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.
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 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 …
Warning: This post may be too graphic in the description of body fluids to be comfortable for some
I have been living with a perpetually blocked or runny nose throughout my life until I became pregnant with Matthew. Overnight, my blocked nose cleared up and I could smell many things that eluded me most of the time, when my nose was blocked. And of course, that was also when the problems started.
Ask the Man and he will probably tell you that I react dramatically to odours. From cigarette smoke, distinct metallic smells in perspiration and blood, to a particular strong odour some shops that sell clothes emit. It’s always that one smell that suddenly makes breathing difficult and my eyes water, and I will most definitely gag and cough. (And the Man will look at me as if I have gone mad, but he will never understand.)
I can also smell coffee and the sulphurous odour, after one has consumed asparagus, in the urine. And don’t get me started on how adverse I am to the various odours I can pick up from poop. (The Man is probably rolling his eyes as he is reading this)
With my ‘heightened’ sense of smell, I was suddenly disadvantaged to be a hands-on mother. I gagged at the sour smells of vomit from the babies – Matthew regurgitated lots of milk when young, luckily Megan hardly any, and my little niece Natalie did some. But poop smells really torment me – back when the kids were babies and soiled their diapers several times a day, to now when I enter the ‘fragrant’ toilet to help wash their bottoms after they are done cleaning up after themselves (just to be doubly sure).
So you can imagine I am extremely skeptical, cautious and wary when someone asks me to smell something, especially when I don’t know the source of origin, or the smell has not reached me yet.
Megan and I were walking hand-in-hand along a familiar path we have walked so many times I did not even realize when I had let go of her hand. Suddenly, she stopped in her tracks and with her quick reflexes lifted her little hand almost to the bottom of my nose, while saying something to me. With my almost-equally fast reflexes, I recoiled from her fast approaching hand, while saying “What?! What?!”, almost in panic. Oh please, not something smelly she has touched and asking me to share it too!
Oblivious to my physical rejection of her hand, she brought her hand to her nose, smiled her pretty smile and then stretched out her palm again towards me. I forced myself to calm down and listen carefully to what she was saying. “MaMa, you smell my hand. My hand now smells like you. Mmm, so nice. I love it!”
I relaxed, and embarrassed of my rejection, brought my nose to her hand. True enough, her hand smelled exactly like my favourite rose-scented hand cream. Through holding hands, we shared not only a mother-daughter bond, but also our smells.
And the Man, who had witnessed the whole scene, was rolling his eyes and chuckling to his heart’s content. Glad I brought some comic relief …
Since late last year or the beginning of 2014, I started “long-talk” nights with the kids, where I would spend 15 to 30 minutes with each of them 2 nights a week, lying beside them on their beds and chatting with them. The kids enjoy the long-talks, and I am happy to indulge them, for I learn more about them through their sharing.
Ever since August 2014, however, I had to cut back on the long-talks because of my studies. The kids were disappointed at first, but they understood and now cherish the remaining 1 night a week long-talk. It is not so apparent for Megan, as she is still young. But Matthew holds my promise of long-talk very seriously, and will look forward to it eagerly. As he is into questioning now, we will spend a little time sharing about his questions almost nightly, leaving the heavy-duty stuff to the long-talk nights.
During one of our treasured and hugely enjoyable long talks recently, I asked Matthew who his favourite grandparent is. To my surprise, he replied as follows:
That is a very tough decision. I like YeYe because he lets us play ipad all day. I like NaiNai because she is good at making things (craft). I like GongGong because he cooks (for us) and lets us watch television even though he wants to watch television himself. I like PoPo because she helps me with all my homework. And PoPo is fair – if I do homework, Megan has to do homework too. And her homework is equally thick, as mine.
I was surprised that Matthew is so diplomatic. Instead of choosing a favourite grandparent, he decided to be fair and list the things he likes about his grandparents. And I am very happy of the outcome too. He is so fortunate to still have all 4 of his grandparents around, and he knows it too, opting not to choose a favourite. A tough decision it is. It also reveals how much emphasis he places on fairness …
Glossary: Spellings in Hanyu Pinyi, pronunciation in the Cantonese dialect and with the most similar pronunciation in English, in parentheses. (Complicated, huh?)
YeYe (Yay Yay) – Paternal grandfather
NaiNai (Ni Ni, as in Nine) – Paternal grandmother
GongGong (N.A) – Maternal grandfather
PoPo (Pour Pour) – Maternal grandmother