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Friday, 28 June 2013

55. A Nice Boy

17 years ago, on the last Friday in June, my efforts to ‘set’ a nice boy up with one of my girlfriends spectacularly backfired.  Why do I say ‘boy’?  I guess because he was a few years younger than my late-20 and as I tended to avoid most guys in their 20s (because I thought they were flaky), at 23, he seemed like a boy – a nice one, ergo my decision to introduce him to one of my girlfriends over lunch.  Little did I know he had already decided I was THE one or that lunch was going to turn into an afternoon of shooting pool, drinks, easy conversation and lots of laughing – long after my girlfriend left!  Needless to say the long hard kiss he gave me when I gave him a lift home many hours later turned my matchmaking plans on its head!  Like all good stories however, it wasn’t smooth sailing for a long time -- and I was mostly to blame.

The morning after, I was determined to push away this boy because he didn’t ‘tick’ my ‘boxes’.  “Yes, he was nice but everyone is nice when you first meet” I rationalized.  “He’s too young and probably lacks direction and maturity!” I vindicated.  You see, up until then, I had registered that the 30-somethings and even 40-somethings I had gone on dates with were flaky or just dead boring and was beginning to wonder if I should just swear off men altogether or start dating 50-somethings instead.  No wonder when this ‘boy’ turned up, I was quick to brush off that first kiss – no matter how much I enjoyed it.  But in spite of myself, more dates followed and weeks passed, with the ‘boy’ spending most of his time at my place. I was in turmoil and on high alert, ready to catch him out!  When he borrowed my car, I wondered if he was out ‘cruising for chicks’ because each time he returned, the top of my convertible would be down and his shirt would be off!  “I knew it!” I would fume to myself!  I tested what I thought was his ability to ‘put me first’ by offering him the last prawn during one of our dates.  And when he wolfed it down, I dumped him.  When he asked why, I told him he was too selfish for my liking!  I still remember the puzzlement in his eyes and yes, we DO laugh about that prawn incident now.

Taking this walk down memory lane makes me cringe and shake my head at my 20-something self as I tried so hard to protect myself against any serious entanglement.  But of course, unbeknownst to me, I had already started falling.  Each time I tried to push him away, this boy dealt with me with a sense of humor and a grace that I wasn’t displaying.  And then, one day, instead of trying so hard to find differences between us, I started noticing the similarities.  Our work ethic, our sense of humor, our love of food, and so on.  The list started slowly building up and once it started, there was no turning back.  Even when I told him I was leaving Australia for work, and thought it best we broke up as I had learnt from past experience that long-distance relationships didn’t work, he surprised me by saying he would follow me.  And just like that, this ‘boy’ quit his job, sold his stuff – just to show he was committed and was ready to invest in me!  I was gobsmacked!  He was so quietly confident in himself and us as a couple that nothing was un-doable!  I couldn’t help thinking, “What a man!” 

And what a man indeed!  Over the years, I have come to realise what an honorable, kind, funny, smart, humble and inspiring person this ‘boy’ is.  The only one who calms me down when things are crazy, who cheers me on with gusto in all my ventures; the one who shoots from the hip when I need some straight-talking, who knows when to give me space so I can work through ‘stuff’ and importantly when to pull me back in so I don’t end building up walls around me.  He is the one who inspires me to be the best version of me I can possibly be and the one who makes me smile – sometimes in spite of myself.  I am lucky that this ‘boy’ was stubborn enough to ignore my protests so I could see him for the man he is.  My husband.

***** end *****

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

54. Crossroads

I was chatting to a close girlfriend the other day and confessed that I sometimes felt like I had some sort of attention deficit disorder:  in conversations, I jump from one subject to another and my ‘everydays’ have been a juggling act since forever ie day job, studies, night job. But I confess motherhood has intensified this continuous necessity for multi-tasking – at 10, 11 and 14, the girls need me to be ‘present’ more than ever as they try to navigate through all sorts ‘rites of passage’ brought about by each stage of childhood; and my own girlhood memories dictate I cannot bear not to be there for them.  As such, I flit from one situation to another as I try to guide them the best I can, putting out numerous ‘fires’, whilst also attempting to ‘steer’ my own ‘mission’.  No wonder, as I write this, I have another nearly-finished piece occupying the same screen, alongside a window with emails, Facebook and the news – all open, and through which I keep ‘jumping’ to-and-fro whenever I have a mental block.  I find myself trying to remember to BREATHE whilst silently repeating my long-standing mantra that “everything WILL fall into place”… fingers crossed!

And then, I look around me at all my girlfriends who are all equally busy (if not more so with ‘proper’ careers or with younger children) and who seem so adroit at the juggling that I get this sinking feeling I am not doing enough to ‘conquer the world’. My desk AND my office is an explosion of filing (HIGH on my procrastination list), to-dos and visual reminders of stuff I need to remember; and to top off my mental, physical and emotional schizophrenia, we are about to embark on something the sane loathe: move houses and ALL that entails!  Lawyers, removalists, painters, electricians, etc.. oh, and a mushrooming dread at the many boxes of things I really should have thrown out or given away a decade ago!  BREATHE!

Meanwhile, I have a standing meeting with a friend to talk about the possibility of joining his band but that rendezvous keeps getting rescheduled;  there is the book-in-progress I have failed to scrawl in for the last six months;  AND this ongoing piece, a40somethinglife.  What started as an aim to write a disciplined average of 8 to 10 pieces per month has dribbled down to a pithy one – if I’m lucky.  I churn out lifestyle pieces for a website, but am in a constant state of panic that its not impressive enough; and STILL I am contemplating plucking up the courage to approach other editors about getting more writing work.  Denial?  Perhaps.  Insane?  Probably.  Why don’t I just give it all up and concentrate on my first priority: the girls and Matt?  Because I know in my deepest of hearts, the need to be more than just “Mom” and “wifey”.  Some may speculate I am going through a midlife crisis, but I find the older I get, the more important it is for me to be interesting to myself.   And so I buckle against any sort of ‘going through the motions’ as I acknowledge my need to feed the soul, ‘slay dragons’ (ie overcome fears), and try to walk a path that is aware, insightful and filled with joie de vivre.  

And so, armed with a firm knowledge of my priorities (Matt and the girls) as well as my needs and wants, I inch toward the approaching crossroads, and take a leap of faith – that EVERYTHING will ALWAYS fall into place.

***** end *****

Thursday, 9 May 2013

53. The magic of Christmas

I am a big fan of Christmas and ALL it entails; so much so that I’ve decided to write about Christmas in May!  But truth be told, most of the stuff we do at home now was gleaned from years of watching Christmas special movie marathons.  For me, growing up, Christmas was disconcertingly confusing:  Christmas with my Catholic mother meant going to endless church services, a lot of hymn singing and praying so my soul didn’t burn in hell; whilst it was a TOTAL non-event when we moved in with my Buddhist father after the divorce.  No wonder I was flummoxed.

So, when I became a mother, I felt certain I wanted MY children to experience all the magic Christmas has to offer – especially the part about believing in the possibility of the magical.  As such, it’s a REALLY big deal in our home (wherever we may be), with carrots for the reindeers, cookies and milk for Santa and secret present buying that starts soon after the northern hemisphere summer holidays!  I told you I was a fan!

Anyhow, a few days before Christmas few years ago, one of my three girls asked me the question most parents dread: “Mom, have you ever seen Santa?  I mean REALLY seen him?”  I considered fibbing but then confessed I had not.  Which prompted the next question:  “Then, how do you know he’s real?”  At that stage, I think the girls were around 5, 6 and 9 and were at an age where they wanted to believe, but some of the kids at school with older siblings had started bursting all sorts of ‘bubbles’.  So, torn between wanting to maintain their childhood innocence and yet arm them with the tools required to not to be bullied by any mini cynics, I waxed lyrical about how certain things in life required a leap of faith and a blind trust.  Fairies, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy all also fell into that magical ‘box’.  But Miss 6-at-the-time required a more plausible answer.  And that’s when I pulled out my made-up-on-the-spot explanation for everything magical and it went a little like this:

“Okay, you know how we all know we need oxygen to live because of the important work it does to help different parts of our bodies work and heal?  Well, you cannot see oxygen, right?  You cannot touch it nor can you smell it.  But you know it exists all around you.  For me, Christmas is the same.  Just because I cannot see physical proof, doesn’t mean isn’t real.”  I waited for my munchkins to digest this information when my eldest mentioned that some of her friends had teased her about believing in magic and Christmas and the letters she was still getting from the tooth fairy (which incidentally stopped after she turned 10 because all teeth collected after that would be too heavy for the fairies to carry).  Yes, yes, I know.. the tales we weave!  Anyhow, I talked about how in order to see the magical, you need to be open to recognizing and seeing the magic; that as we grow up, because life can get very busy and crazed, it can be hard to remember to look for magic.  Then I concluded that Christmas was the perfect time to believe in magic and because I did (in spite of being a ‘big person’ as we referred to me when they were little), my Christmases were always a little bit more special – but that the choice was theirs to believe as they chose.  I saw three little heads nod.  I did conclude the talk to forewarn them to not feel discouraged if their friends didn’t believe in the magic of Christmas because we each had to make our own choices.  Again, three nods.

Of course, now that my three girls are now nearly 10, 11 and nearly 14 respectively, their ‘head’ knows that its mom who starts reconnaissance shopping months before the big event (cue squeals of delighted “How did Santa know I had wished for this fill-in-the-blanks?!?”) but the heart still partakes in the feeding of the reindeer and Santa the night before while I try to find new ways to prolong the magic of their childhood for just a little bit longer – for them to have the childhood memories of Christmas I didn’t have – and because it fills ME up with an indescribable joy…  Yup, I CANNOT wait to put up my Christmas tree in 7 months time!!

***** end *****

Friday, 29 March 2013

52. Letting go

Confession:  I am a control freak.  Yes.  I admit it.  But I wish I wasn’t.  Why?  Because as I grow and learn, I recognise this trait is often counter productive and causes more problems than it solves.  And so, I try hard to revolt against it.  Sometimes successfully and other times, not so.  I think, in the past, I found myself in situations where I felt the only people I could truly count on were me, myself and I.  And so, I ‘took control’, thus sprouting the beginnings of what I term as my ‘dictatorship’ disposition which unfortunately rears its ugly head every now and again.  Very unhealthy.  And if I was honest, an exhausting way to be – to ALWAYS be ‘in charge’ and ‘in control’. 

And then, I met Matt who taught me it was okay to let go of the ‘reins’.  To let someone else be ‘in charge’.  That it was both unhealthy and impossible to control everything.  And when we had Faith, I was forced to see that the self-reliance I was so proud of was pointless as I bumbled my way through motherhood.  So unused to being inadequate, regardless of everything I tried, this baby would cry, stay awake at all hours, AND refuse to co-operate when we were trying to feed her the labor intensive meals I had slaved over – preferring to eat the sand on the beach instead! 

As my understanding of what was needed was stretched to the very limits of what I was able to ‘let go’ of, not only did I feel like I had no control over anything to do with my child, but I also realised I had no control over my life as I knew it, as I was now ‘tied’ to this other human being’s needs and wants.  I had to either learn this lesson and learn to go with the flow a little more or continue to fret over every detail that was ‘imperfect’ and drive everyone (including myself) crazy in the process.  And so, over time, I grasped that the house didn’t need to be ‘perfect’ and the my to-do list COULD wait as it was more important for me to grab a few winks whilst my little one slept.  Truth be told, I was very lucky to have Matt by my side through it all.  He provided relief and comfort whenever needed; and took over the dreaded night feeds.  And I was so grateful, I no longer cared if he didn’t choose the ‘right outfit’ or if he gave her something to eat that wasn’t on my ‘list’ of what I understood to be ‘best’ for our first born – it was no longer a priority.  And just as well and probably one of the reasons why Faith didn’t end up as an only child and why Matt doesn’t mind still being married to this crazed woman!

But yet, the lesson continues.  Only recently, trying to avoid any last minute moments of panic, we went through Faith and Tia’s school-provided packing list for their respective trips to Cambodia and Australia.  “Remember to fully charge your camera Faith!”  I prompted the weekend before.  But the night BEFORE she left, it emerged: not only did she not take heed of the directive, but she had also misplaced her charger and only alerted us to the fact the night before.  I blew a gasket.  Actually several.  And I was not proud.  A wiser mother would have just said, “Oh well, I guess you won’t be able to take any pictures” and left it at that.  But I am not wise. Instead, I ranted and raved about “irresponsibility” and “disappointment”.  Foolish me.  When will I learn?  Eventually, the offending cord was found and the camera was charged.  But by then, I was filled with regret.

And yet, just last weekend, I demonstrated to myself that I WAS capable of not being such an authoritarian.  Faith had cooked dinner and Matt had cleaned up. I didn’t hover nor did I conduct a ‘once through’ after they had finished.  The next morning, however, I was horrified to see the state of the kitchen. The stove and bench-tops had not been cleaned and were in a state -- for my housekeeper to face when she turned up to work in the morning.  She didn’t bat an eyelid as I apologized for the mess.  But she did make a comment about the state of the dishes that had been ‘washed’.  The ‘old’ me probably would have had heart palpitations when she showed me what she was talking about and then hassled Matt about it.  But instead, I just sheepishly apologized again and explained it was Matt’s ‘handiwork’.  The dishes were rewashed and the kitchen cleaned thoroughly.  I didn’t bug Matt about it as I recognized that his thoughtful gesture of doing the dishes to give me a break was, in the ‘bigger picture’, more important. 

And so I learn.  That I have to be patient with myself.  That some days, I will be better at ‘letting go’ than others; and when I do lose that battle, I must try not to berate myself too much but instead learn from those moments so they hopefully become more infrequent in the days to come. 

**** end ***

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

51. Driving me 'batty'!

Grumble alert!  I am about to have a SERIOUS gripe about drivers who drive me round the bend (pun intended!), inciting a severe case of  Tourette Syndrome, where the air turns multiple shades of blue, a few scores over.  The other day, I narrowly missed running into another car.  What happened?  The other driver decided to drive down a one-way driveway -- against the flow of traffic.  When our cars nearly collided, there was no apology or any kind of expression of regret on his part.   He simply drove off as if nothing happened.  Knucklehead!  The most annoying thing? It was not the first time, and I know it won’t be the last.  Grrr!


I spend more hours than I care to count in the driver’s seat of our car.  The mornings are pretty straightforward as I firstly drive Tia and Faith to their school, returning to the house to pick up Paige and take her to her school before getting on with my day.  The afternoons however, are a different story. Wednesdays and Fridays are particularly horrendous with me leaving the house to start the ‘school pick-up’ at 2.30pm, finally pulling back into the driveway some 4 hours later – on a ‘normal’ day!  No wonder I’m relieved for the weekends.  But I think you see what I mean when I say I’m on the roads A LOT! 

My pet hates when it comes to life in the ‘driver’s seat’ are: 
  •  drivers who never learnt to use their indicators or hazard lights, forcing everyone else (both motorists and pedestrians) to play a hazardous guessing game of predicting when he/she intends to go straight ahead, change lanes or just stop suddenly.
  • the ‘racers’ who quickly accelerate to stop anyone else from joining the lane in front of them – quite often so they can be the first to reach the red lights!
  • the ones who cannot be bothered with one way traffic signs and insist on flouting the directive
  • the ‘straddlers’ who feel the need to take up one-and-a-half lanes when driving or one-and-a-half car spaces when parking
  • drivers who think they are the only ones of the road and therefore can stop at any juncture in the road, irregardless of the resulting mayhem caused (often without hazard lights)
  •  people who don’t say “thank you” when you 'make way' for them
And of course, whenever it rains, the lunacy on the roads amplify a few hundred thousand times over.  Okay, maybe I am exaggerating.  Just a little.

Matt thinks the answer to my woes is for us to employ a driver.  I was like, “Whaaaat?!?  That’s just CRAZY talk!”  Imagine that!  Giving someone else money to drive us around, only for me to inevitably become the ULTIMATE backseat driver!!  No, I think for the sake of everyone’s sanity, including our 'would-be driver', its best we keep the status quo.  Besides, if there was an ‘outsider’ in our car, how else could the girls and I (and sometimes Matt) sing at the top of our lungs, execute silly 'waist-up-only' dance moves or tell horrendously corny jokes?

Anyhow, I know a little less judgment is required in the way I perceive my fellow drivers. I think the very funny but observant American comic George Carlin captured the very essence of my ‘driver’ brain when he once commented:  “Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?”  That man has me ‘pegged’ in a nutshell!  Sigh.  As so I continue to TRY to metamorphose into a more serene driver.  Om. 


Wednesday, 16 January 2013

50: Old wounds

I am BIG on the ‘past being the past’, ‘moving on’ and ‘focusing on the now’.  And generally, I am quite proficient.  Of course it helps to be as forgetful as I am with my ‘now’ overflowing with all the essentials I need to keep in mind with the girls’ schedules -- making it easier to bury unpleasant memories DEEP in some hard to reach recess of the brain and heart.  Our move to Singapore, however, has stirred these memories and forced me to acknowledge my past.

To Matt’s delight, I have always had an aversion to shopping, putting the task in my dreaded “only if I really need to” basket.  Possibly, that may have been what spurred him on to propose!  And then one day, shortly after our move here, as we drove past a particular mall, I felt sick in my stomach as I recognized it from my childhood days.  And the memories came rushing in. With the implosion of my parents’ marriage and my father’s disappearance to his ‘other’ family, mom used to banish me out of the house with strict instructions not to return before a certain time.  If I was a teenager, perhaps that would have been music to my ears.  But I think I was not quite 10.  And so, with barely any money in my pocket, I stayed out of the house until the sun had set, seeking refuge from the heat by wandering aimlessly around certain malls.  Till today, I am not a fan of overhead fluorescent lights and malls.  I think my sanity was saved when I discovered I could block out my reality by losing myself in books at the library -- until closing time.

A few weeks ago, I received a letter from the Singapore Immigration office advising me the country did not recognize dual citizenship.  It was a surprise.  At 15, I had not wanted to leave Singapore and move to another country with my father (who was now a violent stranger to me) and his wife (who was not shy about showing her displeasure about being my new ‘responsible adult’).  My na├»ve self was sure I could find a job, support myself financially AND still go to school.  So I did what any foolhardy15- year-old would do.  I ran away, found a job, and hid at a friend’s house.  Of course my father found me.  And we left soon after.  And the beatings my father used to ‘grace’ my mother (and then the Indonesian and Filipino maids) with, I became the ‘heir apparent’.  I didn’t last long.  Two years later, and nearly broken, I left home at 17.  An unfinished education.  No money.  No job.  No prospects.  No relatives and nobody who cared.   Just some clothes in a bag.  In a country still alien to me.  I felt someone painted a big fat “L” on my head.

I was lucky my first boyfriend’s mother took me in.  But that didn’t last long either.  I felt second-rate and a loser on every level with not-a-bright-future ahead.  If I had known I had the option to go back to Singapore to be guided by one of my many uncles or aunts (my father came from a family of 10!), I think I would have hopped on the next plane -- if only for a welcoming face.  Instead, I left the sanctuary of this kind woman’s house, ashamed I was not good enough for her son but determined to be the master of my own destiny.   Fast forward 29 years, my grown-up self weeps at what my 17 year-old-self went through for the next few years.  But I consider myself lucky because things could have been much MUCH worse. 

But the recent opening of these previously forgotten wounds have not been for nothing.  It has reiterated to me how fortunate I am and forced me to really scrutinize the principal driving motivator in my life: to leave a positive legacy through the next generation.  I know I speak quite openly about my past.  It is not to garner pity but to remind myself that I am one of the lucky ones.