Uncategorized

On solo parenting

The husband flew off on another one of his long business trips one week ago. This means that I have officially survived one week doing this parenting gig on my own.

This time, he is off for five weeks and, well, I’d be lying if I said that I was zen about it. Nah, my reaction when I heard that he would be gone that long – and missing Mr A’s birthday and the March school holidays – was more of OMGWTFBBQ. I was NOT HAPPY AT ALL. But what can we do? Work is work and life goes on.

I count my solo parenting stints by how many weekends I have to fill by myself. How many weekends of sitting in on the boys’ music lessons, while threatening, coaxing and encouraging in equal parts for two straight hours. I count it by how many swimming lessons I have to get through alone, ferrying the boys there in time and hassling them to get out and get dressed so that we can go home.

Some weekends we get by easily. I bring them to the pool and we enjoy the glorious view of planes landing every other minute. Or we meet up with friends for play dates (thank you friends!). But there are also weekends where I don’t plan anything and we chill at home. I cook, they play and perhaps we go to the playground.

I count my solo parenting stints by how tired I am. The boys hanker to sleep with me when papa is away and I acquiesce. And then I don’t get much sleep because I worry about someone falling off (check) or they take turns to treat me as their pillow and I wake up to someone’s head on my tummy (check, check, check) or they dig their feet under my body because they are cold (check, check). And if I pack them off to their own bed, someone will inevitably creep into my bed in the middle of the night or fly into my room at the crack of dawn to wake me up.

And then I count my solo parenting stint by how lonely it gets. When I want to share my day or some hilarious incident with him and he is asleep. We only get a few windows of communication each day: in the morning as I am busy herding everyone out of the house in time (read screaming at everyone to HURRY UP PUT ON YOUR SHOES WHERE ARE YOUR SOCKS GET OUT OMG) while he is in the middle of work; before he goes to to bed while I am knee deep at work (and when I am not in a meeting or at training); and before I go to bed while he is getting ready to head to work. Let’s face it, nobody else will think that our kids’ antics are super adorable and funny and ridiculous except us – so who better to relate all these stories to than to their other parent?

But most importantly, I count my solo parenting stint by counting my blessings. I remember that at the end of the day, I still have a partner to whine to, and a partner who will return to reclaim his share of the load. I remember not to take his presence and the little things that he does for us for granted. I remember what it’s like to not see him everyday, and how I used to store things away in my memory so that I can tell him when I next see him. I remember how it was like talking to him while in a sleepy haze, fighting to stay awake so that I have one more minute with him before the day ends.

Four more weeks. Can’t wait!

Motherhood

In the still of the night

It’s 11pm.

The boys are sleeping in their room. The husband is out for a work do. I am sitting at the balcony while a chill playlist is running in the living room, out of our Apple TV. A glass of wine – Brown Brothers’ Rosa Moscato, because I cannot resist any wine that is delicately sweet – while a breeze ruffles my air-dried hair.

It is moments like these which fill me with a gentle longing to quieter days and times. I am by nature an introvert. I don’t like mingling and I don’t like big parties. Seat me opposite a good friend, however, and we can chat for hours and hours.

Like today. I had taken the day off to spend it with the littlest at his school’s Chinese New Year celebrations. He had been hoping that we’d go and so we did. And then I took him along with me to meet Yuling after the crazy tornado known as “children’s party” ended.

We sat in the cosy cafe run by the warmest of people – I mean, they actually entertained Z and his relentless stream of questions and activity! – and we caught up. For three hours, the conversation didn’t dither, except for the times when I had to accompany the little one to the toilet as he, well, took a dump. A few dumps, actually (totally his father’s child, this one).

And that sort of interaction and connection nourishes me. Just as me, sitting alone at the balcony in the still of the night, makes me feel alive.

I have two boys whom I love to the moon and back. But they are also two very noisy, rambunctious, highly energetic boys. And sometimes it gets just too much for my introvert self, especially after a long day at work with the groups of teenagers who can be equally – if not more – demanding.

It’s a struggle on many days.

I recognise that to retreat on tough days is not a sign of weakness. It isn’t a sign that I am a terrible mother or human being. It’s a sign of awareness, a moment that will grant me the recharge that I need in order to function as a better mother.

And so I head into the bedroom and put a workout on on my laptop or phone. Or I hide in the bathroom. Or I lie in bed and empty all thoughts from my mind. Some evenings, all it takes is 20 minutes. But there are also times when I would hide for as long as is necessary. Whatever it takes for me to recalibrate and decompress.

I know that these days won’t last very long. After all, the days are long but the years are short. The days of them needing me to brush their teeth or cuddle them to sleep or fill their love tanks are not going to be forever. But there are no prizes for pushing through pain and exhaustion and frustration. The journey is not a sprint but a marathon.

And this is why I relish these quiet moments at the balcony.

The organised chaos

On 2018

Between trying to debug this WordPress blog (it is so ugly now, urghs) and spending time with my littles, time has been woefully short. Without time, I have not been able to reflect on everything that has happened over the past 12 months.

In the one year that has just passed, I have graduated from my crazy and hectic one-year masters course. In between sleeping at 2am on an almost daily basis and maintaining my full load of work at my job, I also sold my house, bought a new flat, embarked on renovating the new flat before finally moving into it one week before I flew to Madrid to complete the last lap of my masters.

When we moved in, only our master bedroom was partially ready. Everywhere else was incomplete, raw, bare. We had no light, no heater, no air-conditioning, no wardrobe. The kitchen cabinets were not up, we had no stove and no sink. The living room was full of uninstalled carpentry. It was a total nightmare, and then I had to pack my bags for Spain, leaving my family behind. This actually warrants a post on its own, in an eye-rolling kind of way.

It was a tough period. 

A few months later, the husband flew off on one of his long business trips and I was solo parenting. It wasn’t that hard, as most solo-parenting mamas will attest, we get used to it fairly quickly. And then soon after, my mum was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer in late stage.

I struggled a lot. I tried to hold it down together but there were moments where I broke, when I felt broken. There were times when I cried hard as I drove back to work after sending her to her chemotherapy sessions. There were evenings when I parked the car and sat in it alone and sobbed. And as much as I needed my boys in that period, I also needed to be by myself a lot. I couldn’t pack and compartmentalise my emotions with them around.

My work suffered, between all that shuttling and adjustments. And it came to a boiling point when I suddenly came to the realisation that this is just work. I am not indispensable, I am not valued. I am just an employee, full-stop. My values and the company’s are no longer in sync and the disharmony is grating. 

With all that had happened, I was feeling tired and defeated. By the time December came around, I felt unmoored and directionless. I used to believe that I am strong and can withstand just about anything but this time, I was exhausted and breathless.

And then we made the decision to take a quick trip up north, to bring our kids to their favourite theme park and to also catch a breath. It was simple, fuss-free, with no itinerary. But it made all the difference. 

We encountered so much kindness and happiness. First, from a smiling pair of young men who gave us their 1RM note to pay for parking when we didn’t have the right amount on hand. It was only 1RM, I know, but their swiftness in handing over their note once they heard our verbal exchange and their refusal to accept payment warmed our hearts. 

And when we got to Legoland, the staff was amazing and the weather was kind – cloudy without that sticky humidity. I went into the park feeling optimistic and hopeful, and told the husband that I had a good feeling about the lucky draw. So we set about purchasing something to get us into the draw. I really wanted to buy the Harry Potter minifigs and went to the counter to start feeling up the sealed packs, haha. At the same time, the husband and I were chatting to the cashier and he asked if she knew how the individual characters felt. She did, and offered to help me. Pack by pack, she went through to find the three characters that I wanted and there were well over 20 packs. But she did and I ended up with the three that I really wanted.

At the lucky draw, we stood on the sidelines expectantly when the emcee picked out the first entry – consolation prize. “The surname is…LONG!” he announced and the husband and I grinned like fools. It was my receipt that he had fished out. And then five minutes later, he picked out the husband’s receipt for the third prize. We were laughing uproariously! Out of the five prizes, we had nabbed two.

“Told you I had a good feeling!” I said to the husband laughingly as we walked out in the darkness. Never mind that the prizes are honestly….crap. It was the good vibes that mattered.

And that feeling of…I don’t know…somebody watching over me. I was feeling really crummy but this trip really lifted me up. I don’t care much for organised religion but I believe in something – or someone – greater than us in the universe and in that moment, it was like God was saying, you’re going to be okay, you are loved and blessed.

And that is how I will move into 2019. With calmness and the knowledge that I am blessed. I don’t know what will come my way but I know that I cannot fear the unknown and the unpredictable. 

In the new year, I will prioritise me. It’s okay to put me above everyone else once in a while, and it’s okay to want to be alone. I want to read more books, work on my fitness regularly, get back to writing and shooting pictures. I want to spend time with those who love me. I want to step out of my comfort zone more often and do things that scare me. I want to say “no” more often. I want to move in a new direction and live boldly, as Will Traynor so wisely advised Lou. 

I will face this world bravely but I know I will not be alone.

blue sky with clouds
Letters to, Two of Us

We are 10

Dear Aidan and Zac,

Before the two of you came along, there was the two of us – me and Papa.

We met in 1998, got together when the new millennium rolled in, broke up a couple of years later, realised that nobody else measured up to each other, got back together again (it’s all been recorded down for posterity here), and then recited our wedding vows to our family and friends on a rainy September 14 evening in 2008.

After the wedding, we made a home and decided it was time to have children. We tried, failed, went for numerous IUIs, took the plunge and went for IVF, failed and then were pregnant by surprisetwice. That’s where you two come in.

Six and a half years of parenthood have flown by. We fought, cried, sunk into our beds each night in sheer exhaustion, drank copious amounts of caffeine, laughed at every antic you display, burst with joy at every milestone that you hit and drove our blood pressure sky high whenever you did something that made us mad. We stopped holding hands because we had to hold yours, and then started holding hands again when you decided you no longer needed ours to keep you steady. We kissed you, and we kissed each other just to make you squeal.

That’s your papa and I, in a nutshell. That’s 10 years of marriage summed up in a few pithy words. These words, of course, are not quite enough to encapsulate every moment, every tear, every smile, every angry thought, every loving gesture, every frustrated silence, every (temporary…trust me) murderous intent.

Oh yes, anger and frustration and sadness. There’s definitely some of those in our marriage.

Because you see, my dear littles, our marriage is not perfect. We have highs and lows. There are times when we love each other dearly but dislike each other intensely concurrently. There are moments when we would rather be alone than with each other. There are times when we want to spend time with others, away from each other (and you…but you’d probably cry if I tell you that so oops.)

And you know what? That’s absolutely fine. I’ve only been married once in my life but I reckon that no married couple go through only the highs and never the lows. At the end of the day, if there is anything that you learn from our marriage, it is that we make our choice. Every. Single. Day.

We choose to love each other. We choose to let each other have that last piece of chocolate. We choose to let go of our individual pride and be the unit that our family needs. We choose to walk our own path together, away from the naysayers.

We choose us, over and over again.

Remember, our marriage is a choice made by two individuals to commit to each other. We are still individuals but we are also equal partners.

And so it has been for the past 10 years. And for many more 10 years, hopefully.

You always tell mummy that you don’t want us to die, you want us to stay with you forever. Well, my darling boys, you know that is impossible and that’s okay. Because I am pretty damn sure that when papa and I are dead and gone, we will still be together. If not in your hearts and memories, then probably in the afterlife, roaming the world together as we have always intended.

Here’s to many more wedding anniversaries celebrated with the two of you, the greatest gifts of our marriage.

Love,
Mummy

The organised chaos

National Day Parade (NDP) 2018

Me, I have an uncomfortable relationship with my island home. It is where I was born, where I grew up and collected fond (and not-so-fond) memories over the past 37 years, where I got married, where we built our home, where my two boys were born, where we are bringing them up.

It’s everything I have ever known and loved, and yet it’s also a place which gives me dissonance. Home is where my family, my friends, my food (I am a Singaporean after all…) are. Home is beautiful. Home is also run by a government whom I feel strongly for and against in so many different ways.

In my own little way, I try to imprint the changes I want to see, in the area that I am most familiar and skilled in. And that is one reason why I remain in public service, in education, because I feel a strong pull to try to put in changes from within. There have been many, many times when I feel completely out of place in public service because I do not fit the typical mould of what a government employee should behave but I also know that an organisation needs variety – strange people like me – in order to thrive. And so I stay and try to fit in where necessary and push against boundaries when I can.

**********

Two weekends ago, I was given tickets by my god-brother to see the first public rehearsal of the National Day Parade (NDP). He, through the connections that he had built in the army, had received four tickets but chose to give them to me as his babies were too little to attend. Family rocks. 🙂

So off we went, me and my boys and the husband, and sat ourselves down in the Marina Bay Floating Platform. And I daresay that this is really one of the best NDP that I have seen.

Look, we all know that while part of the purpose of having a parade on the day of our independence is for us to show off our pride in our country, a lot of it has also to do with propaganda (for the lack of a better word). There is a nationalistic message that needs to be sent out to the citizens and the rest of the world: we may be little but we have plenty of might, just look at our tanks and our armed forces. This is usually the part in the parade that I skip.

This year, while there is still some element of that, much of it has been removed or shown in unbelievable subtlety. Much of it has to do with the creative direction of Boo Junfeng – there is so, so much less of that LOOK AT MY MUSCLES AND LOVE ME bellowing and pounding on the chest, and more of that gentle, introspective feel. The films were exquisitely shot and edited (needless to say), and evoke emotion and thought. I was wiping away my tears while perched on the tiny yellow plastic seats at the platform. The performances were less cliched (giant Aedes mosquitoes, remember?) and less showy, and that is honestly an amazing feat in itself.

The best part – to me! – was the music. If you had seen that video of We Are Singapore and loved it, then you’ll be happy to know that many of the songs that we know and used to sing as kids in school have received the same treatment. I won’t spoil it for you but I just want to say that Aisyah Aziz’s rendition of The Water is Wide brought tears to my eyes. Her voice soars effortlessly and is packed with the right balance of ethereal lilt and gravitas.

**********

So. I count myself lucky to have been able to catch this NDP “live” and to experience all the works on the spot. It was a masterstroke from the organising committee to get Boo as the creative director and I think it’s more than paid off. If you have the chance to watch either the rehearsals or parade live, yay! Otherwise, don’t forget to catch it on TV. It will be well worth your time.

Just make sure you have some tissues near.

Geek Girl

Geeking out at Tech Saturday (Upsized!) 2018

(I am back! Well, sort of. I graduated from my master’s course AND sold/bought/renovated our home so things are still a bit crazy around here. One month after graduation and it still has not sunk in that I. HAVE. GRADUATED. That realisation will kick in soon and I will write soon but in the meantime, I am excited about something else!)

The man that I married is a geek. He loves tinkering with computer things. When I was pursuing my master’s, one of the subjects that killed most of my brain cells was on the measurement of electronic audience. I know, I know, I was also all -_- when I started the subject.

Anyway, the husband sweetly tried to explain how web beacons and something something worked and all I heard was “blah blah packet sent here blah blah sent there”. Suffice to say, I was a terrible (live) audience, my eyes literally glazed over and till today, the technicality of it all eludes me. And that is a fate that I would like my boys to avoid. In this technologically driven world, they need to be adept at understanding and mastering technology such that they are not only consumers of technological content but producers too.

Actually, one of the things that I really want them to pick up is coding. I think coding requires a level of logical thinking, it teaches patience and above all, it allows them to be creative while having fun. These are skills that are necessary for kids to survive in tomorrow’s world. So I am always interested in all things educational and tech-related for them.

Last year, we went to Tech Saturday (Upsized), the tech carnival for everyone (SERIOUSLY, they have activities for, like, four- to 70-year-olds or something) and the kiddos had fun coding and playing with bots. We also attended the Little Artists for VR workshop, where Aidan had fun creating his own VR world (while Zac was busy terrorizing the room…in his defense, he was not quite three so..). This year, we are looking forward to go back again.

I have signed the boys up for the Augmented Reality Animal Flashcards workshop, only because they are nuts over AR (thanks, Pokemon). They’ll get to search for animals and feed them, all via AR!

If you are keen, here are five other activities that I would love to check out when we are there.

AI Goalkeeper
When we were in Zurich, we visited the FIFA World Football Museum. It was an incredible place, filled with really cool multimedia exhibits. But what made my boys go animal-creature-wild-thing-wild was the gaming zone, where they could play football in a pinball-styled setting. They were all over it, trying to kick the balls into the net to score points. I reckon they will be super excited over the AI goalie, trying to beat it. (They are no Messi though, so I think the AI will triumph over them.) This was also developed by Temasek Polytechnic students, and I am totally not biased even though I happen to teach there.

Make a Light-Up Greeting Card with Circuit Stickers
Since Father’s Day would be approaching, why not get your pre-schooler to make a greeting card that lights up with an LED? Dads – geeks and non-geeks alike – will surely appreciate this gesture while the kiddos can learn about the electrical circuit. Don’t worry, the LED is safe and this activity is meant for four- to six-year-olds accompanied by a parent.

Design and Print a 3D Model
This one is for the big kids aged 17 and above (ie. ME. And probably YOU). You get to learn more about 3D printing, and even design your own 3D model. I first saw a 3D printer at PIXEL (same time as when A was attending the VR workshop) and it’s seriously fascinating. I’d ditch the kids with their geeky papa (they’d probably go to the Lego booths and code a Lego bot or something) and do this for me.

Star Wars Jedi Challenge
To find out if the force is strong in you, you can put on a headset and wield your very own lightsaber in the Lenovo’s Starwars Jedi Challenge Augmented Reality experience. I have always wanted a purple lightsaber, like Mace Windu‘s, bless his very dead Jedi soul.

IMDA Lab on Wheels
My boys have a strange fascination with buses and I think the IMDA Lab on Wheels might excite their easily excitable selves. The interactive buses – there are two of them at the event – have AR/VR/MR headsets on one while the second requires your to solve puzzles in order to ‘escape’ from the ‘escape bus’.

Check out Tech Saturday 2018 (Upsized) on June 2 and 3 for a fun weekend out!

EVENT DETAILS
Date : June 2 & 3 2018
Time : 11am to 7pm
Venue : Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre Halls 404 and 405
Price : FREE!!
Register for workshops here, registration ends May 23, 5pm.

Thank you IMDA for sponsoring this post! We are looking forward to being geeks at Tech Saturday (Upsized) 2018!

The organised chaos

Hey, 2018

Ah, look, yet another year has passed us by. Goodbye 2017, I am not sure what to make of you but hello 2018 and the promises that you hold.

I have been largely absent in 2017 because, Master’s degree. When I first decided I wanted to embark on my further education, the constraints of my circumstances – full-time employee with a husband who travels and two littles – meant that I couldn’t go for a course that required regular and physical presence. Online was the only way to go, which was why I opted for a blended learning environment.

To be honest, having online lessons after a day’s work is tough. And exhausting.

But it was also good. The windows that have flipped open, the shutters that have been lifted, everything that I have read and learnt has shown me just how little I know. Gaining knowledge is an empowering and liberating experience, and I wish I had that same sort of thirst for knowledge – as opposed to simply getting good grades and a degree – when I was a student. It’s also made me realised just how broken and flawed our education system is.

On the work front, there have been many changes, some good and some not too great. It’s largely a “wait and see” scenario because so many things are in flux right now. I don’t know how things will pan out but in the meantime, it’s keep calm and carry on.

As a mother and wife, I constantly feel like I am a work in progress, especially since I embarked on my studies. I find myself short on temper and patience, and on some days, I just want to do absolutely nothing after work. I don’t want to talk to the kids, I don’t want to deal with cleaning their poopy asses, I don’t want to hustle them to eat their dinner/fruits/meds or to their showers. It sounds terrible but I just don’t.

Luckily for me, my kids still love their mama with the same amount of zeal and intensity. I remind myself, whenever guilt starts creeping into the fringes of my heart, that I am being an example to them. When they whine about my studies taking me away from them, I tell them that mummy has to put in effort in order to do well. And when I finally graduate (although it feels so, so far away!!), I hope they can see that as the fruit of my labour.

On top of everything, we – well, I – decided that it was time to move out of our current home. This place has served us well over the past nine years but it’s definitely not quite meeting our needs now. I dithered for so long because it’s our first home, the home which we welcomed our feline and human babies in.

This home has seen us hosting our friends for late night Guitar Heroes party. We had adopted our cats here and seen them destroy our things. We ate dinner on the floor while binge watching Supernatural. I had sat on the bathroom floor weeping while in the throes of infertility, and stared at the pee stick in incredulity in the same bathroom when I realised I was pregnant. My babies had slept with us in our bed since the day we brought them home. I had paced the floor of my bedroom in frustration when my baby woke up every 20 minutes. We have loved, laughed, cried, hugged in this house.

But I came to realise that home is where my loved ones are, not the physical walls that we live in. We could leave this house and still build a home somewhere so this is where we stand today, on the cusp of moulding the home of our dream and leaving behind the home where we first begun our marriage.

Consequently, the marriage is in the season where everything else is taking precedence. There is so much that needs to be done on all fronts and we have let ourselves slide down the back burner. So yes, definitely a work in progress but from now till April (when I finally graduate AND move into the new house – it’s all happening at the same time!), we just have to plod on.

Does it sound all doom and gloom? Oh no, not really. 2017 was great for the travel opportunities that we embraced. I took a solo trip to Madrid for my first round of classes and then headed to Paris for a quick getaway. It was truly what I needed, some time alone to be myself again and not the boys’ mummy. Then, we decided to hop onto a plane to visit old friends in Perth during winter and had a lovely drive down to the Margaret River region. Later on, when I had to go back to Madrid for the mid-term classes, I rallied the cousins to travel across Spain with me and we had a delightful two-week holiday with the boys.

In many ways, I have been pretty lucky and blessed in 2017. There were mistakes and tears and frustration, oh heaps of these, but I have lived through them relatively unscathed. If there is anything that I have learnt over the past one year, it is that I am stronger than I give myself credit for.

And there is much to look forward to this year. Finally, I graduate and can say that the blood, sweat, tears, wrinkles and eyebags have been all worth it. Finally, we can shift into a house that is exactly what we need in this season. And with the husband and I approaching our 10th year of marriage, I think it’s time we start prioritising ourselves over our boys and work on us.

So, 2018. Let’s slay, together.