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 …
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 …
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
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 …
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…