The husband flew off a couple of weeks ago and needless to say, I have been solo parenting.
It hasn’t been too bad, really, I am enjoying my time spent with the littles. They have been rather generous in proclaiming their love and adoration for me over the past weeks and I will gladly take all of that. Bad moments, yes, there have been some raised voices and frayed tempers, but generally these come and go and are easily resolved.
I am lucky in that sense, these two are rather good-natured and love their mummy so.
What really struck me, over the course of the past two weeks, was just how much Aidan has grown.
We were strolling along the airport this evening – one of our favourite haunts because aeroplanes! Food! Caffeine! – and as he walked next to me while I pushed Zac in the stroller, I suddenly realised that he’s a bona fide boy. He’s mature and rational and logical (MOSTLY) and I can reason with him. He’s going to be in kindergarten next year.
But his growth is not just measured in numbers.
Last week, his school celebrated teachers’ day and I prepared some gifts for his teachers. For the past few weeks, the school has been hosting some polytechnic interns and he has been interacting with one of them in particular.
As I was packing the presents, he suddenly asked, “Do we have a present for Teacher Edward (the intern)?”
I said no, we didn’t because he had not joined the school when I was purchasing the gifts.
“Can we get something for him? Otherwise, he will be sad,” he said. “Mummy, can we give him something?”
Earlier today, we had lunch at my in-laws’. On the drive back, Zac fell asleep in the car and I gingerly carried him back to the flat with Aidan following close behind.
As I moved swiftly into the boys’ bedroom, I instructed Aidan to stay outside so that I can transfer Zac to the floor bed. To my surprise, he continued following me into the room. I was all ready to raise my voice at him when he dashed into the room and said, “Mummy let me help you.”
He then proceeded to position the mattress in the right way, and he even arranged the pillows all around the bed, the way I usually do. All this while, I was standing in the room with a sleeping Zac in my arms. Once done, he zipped quietly out of the room and closed the door gently.
When did he grow up into this thoughtful boy without my noticing?
All those times when I wished for him to grow up and out of that horrible infancy period, when he woke up a million times at night and I cried in frustration, when he clung to me as he drifted off to sleep – that’s all gone now and in its place is a little boy armed with his future in his hands and a long road ahead of him. Right now he is walking hand in hand with me but I know that it won’t be long before he lets go and goes off without me.
It makes my heart swell with pride and yet there is a tinge of sadness at all that has come and gone. While each moment had felt so long and never-ending, it’s really been just a blink of an eye.
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.
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.