She exclaims, a violent flick of her wrist sending her hand into a slapping motion, while wearing an annoyed expression on her face. “Why do you keeping calling me an Auntie?!”
Auntie in Singaporean colloquial terms has different meanings – general respect for any older female who need not be related to us, or a female who is anxious in a frenzied situation (like snatching up good buys at a sale, rushing to be in front of the queue, or demanding much attention by asking many questions). These behaviours are often viewed negatively, but perhaps they are merely outward displays of what lies in the core of the Auntie – a deep love for her family, and wanting to get the best (or first) for them.
To the Man and I, Auntie is an apt endearment for our 7yo. This little Singaporean girl who has artfully mastered the local (unofficial) language with flair. She accurately punctuates her sentences with “lah” and “lor”, and does it so naturally she fits right in.
She also has lots of love for people around her. She reads emotions pretty accurately, and has learnt to give in to others who are more insistent than her (read: the Man and her Gor Gor) because she loves them.
“It’s okay lah, you eat (it). I can don’t eat.” Flicks her wrist and stares earnestly with a truthful smile on her face.
“Nevermind lah, let Gor Gor have it.” Gestures towards her brother, who promptly accepts her offer without missing a beat.
“I can carry, it’s not heavy. I can, I can!” Staggers under the weight of the shopping basket (because her brother wasn’t fast enough to help).
“MaMa, you take the Hello Kitty pouch with Daniel and Hello Kitty, because it’s like you and PaPa together. I will just take the other one.” How she rationalised her choice when asked to choose her preferred pouch design first.
Yet she thinks we are saying she is old when we tell her she is “very Auntie”, and gets annoyed at us because she is “not old”.
To the little girl who demonstrates her love with action – considering other first, drawing cards and writing sincere notes of concern and gratitude , you make it so easy for us to love you. And we do very much, Auntie Megan …
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.
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.
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.
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*
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 …
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.
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.
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:
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 …
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 …