I have an M.O when it comes to getting my hair done.
It usually takes place during the term break, so once every three months or so. I will take a day off from work, and it is typically a week day, and the earliest appointment the salon can arrange for me. I drop the kids off at school and park the car at home before taking the bus into town for the appointment.
After the usual works – greys get touched up, a trim to keep the shape neat and tidy – I’ll head over to an eatery for my coffee and meal. There, I’ll linger for a while, enjoying the quiet sips of my coffee as music wafts into my ears through my noise cancelling AirPods. There, I am shut off from the world, immersed only in my book and my music. There, I am my own, and I am gentle, and I am silent.
Time, however still it seems, doesn’t stop. Before I know it, the cup is empty, the aftertaste of coffee lingers in my mouth and a glance at my watch tells me that it’s time to head home so that I can pick my littles up. A quick check of the app shows me that the bus will arrive in eight minutes – I pay for my meal, pack up and slip out of the place to walk to the bus stop.
This process emerged, initially, because of a lack of time. Weekends are for spending with the kids and husband, and I needed to be home in time so as to pick the boys up from school. As time went by, it became a block of time that I carved out for me.
Over time, it became a ritual that I followed unconsciously. But for the past couple of months, and perhaps even the year, there were times when COVID guidelines meant that I could only zip and out for a haircut. The ritual that I had built so carefully over the past decade had been systematically and ruthlessly dismantled because of the pandemic.
The past two months of living under the shadow of Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) has shown me just how much the pandemic has robbed us of. I never thought I would miss dining in at an eatery so much and so when we weren’t allowed to do so, it felt like something was missing. When the rule was finally lifted, the first thing I did was to book a dinner date with the husband. And our first meal out was a piping hot bowl of bak chor mee, post gym.
Over the past year of working from home and ordering food in, we have had many bowls of noodles, obviously. But somehow nothing beats waiting for the food to be cooked, and then to tuck into the freshly made noodles.
And then it hit me: it was a ritual in itself. The process of us heading to the gym together, deciding what to eat, queueing up to order, and sitting at the table while devouring our food. Having a date night is also a ritual – me deciding what to wear, dolling up, driving down the expressway with the moon roof opened and pretending that we are doing a road trip, holding hands and walking to the restaurant, conversing with no worry or care.
Maybe that’s why there is always something heavy weighing inside of me. (Granted, I tend towards the melancholy more than the usual.) But there’s always a sense of grief – at times teeny tiny, at times an avalanche – of what we have lost and given up, of what our kids have had to let go of. I am grateful that we, as a whole, have emerged relatively unscathed but I also recognise that my anxiety and grief are valid too.
Perhaps the underlying lesson to be learnt is this: to treasure the little moments of what we have, and to never take anything for granted. On some days, truthfully, the lesson can be a bitter pill to swallow. But you know, time does not stop for us. Summer is here, it’s hot and bloody humid, and before you know it, the kids will be out of school and it’s time to celebrate Christmas. We just have to focus on putting one foot in front of us at a time, shed some tears and laugh out loud along the way, and we will be where we are meant to be in due time.
It all started with a bedtime conversation I had with the boys.
“When I was a kid, I fell down a lot,” I said. “And I got scolded by my mother because of that.”
“Why would your mother scold you?” asked the littlest.
I smiled into the darkness. “Because she said I was clumsy and careless and I should pay attention to where I was walking.”
There was a pause.
And then, his tiny voice piped up, “You are not clumsy, mummy. It’s not your fault.”
I started watching the Korean drama, It’s Okay To Not Be Okay, around that time. I had zero expectations, having no knowledge of who the actors were. I only knew the synopsis intrigued me, after all, it’s not every day that a drama series deals with mental health issues.
But it turned out to be a hugely triggering event for me and that was obviously not something I had bargained for.
To get here, we need to look back at my past, the childhood that I had emerged from.
It wasn’t a pleasant one. My father had died when I was six, leaving my mother penniless, the sole bread winner, and the only caregiver to two young girls. Back then, there was such a stigma on everything to do with mental health. There wasn’t information or help on processing grief, the pragmatic society expected you to get up and get going.
My mother worked hard and for long hours to bring food to the table. She wasn’t educated so there were few options available to her, a widow with two kids. As such, we were left to our own devices. There wasn’t anyone asking me if I had homework, or to go through spelling with me. My mother provided me with our material needs and whatever energy she could muster, and I was to fill in the gaps myself for everything else.
Looking back, I think it was very clear my mother had difficulties processing her grief. She didn’t know how to, and she tried to move on because life required her to do so, ASAP. But mentally and emotionally, she was probably not well-supported most of the time. We didn’t grow up with hugs and kisses, we never received affirmation. I got scolded a lot. I was often left by myself at home, left to fend for my own needs. My sister and I were pegged, she being deemed the “challenging” child and I, the “good” child. As such, she spent much of her attention and effort on my sister, and believed that I would be okay.
And so, there were days when, I think, I had to be both a daughter and a husband to her. Because I was “reliable”. When she couldn’t hold back her own flood of emotions, it all came pouring out in the form of angry outbursts to me. The triggers could be something as simple as me forgetting to take my medication, or defrost something for dinner. I had to bear the brunt of the tirades, my sister preferring to stay out of our home as much as possible.
How could I, when I was a child who did not know how to understand my own feelings? There wasn’t anyone to teach me how to channel my anger or my sadness or my envy or my feelings of inadequacy, or even put a name to what was churning inside.
I had a teacher in school who was horribly abusive – emotionally – towards me and when I finally broke and told my mother about it, she said I had probably misunderstood the situation and we never spoke of it again. I was placed in my aunt’s care during that same period of time, and I felt anxious, scared, lonely and unwanted. My aunt had two older kids and an infant, she probably had no bandwidth to care for me. Years later, when I finally told my mother that I was undergoing fertility treatments, she changed the topic and started talking to me about my baby nephew’s antics.
I don’t want to take anything away from my mother’s parenting, she did the best she could, given the circumstances. And it wasn’t all misery. There were trips to the Bedok library where I spent many happy hours, reading books at the little amphitheater in the kids’ section. We took the bus to Cathay cinema on weekends, where she used to sell snacks at the bar with my godparents. I remember sitting next to the open window, sticking my face and hands out to feel the wind, singing my favourite songs as the bus trundled on. We ate our favourite ice jelly dessert at the Hollywood stall at the market at Bedok Interchange.
There were good memories.
But there were some godawful, and painful ones too.
There were many times when I wanted to throw myself out of our eighth floor flat. To this day, I don’t know why I never did. Maybe it was my innate sense of pragmatism, maybe I was a coward.
But this was my childhood, where I learnt to keep to myself, where I never did identify what I was feeling and how to cope with it, where there wasn’t an adult to be my champion.
To this day, I still feel a sense of disconnect towards my mother. I love her and I understand that she did her best. I am grateful. But at the same time, I can’t be what society expects me to be, that child who provides love and comfort for the parent unconditionally. I just can’t.
And so I started watching It’s Okay To Not Be Okay. And I started crying at every episode. Initially, I thought it was because of a well-written plot and beautifully fleshed out characters played by convincing actors. And then I realised it was because I saw myself in them, I was crying for them and for myself.
When Kang Tae read story of The Zombie Kid out loud, it was me, the zombie kid was me, in need of warmth and assurance. I had food, I had things but I needed that hug. I needed someone to say, hey, I see that you are feeling broken and I am here for you. Like KT, I have been hiding my emotions for a very long time, and have conditioned myself to behave “normally”. I function normally, most days, and I am mostly happy but every once in a while, the dam breaks and it aches.
I’ve never really shared with anyone, partly because I don’t know how to. As a child, I learnt to retreat into myself, into books and my words. I feel like that emotionless princess – talking and laughing loudly to mask the emptiness inside. And honestly, what can I say? What do I say? Maybe I am just waiting for someone to say, let’s talk, with no judgment and plenty of empathy. I don’t need or want solutions, I just want to be heard and comforted.
And like Moon-young, I use my clothes as an armour. I want to be different because that’s how I have felt as a child, I am that kid without a dad, an outsider. And since I am different, I might as well play it up as a focal point and dress differently from people.
One of the show’s key message that hit me the hardest was when Director Oh says that humans are weak, and that we become stronger when we lean on one another. It resonated because all my life, I have prided myself for being strong. To move on. To carry on even when life is hard. That was how I survived my infertility days, when I was jabbed again and again until I could laugh and joke while getting my blood drawn. It was how I could function when my mother received her stage 4 cancer diagnosis.
But maybe, just maybe, it’s okay to say that I’m tired and rest.
I’ve always wondered why I can’t be like everyone, to be happy and at peace and comfortable with life. There must be something wrong with me, to have something unseen gnawing at me and to not being able to understand myself with great clarity. My favourite quote is this line from The Lord of The Rings: not all those who wander are lost and it’s what keeps me sane, by reminding myself that I may walk a different path from my family but it doesn’t make me wrong or bad.
But I see now that it’s me and it’s not me. The me of today is partly nature and partly nurture. And I now understand that it’s time to fix me. Fix the parts of me that can’t seem to express myself well to anyone, that retreat into myself when threatened, that sabotage myself and make questionable decisions because I don’t know if I am good enough.
I’m writing it here because I want this year to be about me. I’ve taken the first step to seek professional help because I acknowledge that there’s only so much I can do for myself. I need to learn and grow before I can fix me.
I don’t know where that will take me but I am hopeful. I know that I am very lucky in so many ways and I always feel like I shouldn’t complain. But it’s okay to not be okay. And it’s okay to acknowledge that I am tired and vulnerable and I am flawed.
This has been stewing in my mind for the longest time but I have never been able to sit down and put it all together. You have no idea how many times I have typed a paragraph and erased it – this is probably my fourth? Fifth attempt?
Ever since this whole pandemic and semi-lockdown begun, I have struggled on so many levels, on so many days. I vacillate between different emotions: anxiety, determination, exhaustion, frustration, gratitude. Oh gosh, the anxiety and worry. When my kids are slumped in front of the TV or have eyes glued to the iPad, I think about how my lack of generosity to grant them screen time has been eroded vastly. Do I want them to become as blind as a bat as I was, pre-Lasik? Are they meaningfully occupied? Are they learning?
When I am sitting in front of my work laptop, trying feverishly to think of ways and means to teach 80 kids how to use the manual functions of a camera without a camera in their hands, I wonder if this is going to work and if it will ruin the next three years of their academic life with us. And I stare at my screen, and wonder why the hell I decided that it was a good idea to overhaul all the materials. WHY CAN’T I PUT UP WITH UGLY SLIDES.
Hmm, I had better hit the supermarket during lunch, so that I can avoid the weekend crowd but is my freezer too full? Do I know what I want to cook/eat?
And then I swing, like a monkey drawn to the potato chips in an unsuspecting tourist’s hand, to running on 100% efficiency mode. I hunker down in front of the laptop and pound out slide after slide of teaching materials. Sometimes, though, this comes at the expense of my children and my lunch. I don’t have an appetite and I get annoyed at them (the children, not the lunch) when they don’t do the work that they are supposed to do. Sit up straight! I bark. Pay attention to your Zoom lesson! Stop moving! Listen! Focus! Drink water! Stop disturbing mummy!
Oh wait, but all these people on the interwebs are telling me that I should prioritise the children’s emotions and their feelings over homework. I should be baking cookies and building crafts and connecting with my kids over hand-drawn games and growing plants. BUT ARE THESE PEOPLES GOING TO DO MY WORK TO PLAN AND TEACH? Yup, I didn’t think so.
I know, I know, we will get through this. But at what cost? What will we see at the end of this tunnel? What will life be like?
All of that above exists in my brains, every single day. It’s hard for me to articulate how I feel. Because I don’t even understand how I feel sometimes, it’s this deep churning pool of murky feelings and sad feelings and I WILL SURVIVE feelings. And I am not great at telling someone how I feel because it’s not something I am used to doing. This is what happens when you grow up pretty much alone and without someone to confide in. (Which is why I prefer writing.)
But it’s not all bad. We have many good moments and I know that I am very lucky in so many ways. I am extremely thankful that we shifted to our current flat because oh, the space! When I am tired and want to be alone, I can be alone. It may be in the toilet, so it’s a good thing that we gutted out the toilet and redid it so prettily AND ADDED THAT TUB. My kids are rather independent and they can read/poop/pee/eat/shower on their own. Failing which, they are rather talented at switching the TV on and finding a Minecraft video to watch on YouTube. They also know how to work the carbonator to make all the sparkling water that they can drink. Other life skills that I have imparted to them include making buttered toast and fixing their own cereal.
And most importantly, I am grateful that this isn’t a complete lockdown. Every evening, we try to hit the nearby garden. It is small, quiet and steps away from our block. It offers space for the boys to expend their never-ending energy while I fit in a quick workout. I get the chance to move and breathe and the fresh air does everyone heaps of good.
So that’s me for the past weeks, in a nutshell. It’s a hell of an emotional rollercoaster – and now I am triggered because I am duly reminded of the Battlestar Galactica ride at USS that nobody would go on with me. But every night, I’d sit at my balcony (thankful we opened up the balcony when we bought the flat) with a glass of something (G&T tonight) and stare into the wide open night. It’s calm, and it’s peaceful, and it is where I press the reset button. And then I go to bed and rinse, repeat.
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.
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.
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.
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.