythm! And he had this annoying habit of sliding into his notes. My mind was screaming at him to hit his note cleanly. But that’s the choir girl in me protesting, heh.
As usual, Cosette irritated the shit out of me. I don’t have patience for whiny women looking doe-eyed and singing about a heart full of love. No, please, STFU. Just get to work, like Eponine, yah? And the man and I agree that Marius never impresses. NEVER. No matter who plays Marius, he always comes across as wussy and not able to hit the high notes well. Okay, maybe with the exception of Michael Ball. Hah – talk about bias!
All in all, I am so, so glad that I splurged on this experience. It was a beautiful afternoon spent away from the boys, away from the noise and grime. I immersed myself into the magical world of the theatre and it was worth every penny.
Of course, immediately after, I swapped my pretty red dress and Gucci slingbacks for Birkenstocks and shorts to pick up the boys. Ah, all in a day’s work.
Over the weekend, we celebrated Fathers’ Day. And I wrote a note on Instagram to the man:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.