Timekeepers

I stare intently at the five digital timers lined up in a straight row in front of me – each of them counting down the minutes and seconds to the next required action. I brace myself, alert and ready, the moment one of the timers reaches the 30 seconds mark. 10 seconds now, and I lean forward, my fingers positioned above 2 critical buttons I am about to press. 5 seconds, and I swallow. Anytime now.

DEE, DEE, DEE

The shrill alarm goes off from the timer, especially jarring in the quiet room. It is almost immediately silenced by my coworker. A split second later, I depress the buttons, and my voice fills the corridors and rooms through the microphones.

You have 2 minutes left

I lift my fingers from the buttons and all is silent once more. I bring my gaze back to the timers, the remaining ones still ticking down the time. The bell is up next. I posit the device in front of the microphones and I stare at the timers again.

The timer runs down to zero and is silenced. I lift the bell from the table with my right hand, and depress the buttons with 2 fingers on my left hand. With controlled flicks of my right wrist, I swing the bell.

CLANG, CLANG, CLANG, CLANG

I still my right hand, and my fingers leave the microphone buttons. The stillness of cold air replaces the echo of the bell in my ears. My eyes immediately seek out the timers again.

With varying minutes between the countdown timers, we synchronise our breaks, mental or physical, in between the required actions specified by the timers. This cycle repeats itself throughout the day.

My colleagues and I, 3 of us from different departments, are roped in for a special event. A weekend that marks an important milestone for a group of young people about to realise their calling in life.

We comprise the timekeeping team; and I am assigned the role of the chief timekeeper.

We keep a tight check on the, well, time; broadcast crucial cues to move people along, and inch these young people closer to freedom.  To these young people crossing the final hurdle, adrenaline gushing through the blood, time loses its significance. They are also safe in the knowledge someone will be watching time for them, leaving them to ply their trade.

Closeted in a tiny room, hidden from view and forgotten (for most of the day), I feel time’s claustrophobic presence. Every second and minute seems longer – the significance of time passing becomes critical. I watch time pass literally and hear bells the whole day; after 2 days of intense time-watching, imprisoned by my duty, I am ready to scream. But I know my responsibility – nothing glamourous, just pragmatic.

At the end of each (exciting) day, congratulations abound for the key organisers on a job well done, an event well run. I get none of that but it is not unexpected; I am just glad to be let out of the prison I have spent the last 12 hours in, and escape home, having executed my duty to the best of my ability.

All the best to you all – please promise you will always do your best for the welfare, mine included, of the people you pledged upon, that many years ago …

Letter to My 6 Year Old Daughter

Darling Megan, 

Your 6th birthday came and went in a flash. Has it only been 6 years since you joined our little family, making it a fantastic four? It seemed like you’ve been with us forever, because I cannot remember how life had been before you arrived now. 

I loved the Powerpuff Girls when I was in my teens, watching the cartoon with your BaBa, my boyfriend then, cooing over the oh-so-adorable and colourful little girls with super powers. I could never decide if I was more of the tomboy and tough Buttercup, or the calm and composed Blossom, but had never identified myself with the sweet and sensitive Bubbles. You, my dear girl, are a great 3-in-1; I finally understood what Professor Utonium meant by “sugar, spice, and everything nice”. He was talking about you. 

I know it has not been easy growing up in our family. BaBa, GorGor and I are all the typical first borns – we exhibit very strong personality traits of first borns. Although you are the first born daughter, you are technically the second born too, and you again have a mixture of traits of both. It must have been tough on you, constantly struggling to fit in with us, yet your independent streak is extremely strong. You fight for our attention, even if it means using frowned-upon methods. 

You are a great individual, strong-willed and determined, and I’m extremely proud of you because of that. Once you make up your mind on some thing or task, you have the tenacity to see it through. But darling, this part of the world we live in values compliance more than do-whatever-I-wish. For the sake of your survival, until you become powerful enough to manage your own destiny, please pretend to be more compliant and less willful. Connect your natural sensitivity to your instinct to act; create the necessary synergy for these 2 talents of yours to work in your favour. 

In other words, stop banging your head against the wall cos the wall ain’t gonna cave in before your head does. Choose your battles, darling. There are more than enough for you to win later in life. 

You have also taken an interest in boys. It is okay, you don’t have to hide your embarrassment behind a covered mouth, limp waves of your hand in denial and girlish giggles in front of me. I understand perfectly; my first interest in boys started when I was seven years old. I might have been 1 year older than you then, but there have been lots of changes in technology and society between my generation and yours, so we are probably on par after adjusting for the differences. 

After a few samples, I can more or less determine the type of boys you like by now. And it’s pretty easy – the type I don’t like. The type who is as far away from your BaBa’s type, physical appearance wise. Or your GorGor, to a certain extent, for the matter. A pretty boy is okay, my dear girl; but his values, quality of his mind and heart, must matter much more than the physical grandeur that will definitely fade with time. Choose wisely, for a heart broken by a boy not compatible to nor worthy of your time and love is one too many. I may have to start chanting this every year from now though. A nag, you have turned me into. 

MaMa only has 1 final wish for you this year – be wise. Use your gift of wisdom, be it to choose your battles, or the boys. Love you to infinity and beyond. 

Lots of hugs and kisses, 

From MaMa to you, my little Sunshine-Pirate-Princess

  

 

In All Fairness 

It was past the kids’ bedtime as I returned home, trying to open the doors as quietly as I could, and tip toe-ing into the darkened house. 

Before I could close the door behind me, I saw a little head full of hair spying at me from his bedroom doorway. Ah, the little one who places a great deal of emphasis on quality time.

“MaMa! I have been trying to keep awake to wait for you! Can I tell you about my day?” Matthew was all smiles as he whispered loudly, remembering to keep his voice down because MeiMei was already asleep, and loud enough because he knew his mum was a little hard of hearing. In all fairness.

Could I say ever say no to this request of his? Never. I pushed aside my desire to crash out on the floor and followed him into his room. And I listened as he recounted his whole day at my parents’, this week being the 1-week March school holidays. 

As the story unfolded, I was reminded how important fairness is to my boy. He explained why he tried to spend equal time with his GongGong; he realised he had been spending more time with PoPo, and not enough time with his grandfather. In all fairness. 

“I have to be fair, if not I won’t be able to remember their names next time, right?”, was his (a little strange) reasoning. 

But I understood. Quality time with family, no matter how briefly, counts. Every little bit, and as equally apportioned as possible, matters. Powerful reminders worth paying attention to, especially coming from a not-yet-8-year-old boy. Have to hand it to him. In all fairness. 

A New Animal in the Zodiac Cycle

Although we only get the first 2 days of the Lunar New Year off as national holidays in Singapore, we continue to celebrate the festivities with lots of feasting with colleagues, friends and family throughout the 15 days.

One highlight of all the feasting in my circle would be the Yu Sheng (raw fish slices tossed with a sweet sauce together with lots of shredded fresh vegetables and sweet, preserved fruit and vegetables – symbolizes prosperity.)

Yesterday was the 7th day of the Lunar New Year, which was also the day of “everybody’s birthday” (Chinese are therefore always 1 year older than the actual age, according to the Lunar calendar). And what better reason to celebrate birthdays than Yu Sheng?

The kids are older now and joined the adults to toss the vegetables high into the air merrily, while saying auspicious phrases as we wished one another good luck, health, wealth and whatever good wish we have for the New Year.

As we sat around the table enjoying the delicious Yu Sheng, Matthew started a little game of “Who is born in the year of the (zodiac) animal?” It went like this: “Who is born in the year of the P.I.G.?” We would then listen carefully to the letters of the zodiac animal he was spelling and then put up our hands if we fit the description.

We were all smiling and indulging him in his fun, totally forgetting about the curse of knowledge. Not everyone at the table was proficient in spelling yet! A little soon-to-be-6 yo girl was starting to feel left out. She started to rush to blurt out the animal as soon as it was spelt. I know! Pig! Snake!

So when Matthew started on the next animal, “Who is born in the year of the M.O.N.K.E.Y?” Megan went “MOUSE!” very loudly. The Man corrected her, saying it was “monkey”, and that there was no “mouse” amongst the zodiac animals, but rather it was “rat”. We made the mistake of ignoring her.

Not someone to be deterred, she tried again. When Matthew went “Who is born in the year of the T.I.G.E.R?”, and before Ah Yi could respond, Megan shouted “TURTLE!!!”

She got the attention she wanted. We were stunned for 2 seconds; then we could not hold back any longer. We burst out laughing. I know, we were so mean to her right? But she looked so certain and cute when she said “Turtle” we could not help it. Matthew laughed heartily, and added “Turtle couldn’t have won the race*, he’s soooo slow!!”

The Man retorted by asking Matthew who won the race in the Hare and the Tortoise*. Matthew understood straight away, and laughed harder. Amidst our uncontrollable laughter, we finally answered the little girl staring wide-eyed at the maniacs around her who were laughing unrestrained and loudly. When she realized her innocent blunder, she burst out laughing too.

As I looked at Megan laughing at her own mistake, I thought that this little girl should grow up fine, possessing the courage to laugh at herself. Aye, she will be alright …

*None of these fables were scientifically accurate nor true. Animals didn’t take part in races; turtles and tortoises are not synonymous. Nevertheless, the morals behind these stories were what we grew up with, and what we have passed on to the next generation with much pride.

The Girl with the Drawings

If Matthew’s quiet-time hobby is reading, then Megan’s would be drawing. This little girl of mine just loves to draw and colour, and colour and draw.

We don’t send Megan to any art / drawing class, and she has never requested she be sent to one. But we make sure she has access to drawing paper / scrap books, markers, colour pencils and crayons. Even Matthew will tell me to “get ready another drawing block because MeiMei is finishing hers soon.”

Megan is almost an autodidact, with occasional pointers from the Man. Her other teachers are pictures and scenes around her. She learns by observing people and copying pictures she sees in her surroundings. I cannot claim she is a genius at drawing, but I love the fact that she never stops practising. She will even draw on tiny scraps of reused paper, just so.

These are her drawings sometime mid-2014, when she was 5yo and crazy about Elsa from Frozen:

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And this is what I consolidated from her latest drawings Jan/Feb 2015, before she turns 6 next month:

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I love it that she mostly features the both of us in her drawings to me; she conveys her love through drawings and some words, like Matthew does with his little note. And I in turn, display their works proudly all over the little work station space I have; it’s pretty amazing to see their progress through a matter of mere months – Megan with her improved drawings, and Matthew with his improved vocabulary and handwriting. It is also a constant reminder that the kids are growing up faster than I think, and that I better treasure every moment I have with them (to the best of my mortal ability of course!)

A Special Love Note

14 February holds only brief moments of significance in my life – I can count them with the fingers on my hand. I believe it has a lot to do with my (un)popularity with boys and having my birthday 3 days before the V-day.

After the first or second anniversary with the Man, he had very practically (and justifiably) combined my birthday and Valentine’s Day presents together every year since. Not that I minded much, as the price hikes and crowds have totally turned me off the idea of venturing anywhere or doing anything “special” on the actual day.

This year, however, thanks to the thoughtful teachers who planned the curriculum at Matthew’s school, I received something special from him – a love note from my favourite boy.

As part of his schoolwork on Saturday (14th February), Matthew had to write a note of love to either his dad or me “on any piece of paper”, and “of any length”.  He chose to write to me, on a very small piece of note paper containing just 3 lines of words.

The Man thought he didn’t do his schoolwork properly enough, given the really short lines and small piece of paper, and made him re-write a longer note on an A4-sized foolscap paper. He did it again because he is a really good boy, but the new note was mere schoolwork; I thought it lacked the genuine meaning in his original note.

But I am glad he re-wrote the note, because that meant I got to keep his original little note of love:

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Coming from a boy who has not been big on showing his love (but gradually becoming more loving), his little gesture of love becomes so precious, despite it being a by-product of schoolwork. Combined with his genuine full-of-love bear hug after giving me the note, I could not have asked for anything more. This is truly a special and significant Valentine’s Day for me. How I love him so …

Owe Hug, Pay Hug

I have heard numerous times that as kids get older, they will resist and even reject affection from parents. On the contrary, now that my kids are older, they appreciate hugs and kisses more than when they were toddlers. The Man and I are always very conscious of showing affection to Matthew in public, like hugging or holding his hand now he is almost 8 years old. But he has assured us that he doesn’t mind; he even initiates hugs and slips his not-so-small-anymore hand into ours. Perhaps things will change in a couple years’ time, when he reaches his tween years.

When the kids were younger, I was affectionate but I kept my distance. I used to cringe when Megan plastered herself to me for no reason. Maybe it is because I know I don’t have many more years before the kids reject my affection, I have become more generous with my hugs and kisses. I even welcome Megan sliding onto my lap nowadays.

Matthew recently complained I did not give him his morning hug one morning, and was so upset he remembered the incident till the next morning, when he made sure I gave him his hugs to compensate for the missed one.

And this morning, Megan complained that I did not keep my promise of giving her the hug after certain time, and ensured I gave her one big hug and kiss before letting the matter drop. The Man chuckled and described the kids as “Ah-Longs”.

When “Ah-Longs” (illegal loansharks) are mentioned to people in my generation and older, we usually conjure up images of red paint splashed everywhere onto the doors of people who fail to pay up, together with the words “Owe Money, Pay Money”,  a direct translation from the four words in the Chinese language, written across the white walls.

It seems I have 2 hug loansharks now, for they make a lot of noise, loiter within my field of vision and pester me until I do not owe them any hug and kiss. Will I ever pay back my “Owe Hug Pay Hug” “Ah-Longs”? Then again, do I really want that day to come? Maybe not. Happy to be in this debt till as long as I live …