Lego Trees

He stuck his fingers into the box and rustled the little bricks of plastic – the crisp shrill sounds from the displaced pieces were especially jarring to my ears.

He found the pieces he wanted, then started to produce a model of the mental picture only he could see. I watched in fascination as he focused intently on the task at hand, his actions controlled and repetitive – click, rustle, click, rustle, click.

While I enjoy building the occasional model using Lego bricks, I do it by strictly following the step-by-step instructions in the manual. I spend some time making sure the orientation of my model matches the manual at each step, checking and double-checking I have the correct piece. Watching me build a model will require tonnes of patience, time, and eye-rolling, I’m sure.

If you hand me a box full of Lego bricks with no manual or other pictures for reference and ask me to build anything, I will alternate between stupidly staring at you and the box of bricks. I am a lost cause. The part of the brain that translate mental pictures to 3-D models is missing in mine.

But the Man is different. He could visualise the 3-D image of the model he wants to build  clearly and build it with whatever pieces he has. I envy the magic he can create in a matter of minutes.

It started with the Man making me a mini Christmas tree for fun last December. I liked it so much it became a centre piece at my office desk.

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 Christmas Tree

When Chinese New Year was round the corner, I took apart the Christmas tree and brought the pieces home. I then asked for a tree to match the festival. I received the Kumquat (Citrus sp.) plant within minutes.

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The Kumquat Plant

It was long past Chinese New Year, and I started thinking of having another display. I broke up the Kumquat tree and again brought the pieces home.

“What do you want this time?” The Man sighed when he saw the Lego pieces in my outstretched hands, and the evil glint in my eyes.

“How about a cherry blossom tree?” I asked the Man dreamily, the image of pretty pink and white flower-dotted trees in my mind, the flowers swaying gently in the wind.

“Okay. Challenge accepted.” was all he said, as he rustled the Lego pieces in the box. Within minutes, he was done.

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My Cherry Blossom Tree

The Man apologised that it was the best he could do, with the limited Lego pieces he raided from the kids’ stash. I stared at him in disbelief. This was the boy who built a space shuttle from scratch and got second place in a district Lego model-building competition about 3 decades ago, and he was apologising for a beautiful tree he created in a few minutes? And he was speaking to the girl who also played with Lego when young, but segregated her bricks into different colours and used them as ingredients for her make-believe cooking demonstration shows that many years ago.

This man is crazy! But I don’t care, I love it! More trees to come? *evil smile*

The Family Hands

We start to walk, and he stretches his arm out into the space between us – a silent invitation for me to close the gap. I extend my stride while my hand automatically seeks his out. Our fingers meet and they interlock in the most natural way, as they have been for the past 17 years and 8 months.

We can walk for long periods with relaxed but interlocked fingers at times; sometimes we break away because it becomes too warm, or it is impractical to continue holding hands.

I have big but thin palms that are bony to the touch. My fingers are cold most of the time. His hands are slightly bigger than mine and fleshier, and almost always warm. I used to trace the protruding veins on his hand when we were much younger (and had more time!), finding strange security in his strong hand resting over mine.

Since 8 years ago, intruders have invaded the space between us; other hands that have pried apart our interlocked fingers to slot their hands into ours. First there was only 1 pair of hands, and then there was another; tiny hands that have grown bigger and stronger over time.

Matthew is older, taller and naturally has bigger hands, but his grip is relaxed, much like his personality. At 8 years old, he still likes to pry apart our hands so we can both hold his. His palms become sweaty in ours though, so it is not practical to hold hands for long. But when we pull our hands away, he is nonchalant about it. I tend to have a stronger grip over his hand than the other way round.

Megan has smaller hands, but they are very insistent ones. Once she holds onto your hands, she has a firm grip and will not let go easily. I have had my thumbs squeezed and twisted many times because when I try to pull away she tightens her grip instinctively. She also likes to hang on to our arms and pulls us closer to her. It is funny how their personalities are reflected through their hands.

When the kids were younger, we had to hold onto their hands, making sure they were safe and supported all the time. Energy and attention were focused on the kids the majority of the time. Now that they are more independent, and can be left on their own, the Man and I have found time to hold hands again. The hands that fit each other the best can be together once more, fingers interlocked in only 1 way.

There is no more reluctant intrusion, for we can now choose to either fend off the prying hands together or pull away to accommodate the other 2 family members. The freedom of choice is liberating and the feeling is familiar once more …

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!)