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 …
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.
Matthew can be a mystery at times. He can be happy-go-lucky one moment, temperamental another, but otherwise he’s generally quiet and nonchalant. Nothing much ruffles his feathers; the only person who can do that with a high success rate is his sister. Sometimes he’s so quiet that when he speaks up, I get jolted by the richness of his imagination.
I was experiencing a rare moment of intense emotion myself when I called the Man and the kids my 宝贝, which I then had to translate to Megan that I called them my treasures. My dearest treasures.
“Then MaMa you’re a pirate.” Matthew piped in. “Because you have treasures.”, came his explanation when I probed.
Matthew didn’t stop there. So many ideas came tumbling out. “You are the Captain Pirate with a golden ship. The golden ship has heart-shaped sails, a heart shaped steering wheel (helm), heart-shaped blanket and bed. And you have your treasures.”
Indeed, I could just imagine my (super girly) golden pirate ship with all the heart-shaped parts, sailing out into the deep blue ocean with my 3 treasures. So this is what life with kids is about, living for moments like these…
An attempt to make my beloved Spongebob Squarepants pirate ship look girly. Let’s go have a blast!
The kids and I were fiddling with Scrabble word tiles the other day when I suggested the kids form their own names. This activity got them excited and they rushed to collect the tiles that would form their names. A mini fight almost broke out when Matthew couldn’t find any ‘A’ initially and then found out in panic they were all with Megan. Megan had collected all the ‘A’s beforehand, it being the most familiar letter of the alphabet to her. It was quite hilarious to watch the drama unfold, actually.
Megan is still illiterate and needed lots of guidance to even form her name, despite being able to collect all the letters with instructions.
Matthew, meanwhile, was able to form his name fairly quickly. He then went on to spell out the Man’s and my names after making me repeat the spelling several times (one thing is quite definitive; Matthew is not really a auditory person).
The end products:
Yes, the glaring fact is that I’m only worth 3 points! And the boys are ‘worth’ more than the girls. Have to tell myself not to dwell too much on the points. But this is my family; wouldn’t exchange it for anything in the world…