Right now, at this very moment, I am feeling a little like an octopus. I have my hands tied in so many areas – my full-time job as an educator; being a mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend; working on my Masters. Sometimes, it feels like one hand is slipping and I am barely keeping that role in place. Sometimes, I feel like I am spread so thin that I am barely functioning.
I breathe. And then plunge headlong into the madness.
It’s my own “fault”, really. I opted to take on this Masters, I pushed for it to happen. But it’s also because I really wanted it, I wanted my brains to start churning again and lapping up all the beautiful knowledge that I don’t currently have. So I don’t complain. I don’t cry. I compartmentalise, push the guilt out of sight (try having your kids crying at bedtime because you aren’t there to put them to bed), and work.
(And drink copious amounts of tea, coffee and wine. Good wine helps!)
Mondays to Thursdays, I spend the bulk of the night working on my classes. Sometimes I end at 12am, that’s early. Most nights see me up till 1am, 2am. There’s so much that I don’t know and so much that I need to research about. But the more I read, the more intrigued I become. And then come Saturday evenings, I have video-conferences to attend.
The studies have been incredibly fulfilling in so many ways. I am learning so much more than I would have on my own. I am so aware of my shortcomings – I feel really stupid some days! My classmates are so amazingly intelligent.
And more importantly, I am relishing the challenge. It’s a struggle on many days and on many fronts, but I know that I can do it. And then I rise above it and deliver.
It’s been three months of living like a zombie with my eyebags having eyebags. But guess what? I wouldn’t have it any other way. This life, right now, is full of chaos but I am not drowning, I am soaring. And I know I will miss it so, so much when it is over.
(PS: This song is so reflective of my current mood, it’s breathtakingly beautiful.)
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.
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.
Another year, another birthday for you, my beloved homeland.
We watched the parade in the comforts of our own home. This time, Aidan is old enough to be captivated by the proceedings while Zac dozed off midway through the parade. While I can’t say that I cared much for the legend of Badang storyline, I will admit that it’s always the same old things that bring a tear to my eye – the patriotic songs of yesteryear, the enthusiastic performances by all the participants, the pride clearly shown in the spectators and the gorgeous fireworks bursting in the night sky.
This year, however, something else made me almost weep with pride. And that is the inclusion of the special needs Singaporeans in the parade, as well as the signing of our favourite National Day songs. There was something electrifying in that segment, something heart warming. It made me feel like we are taking a huge step forward in becoming an inclusive society.
And yet, I could not help but feel resigned that this took 51 years in the making.
But as I’ve said before, life in Singapore can feel like a complicated cha-cha. We move one step forward and then three steps back. A whirl and a turn later, we are back on track. It can be immensely frustrating and yet hopeful at the same time.
Hopeful. Not quite a word I would use on 2016, frankly. It’s been crazy and weird and downright depressing. Sometimes, I wonder what the hell we are doing and what kind of world we are leaving behind for the children.
But it is precisely the children who gives us hope. Who makes us feel like giving it our all even if we are not sure our best is good enough.
On Monday, the school that the littles go to had a National Day celebration and the parents were invited. Amid the various activities and shows and games, there was one thing that stood out: the simple, pure joy and enthusiasm of the children.
They sang this year’s theme song, Tomorrow’s Here Today (a rather catchy and fun tune, I really love it!) with much happiness, were loud and proud when reciting the pledge, and belted out the national anthem with gusto. There was so much love for the celebrations, for the country. And as the proud parents watched them do their thing, we couldn’t help but feel inspired by and smile at their positivity.
At some point in time, they will lose this simplicity. They will lose all the sense of wonder that they have for their country. They will be critical – and rightly so too. But at that moment of watching them take their pledge seriously, that was when I came to the realisation that the children are our future. And how they will be in time to come will be the results of the seeds that we sow today.
And that’s why the segment with our special needs people is important. It may have taken 51 years for us to get here but it isn’t too late. We still have time and hope. We cannot give up, we must not. We have to do our best today to lay the foundations for our children, to ensure that the future for them is an inclusive, gracious, open one.
Happy birthday, my birth country. I am proud of how far we have come but there is still much to be done. I don’t know if I will be here when you celebrate 100 years of existence but I do know that we can weather the storms of today to build a home that we will be prouder of for our children.
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.
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.