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 …

Mummy’s Guilt, Me?

It’s been 4 weeks since I started attending classes 3 weeknights a week. By the time I drag my tired body home after class, the kids are already asleep. I can only show how much I miss them by covering them with as much blanket I can extricate without stirring them from their slumber.

I have no classes on Wednesday evenings however, and I make sure I have dinner with the kids. Perhaps absence makes the heart grow fonder, for they fight for my attention the moment I step into the house. They talk non-stop, over and on top of each other. And they would resort to mischief just to get my attention. I catch up with my dearest mum and sister too, so it is pretty difficult to have to split myself into 3 or 4 at once.

Once we are back at our own flat, the same story repeats itself. The kids vie for my attention, “MaMa this, MaMa that”. I try my best to respond to them positively. I am after all trying to make up for lost time, and they use that to their full advantage.

The bedtime ritual becomes draggy. One more hug and kiss, one more flying kiss, one more anything to get MaMa to pay attention to them, whatever works. My nerves get frayed from the repeated shout-out for affection. But guilt and the need to make up for lost time make me hang on, to my detriment.

A stroke of luck saw my class end earlier for once on Tuesday night, and I got home in time just as the kids settled in for the night. To witness the kids “fly” out of their bedrooms to envelop me in waist-high bear hugs when I was barely in through the door lifted my weary spirits and brought smiles to all our faces in the dark. This ‘lucky break’ comes with a price.

Matthew tried a new tactic yesterday night. “MaMa, can you go to school tomorrow and tell your teacher to finish class early, so you can come home earlier to tuck us in bed?” I didn’t know to laugh or cry over his theoretically simple solution – Mummy needed, Teacher, you know what to do. End the class early!

If only.

I do need to get a grip on my guilt though; else I risk getting run over by the kids’ demands and lose my time and myself in the process. In the paraphrased words of The (wise) Man, “Keep to the scheduled bedtime, regardless of the kids’ demands. Teach the kids to respect your time.” Timely advice indeed …

Boss

I got to office very early this morning, because I found out my favourite ex-teacher was giving a talk as part of the Continuing Education series for the other professionals. This was a lecture I wasn’t going to miss!

I wasn’t disappointed. My ex-teacher was dynamic and outspoken as usual. When he spoke, everyone sat up and listened.

When I first attended his lesson all those many years ago, I knew I was going to register for all the modules he was teaching; I didn’t care what modules they were because I knew I was going to enjoy them, I was just going to ‘follow’ him. Before it was time to choose my supervisor and topic for my Honours project, I sat in his office and convinced him to take me in as the only student for the year; he wasn’t intending to take in any student because his laboratory was undergoing renovations. I am eternally grateful he agreed to take me in.

I learnt so much from my Boss (as I called him) in that wondrous year I spent under his tutelage. He drank tonnes of Coca Cola; so did I. His intelligence and sharpness of mind (and tongue) superseded all he did, but he remained humble and oblivious of his accomplishments. I felt in awe yet super tiny in his presence.

But there was no denying that underneath all that brilliance, laid the fundamental values that made Boss a world-renowned Master in his specialty – PASSION and CURIOSITY.

Passion and insatiable curiosity were what I did not put into practice after the short year with Boss, unfortunately. Other life priorities took over; I walked further and further away from what interested me all those years ago.

Meeting him again after all these years was so exhilarating; but time didn’t allow me to say much to him. He told me to “behave” and behave is what I’ve been doing all these while, in some areas. I wanted to tell him so much that I’m back in school again, not in the field I spent 4 happy years during the undergraduate years, but in another area that has caught my interest. That I’m considering becoming like him, albeit 20 years too late in my lifetime. But I hesitate – he’s UP there and I’m way below, no accomplishments under my belt, except that I contributed to the dismal birth rates in Singapore; even though it wasn’t enough to meet the replacement number.

I would love to ask for his advice, but I would flounder at the first question he is sure to ask – what do you want to do? I know the general direction I want to go towards, but do I have the knowledge, determination and detailed plan (and dozen other things) how I would go about achieving what I want to do? I need to go into my reflective cave again and again to think things through.

Maybe I should pluck up the courage to drop him an email nevertheless ..

What if I Forget You?

Recent lapses in memory triggered me to pose this question to Megan when we were lying side-by-side on her bed, having our girls’ talk on Saturday night in the dark, “What if MaMa falls sick one day and forgets who you are, Megan? What will you do?”

Knowing that it would be a difficult question even for an adult child to answer, let alone a soon-to-be 6yo, I still wanted to hear her answer.

I loved every bit of her honest response. She giggled nervously, erm-ed a couple of times, and then said, “I don’t know how to answer that, MaMa. I don’t know what to do.”

I persisted, and rephrased my question, “Is there anything you would do to help MaMa remember you, if I really forget who you are?”

That was when Megan hugged me really tightly, and grabbed my hand. She said, “I will draw a picture of me on your hand here, MaMa (tracing the back of my hand with her finger), and write ‘Megan loves MaMa’ so you can remember me.” With that, she planted a kiss on my hand, exactly where she last traced her ‘drawings’.

All the love I have for her rushed into my head and heart, and I swooned with the intensity of the emotion. She really loves me! And I prayed really hard that night; that my memory stays with me even when I grow old and sick, for I never, ever want to forget her…