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Wednesday, 20 June 2012

29. Friendship

Sometimes, I joke that being married to Matt is tough for my ego because he is the kind of person EVERYBODY loves and wants to be friends with, and therefore an impossible ‘act’ to follow.  Me, on the other hand?  I feel people either like me or don’t, with quite a few quick to ‘pigeon hole’ me with preconceived presumptions.  But hey, we can’t all be as magnetic as Matt.  And so, after years of crying “Why don’t the masses adore me so?”, I no longer fret about it anymore.  Not that it’s a competition, of course!

But on a more serious note, I came across this saying last week: “Some people come in your life as blessings, others come in your life as lessons”.  It got me thinking about all the people who’s paths I’ve crossed over the years – the good, the bad, and the ones who 'straddle the grey in-between'.

The flight attendant / events promoter who encouraged me to believe in myself and chase my dreams – giving me my first grown-up professional singing job; the hairdresser flatmate who taught me not to be such a gullible pushover – after she not only ‘took over’ my flat but also racked up bills in my name; the big-hearted working girl who lived next door and took on a motherly role – whilst asking if I would keep a ‘look-out’ for her whilst she was with a client.  Ah, the memories!  The people who came into my life to either be my cheerleader or teach me lessons (however hard) that would mould me.  And I am thankful.  For the kindness and love shown, as well as the lessons.

And learn from those lessons I try, though I have noted that my self-deprecation seems to sometimes backfire.  As a girlfriend, (let’s call her “S”), recently commented, “Mish, you sure know how to attract them!”  She was referring to my knack of attracting unsolicited advice and comments – normally of a negative and vindictive nature.  S said she thought maybe it was because I was too open and honest, which afforded certain types to take liberties and cross WAAAAAY beyond the line of what is polite.  And maybe she’s right.  Or maybe, it’s a lesson that I need to develop thicker skin!

And yet, despite the spiteful (character building?) individuals I have met who are malicious (both directly to my face and otherwise), leading the nomadic existence that we have for the past few years, I have been incredibly lucky with the number of gracious people who have welcomed me into their lives.  Who have loved me in spite of (or maybe even because of!) my vagueness and my shortcomings.  Scattered around Australia, Asia, the US and Europe, and though I have not spoken to some of them for quite a number of years, the writing of this piece has made me reminisce.. 

Of the crisscrossing of paths, meetings of the heart and mind, of shared dreams, and even the differing of views.  Of encounters that are so fleeting, I grieve at the brevity.  And the ones that transcend dissimilar backgrounds, creed and language, growing into beautiful friendships between kindred spirits, where the passage of time elapsed becomes irrelevant whenever you meet.

And so, I want to put it out there, to all my friends wherever you are, regardless of whether or not you are still in my life: 

I am thankful for my friends who have taught me when I needed teaching, guided me when I was lost, rallied when I was filled with self-doubt, and made me laugh when I took myself too seriously.  My life has been richer and my memories more vibrant because of you.  Thank you.


Saturday, 16 June 2012

28. Father's Day

Father’s Day is coming up and as I lay in bed last night, too excited to go to sleep as I thought of the surprises in store for Matt, my thoughts invariably went to my dad. 

My memories of dad are fleeting and fractured.  His absences were many.  I used to ask my mom where he was.  “Away on business” was her standard reply.  Whenever he was around, I remember him as an angry man, and always fighting with mom.  Constantly, her screaming and him shouting.  I remember coming out of the bedroom one night to interject in one of their relentless fights, terrified.  They both looked at me.  Mid-fight.  His hand stopped mid-swing.  Her arm up in a protective position.  After what seemed like an eternity, I said “Don’t hit my mom.  She’s my mom.  Not your’s.”  He told me to go back to my room.  I did.  Quickly.  Then, there was deafening quiet.  And a door slammed.  He left.  Brokenhearted, I was sure it was my fault.  But I was grateful for the peace.

When I was around 8, I think the realization that our family was broken beyond repair finally hit us all – in the same moment.  Mom, my two brothers and I were at the mall.  Suddenly my elder brother called out, “Dad, dad!  Over here!”  I heard my mom say something about dad being away on a business trip.  Then, we all looked up.  And saw my dad, with another woman.  He was holding an infant who looked just like him.  Mom picked up my little brother and ran.  The other way.  I don’t remember how we got home that afternoon.  Everything was a blur for a while.  And noisy.  And then graveyard quiet.  And my brothers and I walked around on eggshells for what seemed like an eternity.

In another memory,  dad has come to visit us (ie the children).  I am cautious and wary.  Not so much of him, he is still my hero.  But more afraid that if I got too much attention, there would be repercussions later.  From my older brother.  Or mom.  I had fresh scratches on my face from the former because mom allowed him to ‘discipline’ me.  My dad asked what happened to my face.  I told him I couldn’t remember but must have walked into a door or something.  Then I made a joke about being very clumsy.  He didn’t comment again but as he left that day, I thought I saw him cry.  I was 10.

It was the following year or maybe the one after, but my brothers and I were told we had to go live with dad and his new wife.  Its Father’s Day.  I made him a card.  I spent hours drawing; dad as a baby, at different stages, graduating into an old man.  I wrote “Through the years, I will always love you.”  He takes my card.  Looks at it.  Then stands up and gives me a hard slap across the face.  My cheeks are stinging.  My ears are ringing.  My eyes are wet but I dare not cry or make a sound.  He said I was being disrespectful for calling him old.  I don’t try to argue.  Its no use.  I have no voice in this house.

After that, the slaps and punches start raining on a constant basis.  For singing while doing chores – and other sins I don’t recall.  And yet, as the only daughter among 4 brothers for a while (my half-sister came along later), I was desperate to be ‘one of the boys’; hanging around dad while he tinkered around with his many cars.  But whatever I did, it was never enough. 

I left home at 17 after a beating that involved being punched in the stomach and slammed into a brick wall.  And yet for years after that, I still tried to reach out to him.  To have some sort of relationship.  But he was not interested.  And so, at 30-something, I finally faced the inevitable.  It was time to give up.  He passed a few years later.  And I cried angry disappointed tears as repressed memories threatened to drown me.  He didn’t do the right thing by me or my two brothers (he started on them after I left).  And I don’t know why.  I have my suspicions but, really, the why no longer matters.  There are no excuses that can justify the abuse or the childhood he stole from three innocent children.  His own blood no less.

It’s Father’s Day today.  And the girls have made Matt breakfast in bed and he’s opened his presents and read the home-made card.  We have a full day of activities planned.  I constantly tell the girls how lucky they are to have an amazing man like Matt as their father.   The girls know of my past.  I told them.

And yet, I consider myself incredibly lucky.  The past is the past.  And in spite of all my protestations of never getting married or having children, I ended up doing both.  But importantly, this generation will have wonderful memories of their dad when they too are one day 40-something.


Wednesday, 13 June 2012

27. Shopping anyone?

Every December, Matt turns to me and asks, “What would you really like for Christmas and your birthday?”  He asks because that time of the year is especially gift-giving-busy in our household because its his birthday, then Christmas, my birthday, and then our wedding anniversary.  Its no wonder he wants to roll it all into one.  Anyhow, for the past 5 years or so, I’ve struggled to give him any sort of helpful tips to help him.  Why?  Because there is nothing that I really want or need.  Plus, I loathe shopping with a CAPITAL ‘S’ – especially if its for me!

So, just a bit of background.  Friends often tease Matt about how he enjoys shopping so much more than I do.  The fluorescent lights, the endless racks all look numbingly similar to me.  Add the overpriced merchandise and disinterested shop assistants and you’ve got a runner in me! Oh!  And the newest trend where lights are turned down so low you cannot properly see what you’re buying AND music turned up nightclub-loud so you can’t hear the shop assistant explaining what you’re holding up?!? I’m not sure who is behind that ‘bright’ idea (pun intended!) but simply put: REALLY?!?  Need I go on?  But it only takes an hour or so before I start feeling sick.  And yes, I actually get physical symptoms!  First comes the headache, then the black spots and nausea, and then the dizziness and sore feet.  And yet, I am official ‘present shopper’ of the family.   Go figure.

Anyhow, all 5 of us were at the mall on the weekend, looking for white dress shorts for Matt because they were on his Father’s Day ‘wish list’.  Mind you, the list was not very long.  Just the shorts (but I have a couple of surprises up my sleeve!).  Shop after shop, we walked in and out – wandering about quite aimlessly (in my opinion).  After the first few shops, I suggested we saved time by asking the shop floor staff if they stocked white shorts.  Matt was horrified by my suggestion.  “But that would ruin the whole experience of shopping!”  I stopped.  Confused.  “But, isn’t that the quickest way to get what you want?”  Apparently not the point when it comes to shopping.  By asking for help, I was in danger of reducing the “possible pleasure” I might experience from ‘discovering a find’ all on my own!  Okaaaay then.  Time to make a quick exit!

My approach to shopping (when I absolutely have to go) is more like a military operation: quickly in, a brisk scan, a speedy visit to the change rooms (but only if it cannot be avoided!), payment, followed by an instant exit – and NEVER with husband or children!  Even so, Matt has been at me to buy myself a new pair of running shoes for the past 6 months but I keep putting it off.  Maybe I am just waiting for a sale so big, I simply cannot refuse!  Meanwhile, he’s threatening to frog-march me into the shops..

Let’s face it, shopping is really not my thing.  Don’t get me wrong.  I enjoy buying presents for people and I can work up quite a passionate enthusiasm for grocery shopping – what can I say, I like gifting and food!  In fact, whenever we are travelling, I make a point to go into the local supermarkets to browse through the aisles.  But traipsing to the shops to buy something for me (be it face cream or a pair of shoes) is akin to visiting the gynaecologist or dentist.  I fare no better when it comes to Internet shopping – although I will confess that many a moment have been frittered away ‘window shopping’ at some inane time in the dark of the night.  I’ve even gone as far as ‘putting’ a few items in my ‘basket’.  But come time to press the “buy and pay” button, I get buyers’ remorse: “What if it doesn’t look as good in ‘real life’?”  “Hmmm, do I already have something similar?”  “How often will I wear/use it?”  And then after a while, I just lose interest and shut the ‘window’.  I know.  I would hate to shop with me too.  And yet, I have friends who swear by it.

Maybe I just need more time to discover my inner shopping demon.  Or maybe I should just accept I am what I am (ie a girl who has a strong aversion to shopping) and Matt is happier for it!


Monday, 11 June 2012

26. Tomorrow

A couple of nights ago, as I was drifting off to sleep, I felt frustrated because although I had started working on a few topics (actually, I have 5 different documents currently open on my desktop!), I had not finished a piece of writing in a week!   Now, you might wonder why I was feeling that way seeing I am not on a payroll, nor is there a employer-imposed deadline.  The thing is, I have self-enforced targets.  I have to do this in order to have some sort of discipline and momentum with my writing, otherwise, it would be far to easy for it to fall by the wayside as life gets very busy with the everyday.

Anyhow, the internal conversation went a little like this:
“Argh!  I feel so discouraged nothing I’ve started writing has taken a life of its own.”  “Its okay, be patient.  You’ve been away for a few days with Matt and then busy with the girls’ end-of-school-year stuff ..”  “Argh!  What am I going to cook for tomorrow’s dinner party? 11 adults to cater for with all sorts of requests.  No mushroom.  No prawns.  No pork.  No softshell crab.  Hmm, what about scallops?  I wonder if I can be brave enough to make a soufflĂ© for the first time for this party?”  “Argh!  What am I going to write about next?”  You get the picture.  Of course, come next morning, my refreshed brain had figured out a rough menu and also what to write about next!

As a younger person, I often let things get me all tied up and twisted inside but becoming a mom made me realize a couple of things:

1.    I needed to set a good example to the girls as I didn’t want them to grow up to be stressheads like me, getting all wound up over silly things
2.    a lot of these ‘problems’ were only as big (or small) as  my perception
3.    when it came to big problems, sometimes, the best solution was to ‘sleep’ on it -- to get a fresh perspective and better problem solving skills

And so, I resolved to change.  It was very hard at first.  Not freaking out at everything that wasn’t done “perfectly” or whenever things didn’t go to ‘plan’, not jumping the gun with my responses and learning that not EVERYTHING needed to be ‘action-ed’ immediately  -  trying to rein-in behavior and impulses I had inherited from my past.  It felt so unnatural. 

I had to learn to let go of trying to control everything, realizing in the process that ‘total control’ was impossible (as well as damaging to myself and everyone around me) and importantly, in the big scheme of life, what was critical today may become trivial tomorrow.  And what a weight off my shoulders that realization was!

Although I am still ‘light’ years from becoming adroit at leaving the complicated until tomorrow, I am learning that sometimes, stepping back from difficult situations can make perceived problems magically become manageable (or disappear) because of a fresh perspective and therefore new approach.  And the best part?  I see the girls get the benefit from this changed approach as they follow in my example and learn to deal with challenges in a healthy and more positive way.

Now… what am I going to write about next?  Not sure yet.  But tomorrow is a new day and maybe the answer will come to me then.


Friday, 1 June 2012

25. Everything happens as it should..

As you may have previously read, when I was younger, I charged through life like a bull in a china shop.  I really lived by the maxim: “nothing is impossible if you are not afraid of hard work”.  And I was fearless. 

My favorite aunt used to be a flight attendant for Singapore Airlines.  To my young eyes, she was the most elegant person (especially in uniform!) and lived the most glamorous life.  I used to think to myself, “How wonderful to jet-set all over the world, meeting amazing people and experiencing extraordinary adventures!”  Yes, I REALLY had no idea!  I never got to sit down with her so she could reveal how impossibly laborious the job was.  All I saw was the romance of the job and never contemplated the elements of the post which I now, as an adult, realize.

And of course, I had it all worked out.  I was going to be a singer AND a flight attendant!  Brilliant plan, no?  So, the minute I turned 18, I spent a good number of years (I think 3!) going to interviews.  But I kept getting rejected.  I couldn’t understand it.  I was personable, friendly, helpful and, though wet behind the ears, enthusiastic (like a puppy!) – all the perfect qualities of a flight attendant! 

But airline after airline kept sending me rejection letters.  I never even made it far enough in the process for an interview!  I was crushed.  And a small part of me kept nagging, wondering if life was trying to tell me something but I was being a bit slow in catching on.  But I brushed that thought away with another credo: “NEVER give up!”  And so I continued trying.  Until one day, I finally received a letter inviting me to an interview!  I was delirious with happiness and was sure that once they met me, they would be bowled over by my infectious enthusiasm and hire me on the spot!  I was already planning all the wonderful places in the world I was going to get to go to.  Ah, the ignorance of my youth.

So I turned up in my ‘Sunday best’ on the appointed day where I charmed, participated in group activities, smiled, spoke clearly, led and worked as a team.  But after the third round of all-day activities to cull the acutely over-subscribed list of eager beavers also wanting to become ‘flighties’, I didn’t make the shortlist.  I was devastated.  I couldn’t understand why I didn’t make the cut.  And as I walked to my car, I struggled to hide my disappointment as I mentally went through the day and wondered where I went wrong.  And the question replaying in my head?  “What now?  Do I keep trying?”  And then I got my answer.

I spotted one of the assessors from the interview in the parking lot and plucked up the courage to ask why I didn’t make the ‘grade’.  He told me he was surprised they had let me go but shared that one of the other interviewers ‘red inked’ me because she thought I was “too shy”.  Me?  ‘Shy’?!?  I think that was the first and ONLY time that term has EVER been associated with me.  But, it did give me cause to just stop and think.  That maybe, a life in the sky just wasn’t meant for me.  And maybe I needed to face the reality of it and what that meant.  A few months later, I was offered a contract to sing on a cruise ship in Japan.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

Since then, there have been countless instances where things have not worked out the way I hoped.  Some heartbreakingly big.  Some thankfully trivial.  But time and the magic of hindsight have demonstrated that things ALWAYS fall into place as it should – with a bit of hard work, trust, patience, AND the ability to be flexible and open to NEW possibilities.

1952 Nobel Peace Prize winner Albert Schweitzer once said:
“Eventually all things fall into place.  Until then, laugh at the confusion, live for the moments, and know EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON.”  

This is an adage I have wholeheartedly embraced over the past decade and it has allowed me to be kinder, more patient, more flexible and a little less stressed – most of the time.