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2019: Goodbye to this year, this decade

Wow. How did we come to this point, the last day of 2019? It’s a total cliche to say that time flies but the proof is in the pudding – suddenly we are on the cusp of a brand new year and decade.

2019 has been pretty significant in many ways. There weren’t any major upheavals – I didn’t study for my masters’ part-time while juggling two little people and full-time work AND sold/buy a house at the same time (here’s looking at you, 2018) – but there were little things that helped to cement this year as a momentous one.

Prioritising me

At the end of 2018, I wrote that I wanted to “put myself above everyone once in a while” and I am glad that I did it!

For starters, I decided to dedicate time to build my fitness. If you know me in real life, you’d know that I am the type of mother who hates to miss out on time with my kids. I am the mum who loved breastfeeding, co-sleeping and who willingly drops off and picks up the kids from work every single day. When we go out or travel, we schlepp the entire family along. We are that family, it’s simply a choice that we made unconsciously when we became parents (not judging anyone else: your family, your preferences).

But now that the littlest is five, it’s clear that the boys are not reliant on me for their needs as much as before (YAY). I started carving out 30 minutes to an hour in the evenings to squeeze in a workout, while they cycle or scoot or run at the park, three times a week. Initially, I was just appalled at how I looked in the mirror, urghs. Then as I got fitter, I enjoyed the feeling of being strong. And I realised that my gift to kids is to be a healthy parent, to be a good role model to them.

My mother was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer a year ago, and her oncologist told us bluntly that any treatment was not to cure her but to maintain her current state of living. It was aggressive and it had metastasized into many of her organs. Gratefully, her cancer is under control after one round of chemotherapy. She is not cancer-free but I will take whatever I can get. #fuckcancer

It was then that I knew I had to be kind to myself. I was constantly juggling my different hats and running in and out of the hospital. During that tumultuous period, I was unmoored, set adrift, alone. To be perfectly honest, I was probably mentally and emotionally burning out. When things looked up, I decided that I had to carve out a safe space for myself so that I could patch myself up.

I also made the decision to cut someone toxic out from my life. It wasn’t a hard decision, truthfully, for this was an unhealthy relationship that had been going on for years and years. Family or not, I do what is best for me and my marriage and my children.

Books have always been a part of life. Until the babies came along, that is. This year, I made it a point to read more books and not surf the internet meaninglessly. And I did it! Okay, granted that I did revisit many of my old favourites – reread all Harry Potter and His Dark Materials books – but I also picked up a few new ones along the way. It’s probably bad for my health though, because I am one of those people who CANNOT PUT A BOOK DOWN. I went to bed at 2am many a night because I had to finish something.

Carving my own identity

Having spent most of my life trying to please everyone and feeling insecure about myself, I think this year was a watershed one for me. I truly, truly came into my own and started giving exactly. Zero. Fucks.

I know, sounds dramatic, right? But it was something that was gradual. I didn’t use to speak up because I felt that I didn’t know enough or I might be wrong or I hated confrontations. But these days, I have stopped giving a damn. If I see that something is not quite right, I no longer hesitate to voice out my opinion.

Maybe it’s growing older (!) and wiser (!!). But this year, I saw a more confident and outspoken me emerge. I know my value to my organisation and the people around me, and I know where my place is. I know my strengths and I make it clear I am willing to learn to to make up for my shortcomings. Nobody can say that I am not giving my all. My RO called me a “diva” (she laughed and said it was meant in a good way when I gave her a horrified look) but I have decided that if being a diva means I get shit done and I suffer no fools, then by all means!

This year, I spent less time in the kitchen than before. I have come to accept that I am no domestic goddess. I cannot keep my plants alive, and I am no Samin Nosrat. I used to think that I am a good mum if I could feed my kids food cooked by my own two hands because that was how my mother showed her love. But this isn’t me. I don’t have to follow the expectations cast by the people around me. I can cook and I will cook. In my own time and according to my own tune.

To the decade that’s just gone by

I spent so much of the past 10 years trying to be a mother, and then – gratefully – being a mother. Back in 2010, I had embarked on fertility treatments and was being jabbed like a lab rat every single month. I had sat on the floor of bathroom sobbing time and time again, because I couldn’t see an end to that tunnel.

But there were silver linings. I befriended fellow infertility warriors who went on to be my biggest cheerleaders. We were eventually blessed with two high-octane, madcap, annoying, loud, smelly little boys in our lives, first in 2012 and then in 2014.

The following years were spent trying to navigate my way was a mother and wife, and still grow my career at the same time. There were many tears and plenty of scraped knees (literal – theirs – and mental – mine). There were fights and unhappiness and frustration and exhaustion. OH THE EXHAUSTION. There were so many times when I felt tired and lost, because I didn’t know who I was or what I was doing anymore.

Also, there was this tofu debacle, which I had almost forgotten about. And my scary brush with uveitis.

Of course I then decided that it was the perfect time to pursue my master’s. Took the plunge and was rewarded with an experience that was so, so enriching, that it was worth all the sleepless nights

And now it’s 2020 and wow, what a decade this has been. How life-changing, definitive. It’s been an adventure and being in my 30s has been all sorts of awesome. I used to think that growing old was scary but I was just being a dumb blonde.

So, 2020. Here you are. We don’t have flying cars yet, a couple of idiots are running the world’s most influential countries and I have been in the same job for the past eight years. Will wonders never cease, and there are still adventures to be had, even if one is inching towards middle agehood.

To a year ahead of wisdom, joyful living and exciting adventures!

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What Frozen 2 means to a daughter with no father

I love December. I love Christmas. I love the cool weather and even the rain. I love the smell of fresh pine. I love the lights that are strung up on every corner that I turn.

And yet, December is also a month of mourning for me, a month of “what might have been”.

Thirty-two years ago, my father died. On a nondescript mid-winter morning, he collapsed at the basketball court and was dead even before we got to see him at the hospital. Serendipity, that his last moments were spent at a place he so loved. He had been an active basketball player since he was a young student and from all accounts, he never really grew out of it. Isn’t dying while doing something that we love considered the holy grail of life?

On hindsight, death is easy. He did not have to deal with the aftermath. Living was hard at pivotal moments in my life. So incredibly hard. When you grow up knowing that you are so different from everyone else, that your family is fractured, that there isn’t enough money, there is a huge chip on your shoulder. There is emotional and mental burden, unseen and unknown, that you carry in every step you take along the way. The absence of my father unwittingly shapes every move, every decision.

I will never know if the person that I am today will be who I am in an alternate universe where my father never died. I try not to think about it, because I know that as much as I mourn the breaking up of my family, I am also mourning the who that I could have been. I am mourning the confusion and feelings of being lost and lonely, which accompanied me for most of my formative years.

I was a teenager searching for myself, my identity, trying to figure out how I could fit in. And I had nobody to help me grow into myself. Grief was not an easy cloak to shrug off.

Over the weekend, we took the boys to watch Frozen 2. I didn’t read the synopsis and I wasn’t a fan of the first installment, we simply decided to go with dear friends and their boys. But the movie hit me hard as a mother, a fatherless child.

When Elsa sings of how she knows she is “not where I’m meant to be” and “there’s a part of me that longs to go” in Into The Unknown, it struck a chord in me. In my youth, I had dreamt of going places, of doing things. But how could I, when I had to graduate and get a job so that I could help my mother support the family? How could I, when I knew my mother relied on me and my presence? Where could I have gone?

And as Elsa embarked on in her journey of self-discovery, that moment where her mother’s voice led her to her epiphany was particularly moving. When the images of her late mother shone from the walls and she sang joyfully of being found in Show Yourself, it resonated.

You are the one you have been waiting for all of your life.

I grew up, I learnt how to feel comfortable with myself, in my own skin. It has been a hard-fought battle and it’s still ongoing. I can be prickly, I still doubt myself and my abilities, I can be hard to live with. But I know who I am.

Maybe to detractors, this movie is nothing more than a commercial endeavour. It probably is. But it is also a reminder to me, as an individual, that I am enough. And it also gently reminds me that as a mother, my connection with my boys will outlive me.

What I want my boys to take away from the movie is that they can still be brave and kind and empathetic even if they are scared and uncertain. And most importantly, they will forever carry my love with them even when I am no longer around. A mother’s love will never die, just like how my father is still in my memories after all these years.

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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!