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.
I’ve been itching for a change for a while now.
No, it’s got nothing to do with finding a new job. I mean, I am likely to remain in this position for the next couple of years since a) I have no idea what to do with myself other than teach, b) nobody would hire me, c) I need the subsidised childcare.
(Although yes, changes are a brewing in the workplace, what with the change in management. I am adopting a wait-and-see attitude, the changes may not be pretty but necessary.)
One of the changes that I have been pondering is the change in our living quarters. Back when we first got the flat, I thought we would never move. There’s so much that I love about it – the light falling through our large windows, the airy balcony, the large living room space, the central location. And these are still what holds me back from shifting.
But when the boys came along and we hired a helper, the space is slowly taken up by their things and their needs. And this space is becoming less and less…comforting. No, that’s not the right word, my home is still a great source of comfort to me. Rather, I find more and more flaws in this home. And I think that I want a clean slate to begin again, so better design a home that’s more in tune with our current needs.
And yet I can’t bear to leave this place, our first home with all its light and huge windows and amazing location. Decisions, decisions.
Once upon a time…
About two months ago, I quietly crossed the five-year mark of being in the organisation. I actually forgot all about it until the HR department informed me that I was getting a “long-service” award.
Wow. Has it been that long?
This is by far the job that I have stayed longest in, I can be considered what you call a serial job-hopper. Or a reformed job-hopper, anyway. Not that I am embarrassed about my job-hopping days – I see it as trying out everything that life and companies have to offer until I find something that fits my soul. Sounds dramatic but it is true, I am simply not someone who can work for the sake of working, I have to actually love what I do.
But when you stay in a job long enough, you start wondering if this is going to be it. Or at least, I do. I have an itchy foot, I am always looking out towards the horizon. There was a point in time when I was all ready to hand in my resignation, as troubled as I was about the bureaucracy and lack of progression in the organisation. I don’t like stagnating, one of the greatest thing about life, I think, is picking up new skills, new knowledge.
(Which is why I need to work, to keep my brains moving.)
I took a cursory glance at the options available to me, at the environment around me, and always, always, I go back to thinking, But I really enjoy teaching.
So I think, in a way, this is me for life. Not merely as an educator, but someone in the public sector.
As idealistic as it sounds, I feel like my career is fulfilling because I know that somewhere, somehow, I am doing good. The pay may suck, the progression is bogged down by red tape and archaic rules, and the lack of flexibility can kill. But when you see the kids growing, progressing through life, there is a gentle sense of satisfaction and you turn to the current cohort, hoping to mould them to be stronger, more resilient and more creative.
When I was in school, I swore that I would never join the civil service. I didn’t have the grades for it and bah, who wants to work for the government anyway when there are more hip and awesome places to go. I am eating my words now, although I will say that I am not working for the government but for the people. In my own little way, I am contributing to the little red dot that I call home.
So after five years, what next? I don’t know. This isn’t the time for me to move on yet, I still have no idea what my next steps will be. I don’t know if I am still relevant or sharp or clever enough for the private sector, heh. And there is more to be done, I just need to find out where and how I am needed.
It’s been more than two weeks since my left eye started failing on me. Ever since I received the right diagnosis, everyday has been a relief. Frankly, I don’t know how I lived through that week when it was mis-diagnosed. That had been hell.
But I am ahead of myself, let’s start at the beginning.
I had been solo parenting for two weeks and congratulating myself on doing fine so far. The Tuesday after the haze, my left eye turned red but since I was prone to dry eyes, I chalked it up as an after effect of the haze and left it as such.
By Sunday, it was clear that something was wrong. My eye was red and weepy, and I was feeling poorly. I stayed home alone with my littles, and managed to do all the cooking, washing up, playing, reading, napping etc. Thank god they were cooperative!
When I got to the GP on Monday morning, I was diagnosed with conjunctivitis and prescribed antibiotics, both oral and in the form of eye drops. By then I was in a lot of discomfort. The eye was swollen, so much so that I was unable to open it, and it hurt so much. I crawled home to hide under the covers in my darkened bedroom and slept the day away, rousing only to drive to pick up my children.
I went back to work on Tuesday and Wednesday, and there was a mountain of, well, crap to clear. There were scripts to be read and re-marked, and meetings to be met.
Those two days were awful. It felt like someone was drilling inside my eye socket and my head felt like it was going to explode. My eye was still swollen, weepy and red. My vision was blurred and light hurt my head. In the evenings, after I had fed, bathed, read and put the boys to bed, I would collapse in my own bed, grateful to finally rest. As I shut my eyes each night in exhaustion and pain, I prayed that I would wake up with clear vision.
By Thursday, it was apparent that the medicines had absolutely zero impact on my condition. I went back to the GP, who prescribed a second round of antibiotics and eye drops. He told me that if I didn’t get better over the long public holiday weekend, he would refer me to a specialist.
I was anxiety-ridden and fearful by then. Why didn’t the medicines work? Was I housing some kind of mutant super bug? Was my eye going blind? How long more can I hold out, doing this all on my own? What would happen to my kids?
Friday morning, I woke up to the husband kissing me hello. He was home! I almost cried in relief, it felt like I didn’t have to shoulder this physical burden on my own anymore. As I debated between going to see a specialist and waiting it out, I received a text from a concerned colleague.
“I will see how it goes after the weekend, if the new meds work,” I wrote.
Her reply came quick: “I don’t think you should wait.”
And suddenly it felt as if the cobwebs had been shaken off. Yes, why the hell was I waiting?
I went back to the GP for the third time, this time blessedly with the husband in tow. He took one look at my eye and said, “It is not getting better huh.”
The sweet clinic assistant made some calls on his behalf. The nearest public hospital was full, unfortunately, and the earliest appointment was the next week. Singapore National Eye Clinic could see us, but it would be on walk-in basis and the waiting time was estimated to be between three to four hours.
I panicked. By that time, I had hit the edge of my tolerance level, I just wanted the pain and the swelling to be fixed. Did I want to wait? NO.
A quick search on Facebook yielded Dr Leo Seo Wei’s name – fellow parents recommended her as being good with kids. Hell, if she was good with kids, she’d definitely be good with me. I placed the call and mercifully, she had an open slot at 2pm.
When we got there, the assistants ran some standard eye tests for me. They could barely get any reading out of my left eye, it was so swollen. After almost two hours of testing and waiting to see if my pupil would dilate and testing and waiting, it was my turn. Finally, the ophthalmologist sat me down behind her sophisticated and complicated gizmo and peered into my eye.
“You do not have conjunctivitis,” she declared. “You have what we call uveitis. Your eye is inflamed.”
I gasped audibly.
In that moment, I felt alive again. I had a diagnosis. It wasn’t conjunctivitis, I wasn’t housing some potent bug, no wonder the antibiotics didn’t work.
In a nutshell, uveitis is a rare condition where the eye is inflamed. The scans showed a cloudy eye, so swollen that nothing could be seen. It’s considered an ophthalmic emergency. It was infinitely WORSE than having conjunctivitis but I was just so happy that someone finally knew what was going on.
The doctor was worried that the inflammation had gone on for so long that it would compromise my sight. After another two rounds of scans (because the eye was just so swollen that it could not open wide enough), she finally determined that the inflammation was contained and I would likely get my sight back. But because it had gone on for so long, the recovery was likely to be a slow one. There was no way the GP could have diagnosed this for they did not have the tools to examine the eye like she did.
She prescribed a series of steroids drops for me and scheduled a review the next day. And after faithfully dosing my eye every hour with the drops, she said the meds were working when I saw her again on Saturday. I was given oral steroids for a few days and told to see her again on Tuesday.
Since then, I have had and will be having weekly reviews with her until the inflammation clears up. It is costing me a lot of money, but I’d gladly pay. Because my eye is saved. I know what I am suffering from and there is a cure. The recovery will be long but I know I will get there. I no longer live in the dark, both literally and metaphorically. That week of pain and darkness was truly awful – and it was dreadful to be going through it alone. Thank goodness for kind colleagues, who asked about me every day.
But the scary thing, really, is how it struck me. According to the doctor, there can be no particular reason but if it recurs, then it could be a sign of an autoimmune disorder. I am taking it one step at a time and praying that my sight will be restored.
Right now, my sight is still hazy, like there is a white film over it. It’s still sensitive to light and I get a headache from the imbalanced vision sometimes. But I am so, so, so thankful that I made the decision to see a specialist. It probably saved my left eye and a whole lot of heartache.