I had a serendipitous moment yesterday.
Background: I don’t get enough sleep. In fact, I haven’t had enough sleep for the past three years. So I am perpetually exhausted and in dire need of coffee. Also, I never used to drink coffee (it made my heart beat like those terrible dance music) until I became a mother. And now I am immune.
Alright, yesterday. I had an external meeting that went splendidly well and speedy. When I stepped out of the building, I decided to grab a coffee because I hardly have coffee during the week days. Coffee is a luxury and indulgence reserved for the weekends so whenever I get coffee on a weekday, I get deliriously thrilled. Haha, poor me.
There I was, back at my old stamping ground, back in the days when I was at the big O. The corner fish head curry coffeeshop is still there but the fruit stall next to it is now Park Bench Deli (run by my ex-colleague’s husband!). There are so many cool and hip cafes at every turn and corner. I was pretty amazed by just how much the streets have remained the same and yet changed at the same time.
I wandered down the street aimlessly, wondering where to go when suddenly somebody stepped right in front of me and said, “HEY!”
It was my ex-colleague from the big O. What were the odds?
Anyhow, we had a quick catch up about our lives and I mentioned that I was looking for a place to have coffee. She shook the bottle that she was holding and said, “Go check this place out! It’s just down Club Street. I got my coffee there.”
I made my way to Club Street, without really knowing the name of the cafe while simply relying on her instructions: “Club Street, you know the condo next to Spizza? It’s just there.” And I found it.
Stamping Ground Coffee.
To be honest, I was a little meh when I saw it. It was a tiny takeout corner and I was hoping to sit down for a drink. The place had a bench, and two bar stools and that was about it. Hmm. I decided to order my usual – flat white – and sat down on the bench to wait. There was just a young lady behind the counter serving up the drinks.
Instead of stoning and surfing the net on my phone as I always do when alone at cafes, I decided to break the ice and asked her if the place was new. She said yes, it was just two weeks old. And then we started having a conversation about how and why she started the place, how exciting it was for her to put it together, how she loved doing this gig.
We must have chatted for, what, 30 minutes or so? And it was a really nice, warm pleasant conversation in that little hole in the wall. I love listening to stories about people’s lives and this was one of the reasons why I got into journalism – to tell these stories. (Which I miss doing very, very, very much.) The coffee was pretty decent too, as she used beans from Papa Palheta. For someone who was more into baking and pastries, I thought the brew that she served up was nice.
All in all, it was a very lovely, unexpected way to spend the afternoon. I left with a little spring in my step, happy to have done something out of the routine for one day and to have listened to a good story.
One of the best things about being an educator is that I get to interact, communicate with and observe teenagers.
(Well, sometimes it can be the worst thing ever. Like when I am plastered against the wall and stuck in the lift with what smells like 20 dead and rotting teenage male elephants.)
Every day, as I try to impart some knowledge and skills to them, I have come to realise that they teach me a great deal about life, about people and about myself too.
One of the greatest lessons that I have learnt from them is to STOP BLAMING OTHERS. We see it on a regular basis. Kid is late, blames the bus/MRT/traffic/lift. Kid forgets to hand in homework, blames the tutor/computer/dog. Kid is falling asleep in class, blames the aircon/assignments/tests/tutor. Basically, it’s NEVER their fault. It’s always something.
In more serious cases, we often see kids who are straying from the path, who are clearly on the road to self-destruction. And when we investigate, we see that the reasons are staring in our faces: broken family, spoilt by overly-indulgent parents etc. The latter is beyond our control (and all hope, most of the time) but when I counsel kids who are acting out because their family SUCKS, I always tell them that it’s not about the kind of cards that life hands you, it’s how you deal with the cards that matters most.
It is a reason for your unhappiness, yes, but it sure ain’t an EXCUSE to whine and do stupid things.
And then I tell them about my life. How my father died when I was six and how different I have felt since then. How we were poor and we often walked home because my mother wanted to save on the bus fares. How I started working at 16 and that by the time I entered university, I was all but financially independent.
I had a terrible childhood, a lonely and isolating experience.
And then I tell them, look at where I am now.
There were moments in my life when I really wanted to disappear from this miserable existence. But I had no choice but to suck it up and move on, work hard so that I could get me out of that hole in the ground. Could I have blamed it on my dead father? Or my mother who had to slog it out to bring us up? I just did the best I could, did what I had to, and MOVE ON.
And later on in life, who could I have blamed my infertility on? God? Because He clearly didn’t love me enough to give me babies? My genes? My husband’s genes? My confused uterus?
I don’t know if things happen for a reason, I don’t really buy that theory now. Because, how do you explain starving children, dead children, abused animals and Donald Trump? But I do know that it’s how we emerge from what’s given to us that changes our present and forges our future.
And so I tell them, yeah, life sucks sometimes. But you just got to move on. Quit whining and playing the blame game and just DO.
At the end of the day, be thankful for what you have and not bitter for what you do not have. And there, really, are plenty of things to be grateful for, if you would just open your eyes and see.
This morning, I decided to go for a run instead of lazing around at home in the morning. Of course, my littles refused to let me out of their sights but I could only take one of them so poor bubba had to stay at home with papa while Aidan came with me. I strapped him into our trusty stroller, packed a bottle of cold water and snacks for him, put Spotify on my phone and off we went.
It was such a hard run. The weather was starting to burn up at 815am and the sun was blazing. It was my first time running with our stroller AND Aidan but thankfully, our amazing stroller was so easy to manoeuvre and it was gliding along the pavement smoothly.
I lasted, hmm, all of 10 minutes. And then I had to alternate between running and brisk walking. It was okay though. I knew I hadn’t been running for a while and the body needs to adapt to having to push the stroller. And when I was walking, the little man and I were having conversations about what we were seeing – rubbish trucks, MRT, construction, (cranky) cranes etc. We were admiring the butterflies flapping among the greenery and shouting out the numbers of the buses that zoomed past us.
On our way back, a young Malay couple, who were devouring cold drinks after their run, hastily made way for me as I rounded the corner with the stroller.
“Thank you!” I called out.
The man smiled. “Most welcome!”
As we neared home, an elderly Sikh was walking his dog with a cup of coffee in hand. Our eyes met and we smiled.
I decided to break the ice and be neighbourly. “Good morning,” I said.
“Lovely morning to you too,” he replied, tipping his cup in our direction.
Behind him was a Chinese woman walking hand in hand with a little girl.
“Look at didi on the stroller,” she said to the girl. I smiled at her and she smiled back, before urging the girl to wave to us.
Even though it wasn’t much of a run, I went home with a happy heart. This is the Singapore that I love, the country I call home. There are many imperfections, no doubt about it, but there is also much to be proud of.
There are many cynics out there who feel that we are overdoing this SG50 celebration, that every company and every ministry is trying to milk it. True it may be but then again, when I turn 50 and I am still Fabulously Gorgeous, you can bet that I will want to celebrate gloriously too.
So let’s pack away the cynicism for just a month more, let the lady turn 50 in a blaze of fireworks, song and dance, and then we can go back to being the practical Singaporeans that we are.
My dear son,
When you were born, we went to the fortune teller to pick out a Chinese name for you. He looked at your ba zi thoughtfully and said, “This one will be active.” I groaned a little and said, “Another active one?” He looked at me knowingly and replied, “Not just active, but very very very active.”
True enough, you have turned out to be a very active baby, and an impish, tenacious one at that.
At the grand ‘ol age of 11 months, you decided that you wanted to walk. By then, you were already pulling yourself up to standing position and cruising quite effortlessly. And then one evening, you were poised to take a step. My heart nearly stopped. But you didn’t. Instead, you continued trying and trying and a week later, when I came back from work, you took your first wobbly steps towards me.
Since then, you have not looked back. You walk everywhere. You hate it when your big brother is running around and you aren’t. There is a reason why babies at this age are called toddlers, because they look so damn cute toddling around. You, my darling boy, look like an adorably drunk penguin. You always walk with that little smirk hanging on your lips, as if to say, hey check out me walking.
With your brother, we went through a long period of practising with him. Those were the days when we had creaky achy backs because he wanted to walk and he couldn’t and so we had to bend over to hold his hand or arm. We let him use the walking wagon quite a fair bit and it took him a while before he finally had the confidence to walk unaided. On hindsight, he does have a cautious streak in him.
You, on the other hand, went from cruising to walking just like that. No help, no extra cheer from us. You just walked. And you are so bloody good at it. So much so that you hate it when we stop you from walking and carry you (when you are dying to walk).
And that’s so telling of your personality. You just grab life by the horns and move, with scarcely any regard for your safety. You just do it, with no hesitation, no fear, no thought. And now that you are mobile, you are almost always mobile. It’s rare to see you still, except during bedtime when you are happily flipping the pages of your board books. And thankfully, you do love your books.
Right now, you are in love with The Very Hungry Caterpillar. You can sit and listen attentively as I read, and then poke your fingers in the little holes. That’s when you are still. For the next nanosecond. And then you are grabbing the book to do this on your own. No help please, thank you very much.
Other things that make you happy are bubbles during bath time. When I carry you into the bedroom and say BUBBLES, a delighted grin spreads over your face and you go AHH. We really need to film it down, it’s quite entertaining.
The person that you adore most right now is mama. And it’s so nice to be so loved by you. Every evening, when we arrive home from school, we’d call for you and you’d clamber over to the door in a heady mix of glee and excitement. Then you’d demand to be carried and you’d nestle your (smelly sweaty) head into mine.
Oh how I love that baby noggin!
I just have this feeling that you are going to be challenging us quite a fair bit. Your brother has an awareness of boundaries but it looks like you have no care for them at all. I am not sure how this is going to pan out but I am pretty certain that it involves us chasing you down and losing weight in the process.
So you, in a nutshell, after twelve months. A most joyful, curious, determined, affectionate little fellow. It’s going to be so fun watching you grow.
We love you, little bubba, right to the moon and back.
Another year, another round of HFMD.
Yes, the three-year-old is down with this dreadful illness again. Poor baby has ulcers at the back of his throat and isn’t eating well at the moment. When he gives up three quarters of his chocolate biscuit, you know he is in great pain. He would never have given it up willingly in healthier times, hah.
The silver lining is that he is still, pretty much, himself. He’s happy and playful and still singing away.
Right now we are concerned with separating Aidan from Zac. The last thing we want is for the baby to get it too. And that’s where it turns dicey. We now have to activate our parents’ help – I can’t take leave because of classes and assessments while the man is juggling several projects. The logistics can be a challenge and this is frustrating for two parents who are working full-time.
At the same time, I am terrified of getting HFMD too. My last experience was nasty, I could barely eat or drink for seven days. It felt like I was swallowing shards of glass whenever I tried to ingest something. And then, miraculously, the ulcers disappeared on the 7th day.
Yup. HFMD as an adult is a terrible experience.
It’s been tough for the past year because we have been bouncing from illness to illness. It’s frustrating that we can only catch a short break before the next wave of illness comes, we are talking in terms of a week or two, at most a month. This is something that we accept as part and parcel of daycare life but it’s still difficult to live through. I’m tired of being sick, of my two babies being sick, of having to wake up a gazillion times at night to an angry, crying baby who cannot breathe through his congested nose, of having to clean snotty noses and rub phlegmy chests.
Well, everyone tells me that the first year of daycare is usually the toughest on the kid’s health. Fingers crossed that their immune systems would be strengthen soon as we inch towards that one-year mark.