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.
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:
And this is what I consolidated from her latest drawings Jan/Feb 2015, before she turns 6 next month:
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!)
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 ..
11 years ago, I put aside the opportunity to continue my studies to start a new phase of life, with the Man by my side. It was a choice I never regretted. Other commitments soon came rushing my way as a young adult – starting on my first job while getting used to coming back to my new home, to my other half the Man. After a few years, the kids came along and a whole lifetime of learning to be a parent started. But I have never forgotten my unfinished business – furthering my studies.
Then, 1 day last year, the thought crystallised somewhere in my mind. 2014 might be the year I continue my journey as a student, the official way. If not now, then when?
The Man and I discussed at length over my decision; we strategized and planned (or rather, he strategized and planned). There were many adjustments to be made; I am after all of a certain mature age (ahem!), a wife, and most crucially, a full-time working mother of 2 young kids.
In May 2014, I got accepted as a part-time graduate student. On 11 August 2014, I officially hold the dual identify of student and responsible contributor to the workforce in Singapore.
It is now mid-November 2014. In a span of 3 months, I have learnt and am still learning so much.
8 lessons I have learnt:
1. Have Faith
A lump of apprehension grew in my throat as I sat through the Special Seminars. What are the lecturers talking about?! This was only the first day. Of ORIENTATION. Why are my classmates nodding their heads as if they understand? OMG. What have I gotten myself into?
Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase – Martin Luther King, Jnr
2. Answers may not Satisfy
Everyone who knows I am enrolled in the course ends up asking questions. Depending on the rationale behind the questions, my answers may disappoint:
“Why this course?” – Because interest turns out to be the most important predictor in the relationship between my exposure to the course, and the outcome of obtaining the degree, after adjusting for financial capability, distance from work and to home, and other independent variables.
“How are you advancing your career after taking this course?” – Seriously, why won’t people believe me when I said it is really interest? And that I haven’t thought that far ahead (see #3)
3. Know the Race You’re In
I am enrolled in a 3-year part-time graduate course. I’m running a full marathon. And being cognizant of my brain capacity and other responsibilities, I opted for only 2 evening modules, leaving 1 module to December holidays . Even with this move, I’ve been struggling with work, family and studies for the past 3 months. 2.5 years to go, and many things can happen along the way.
4. You Cannot Hide Forever
The very subject I have avoided since I was 17 years old is back – bigger and meaner – a graduate module I must now pass, or die trying. Biostatistics, that’s his name.
You can run, but you can never hide. Eventually it catches up to bite you in the a**.
5. Being a Small Fish in a Big Pond
My classmates are big fish; intelligent individuals of whom 9 in 10 are professionals in the healthcare industry. I am the odd little fish, trying not to drown in the big waves they are creating. They understand the concepts with a snap of the fingers – I stay bright-eyed and clueless, my mental mouth hanging open while I figure out if the lecturer is speaking English.
Will this little fish with nothing but determination survive?
6. Taking The First Step towards Knowledge
The first step towards knowledge is to know that we are ignorant – Richard Cecil
Very ignorant, that I am, in a course that is out of my depths and comfort zone.
But I hope that one day, I can proudly say “A mind (mine!), once stretched by a new experience, never returns to its original dimensions.”
7. Summoning Mysterious Energy Reserves
I quit staying up at night to revise my work, switching to waking up earlier each morning to cram while guzzling extra strong coffee. Except for suffering the most serious stiff neck and shoulders, I’m still chugging along with energy coming from goodness-knows-where in the day. Just don’t talk to me at night. Oh, how I miss my sleep and television!
8. Cherishing my Band of Brothers
To shoulder more responsibility that was originally mine amongst other considerations, the Man quit his high-paying job to become a stay-at-home-dad. Read about how he’s enjoying his freedom (win some, lose some) here.
The kids have lost quality time with me. Our long-talks are down to once a week, and I’m usually too tired to read to them at night. On nights when I’m in class, they go to bed without their mummy tucking them in. But my wonderful darlings understand MaMa is studying and curb their requests on my time and energy.
Because I’m often absent at my mum’s place after work now, my dearest sister has taken over as the crowd control officer – trying to get 3 kids (2 of the toughest to handle are mine) to behave in the evenings is no mean feat. It also means showing up earlier at our mum’s.
My dearest, supportive mum is also busy cooking nutritious food for me, and letting the kids stay overnight when I just could not manage some nights. All these are done to support my dream.
This is my band of brothers, my family. They are the ones who raise me up. Without their support and encouragement and acts of love, I don’t think I would have survived the past 3 months, let alone have the courage to continue on this difficult journey I have chosen to take.
Unconditional love. I’m enveloped, blessed and buoyed by it. And I am eternally grateful. Thank you.
You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains;
You raise me up to walk on stormy seas;
I am strong when I am on your shoulders;
You raise me up to more than I can be.
Paracetamol. RING!! Ibuprofen. RING!! Paracetamol. Ibuprofen.
That had been the routine from Sunday through Tuesday nights as I struggled to roll off the bed 1 or 2 times per night and stagger next door to check on the lil’ princess of mine. The 2 or 3am sentry call was the most difficult – sleep was the deepest for me then, coupled with perpeptual difficulty falling asleep and the absolute disbelief I would be up for good for the day in less than 3 hours, at 5am.
But I could never ignore nor delay this obligation. Once Megan burns up with fever, her temperate will spike up to near 40oC so easily it is scary. So we had to keep feeding her medicine to bring down the temperature for the time being. She hated the cool gel forehead-patch too, and cried every time the cold patch touched her forehead. I resorted to using a damp towel that she accepted contentedly, be it on her forehead, under the arms or spread out across her skinny back. And I must say the damp towel was such a simple and fuss-free method – quickly lowering body surface temperature and being comforting at the same time. Although I think the comfort could be attributed to being there for Megan more than alleviating the temperature, because I had to be beside her to rotate the positions of the towel. In comparison, the cold (in more ways than one) gel patch just required me to stick it on her forehead and I was free to leave the room.
And there was the hacking, lungs-almost-out coughing too. Luckily her lower esophageal sphincter proved strong enough to prevent her from regurgitating the contents of her stomach (different scenario if it were Matthew), but I was prepared by hovering the dustbin underneath her chin nevertheless.
The worst is finally over! After 5 days of persistent fever, 2 visits to the general practitioner, and constant worry, Megan is back to her usual (erm, rebellious and mischievous) self. And thanks mostly to the Man and my mum who did the day-duty of looking after Megan, it is finally Friday!
And what was totally unexpected but 200% sweet and touching, was a hand-drawn card from Megan:
Tears immediately sprang to my eyes when I saw the card Megan very, very shyly handed to me without a word. And all the lack of sleep, worry and frustrations suddenly dissipated when I thanked her profusely for the beautiful card. A smile broke across her beautiful face and she put down the finger she was biting on, the tell-tale gesture whenever she is unsure and shy about something.
The endearing details Megan drew about me taking care of her (left), and me going back to work in my black shoes and bag (right). And the use of her favourite colours – pink and purple. She is such a sweet angel, my own Little Miss Sunshine …
And so these are the little things that make motherhood such a wonderful journey. Did I regret all the sacrifices I made when I traded freedom for motherhood? Sometimes, maybe, yeah. Would I choose the same decision to have my precious children again if I could go back in time? YES, YES, YES (to infinity)!
“Do you want to back up the Time Machine?” Puzzled and distracted, I clicked “Yes”.
And with that tiny action by my finger on the mouse, I wiped out at least 12 years of memories we have, all that were saved onto the external hard disk. WHAT HAVE I DONE?!
Gone, all gone – our wedding photos, the kids’ photos, our old flat, our current flat, memories of our travels, the happy times, the journeys we have taken together, documents …
All that was left was my stupidity. I broke down. How could this have happened? I had painstakingly scanned each of the kids’ ultrasound scans, organised our memories into months and years. Smiled and cooed when I looked back at how much we have grown (older) together, how much the kids have grown.
All that was left now was a cold and empty black box, staring back at me, nonchalant about the gaping hole in my heart. I did ask you, it said to me, and you clicked yes. I was PC-trained; you connected me to a Mac. It wasn’t my fault you were not familiar with using a Mac, and it definitely wasn’t my fault you ended up formatting me without knowing and not backing up your Mac properly in the end. Every single word rang true; and struck more holes into my broken heart.
I didn’t have a back-up of the hard disk – what was gone was truly, truly gone. I had lost all the kids’ earliest memories, and it felt as if I had wiped out their existence. “Sorry, my child, Grandma lost all my photos. So I cannot remember nor show you how Daddy looks like when I was just a baby.” I could just imagine Matthew saying telling his child(ren) 20 years into the future. What have I done?
And to think I was so naïve to rely on digital storage to store all my memories when I grow old and only have 3 drawers of space for all my possessions. Now I know better, that memories are best stored at multiple places – in the mind, heart, hard copies, digital storage and time spent with the ones who matter in the present. Not behind the camera lens, nor in digital copies alone.
“Do you want to back up the Time Machine?” No. I do not want to back up the Time Machine. I want to go back in time to undo my silly mistake. I will never click “Yes” when in doubt, ever again. And I want to make multiple backups this time. Give me back my family’s memories please …