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Wednesday, 15 October 2014

59. It's all in the name, or is it? - another life lesson

Nearly 46 years ago, my parents went into a government office and registered the name they were giving me.  That name stayed with me until I got married some 17 years ago and added a hypen to include Matt’s family name to my own.  But then last year on a hot and sticky day, as I sat in the office of a career beauracrat in Singapore, I was advised the government there only recognized my maiden name as I had not changed my name by deed poll.  Still I managed to convince him to include my married name on my passport - if only in brackets.  Thinking I was done with all this naming nonsense, I was in for a rude shock when I applied for my US visa —  they only accepted my maiden name and saw my married name as an ‘alias’.  

Wait!  What?  An ‘alias’?  All of a sudden, I found myself suffering a severe case of schizophrenia, swinging from being outraged to feeling like a fraud.  The past 17 years were very much tied to my married persona — my married name was everywhere from my children’s birth certificates, all my legal papers to my university degree and professional papers? Did that mean I had unknowingly committed identify fraud and would therefore be thrown behind bars?  Theatrics aside, with everything else going on with the move, I didn’t have time to deal with it and thought, “How bad can it be?”  Ha!  Famous last words!

When I landed in the US and set about getting my papers together, the enormity of the problem hit me like a brick.  At the Social Security office, although my married name was recorded, it appeared that the nameless person who processed my US visa back in Singapore had swapped my first name (Michelle) and my chinese name (Mei Sar)!  As such, that was the way my name now appeared on my Social Security card.  Ever the optimist (or perhaps from sheer laziness), I thought to myself: “Well, at least the spelling is correct!  How bad can it be?”  Ha again!

A few weeks later, I turned up at the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) to run through the whole gamut of applying for my driver’s license here.  Whilst sitting with the masses and waiting for my card to be issued, I heard a lady call out: “Lee Mei.  Lee Mei.”  I didn’t see anyone get up.  And then: “Mei Lee, is there a Mei Lee here?”  I remember thinking to myself, “Come on Lee Mei or Mei Lee!  Surely you can hear your name..”  And then, it dawned upon me: hang on, I think they may have butchered my name even more!  Low and behold, I scurried to the window.  Unfortunately, I was right.  So, while I started out as “Michelle Lee-Farlow Mei Sar” 17 years ago, thanks to the bungling of several government offices, I was now “Mei Sar Lee-Farlow Michelle”.  Excellent.  This was now serious.  To cut an already long story short, I reached out to the US embassy in Singapore and after numerous emails back and forth that dragged out over several weeks, it became very clear they were never going to admit they made a mistake.  They did offer me a solution though:  I could change my name through the courts.

My email response to their suggestion was as follows: 
Hang on.  What?  You want me to change my name FROM the name you butchered TO my actual name?  There MUST be something lost in translation here.  Please can I have your supervisor’s contact so I can speak with someone to help me sort this out.

That was about three weeks ago.  No.  I still have not received a response.  Meanwhile, I lost sleep over it as I raged at the stupidity and demented idea of having to change my name to my name.  Surely someone was playing a prank on me but I was just not getting the joke.  Endless 2am wakings followed with me lying in bed fuming at the idiocy of the whole situation until one morning, after hearing me rant about people butchering my name, Matt said to me as he gave me a big hug; “Oh honey, it doesn’t matter what everyone calls you.. You will always be sexy bum to me!” (note: no laughing allowed but yes, that is one of his terms of endearment for me.  Go figure.)  In that moment, I realized there was no use in fighting this.  There was simply no way around it.  I just had to get with the program and do as the powers-that-be instructed - no matter how bonkers the idea appeared to me.   

And so, it is another lesson learned.  Sometimes, things just are.  And you just need to take a big breath and go with it.  At least I am sleeping much better now.

*** end *** 

Saturday, 8 February 2014

58. Doing the 'right' thing..

My brother and his wife skyped us last night.  This deserves a special mention because much as we love each other, my manic schedule with three munchkins, coupled with his crazy workload and the time difference (he is a professor in the US), means we don’t get to talk very often.  As we gathered around the computer to chat, I noticed Paige had ‘checked out’ of the ‘reunion’ and was playing on her handheld game.  I called her on it.  She stopped.  Only to start fiddling with Matt’s iPad a few moments later. 

Later, after the call ended, I called her to my room and told her how disappointed I was with  her lack of interest and explained the importance of showing respect for someone who had made the time to call her by making an effort to be ‘present’.   I then made Paige ‘take ownership’ by having her call my brother and his wife to apologise.  The final step was to then also talk to her sisters, discussing the importance of “doing the right thing” and getting priorities in order.  At 13, 10 and nearly-9 years old, I feel the girls are old enough to learn this lesson.

I wrote the above two paragraphs a while ago and then stopped – writer’s block.  I simply did not know how to proceed without sounding nauseatingly holier-than-thou.  Plus I was at a loss as to which direction to take the piece. 

Fast forward a year or so,  Faith is now 14.5, Tia nearly 12 and Paige 10.  I was having one of ‘those days’ the other day, which led me to question how a simple act of charity could turn into something that was making me feel so aggravated.  And then I stopped and wondered if it was a lesson I had to learn and how to write about it.  When I saw this abandoned piece,  I had my “AHA!” moment.

“Doing the right thing” is not always easy, can require immense effort and quite often not appreciated. I am definitely guilty of feeling affronted when a gesture extended has either been disregarded or simply taken for granted.  I guess it drives me so crazy because it feels like bad manners and I have a ‘thing’ for manners.  But then, I realise that getting all riled up in what essentially amounts to ‘the little picture’ is for naught, leading me to wonder at my reaction.  After all, getting irritated because a fellow driver didn’t ‘say’ “thank you” when I pulled back in order to let them join my lane is just a ‘touch’ irrational, is it not?

ANYWAY, a situation occurred a couple of days ago where long-story-short, it felt like someone was trying to ‘take the mickey’ (Australian slang for: “take advantage of”) of what began as a sincere act of charity on our part.  Without going into specifics, the person involved expected us to extend the goodwill inspite of a 12-month time limitation.  I say “expected” because of the way the “request”…no, actually it was more like a “directive”.. arrived in my Inbox.  There was no humility.  No attempt for any emotional connection.  Just a cold and very direct expectation.  Not sure what to do, I asked a couple of close friends for their opinion.  They both felt it was a brazen request which should therefore be denied.  But I wasn’t sure if we were being fair: I subscribe to the belief that each and everyone of us are working through some sort of personal challenge – seen or unseen.  So maybe she was going through ‘stuff’ and didn’t mean to come across so presumptuous.  Still undecided, I decided to give her a chance by asking her to call me for a conversation about it.  I thought maybe if I had some inkling to her personality, I would know whether she ‘deserved’ the consideration.  And then I stopped.  I was being egotistical.  Who am I to decide whether someone ‘deserved’ sympathy and kindness – regardless of their perceived demeanor?

The call never came.  But I sent off an email agreeing to her request nonetheless.  Did a friendly email of thanks follow?  No.  Just a meager note.  No warm notes of gratitude.  Just an expectation that came across as: “and so you should have / I deserved this consideration”.  But I didn’t expect any less. 

Someone once told me: “if you expect everyone to live by your standards and your codes, you will spend much of your life being disappointed and frustrated.”  Obviously I still have much to learn and need to grasp that “doing the right thing”  may not necessarily bring me that warm fuzzy feeling – but it is only a problem if I let it be one.  Manners or not.

*** end ***

Sunday, 2 February 2014

No. 57: Saying "Goodbye"

The ache normally begins a couple of days before the looming date of his departure.  It normally kicks-off with an emptiness in my stomach and food soon starts to taste like paper.  I nod and smile and try to be engaged with all around me but it is only half-hearted.  All too soon it is time.  I gather the girls and we make the long drive to the airport with me trying to make light of things by half-threatening to lose my way to the terminal or offering to steal his passport so he cannot make his flight.  But he sees through my ‘comic’ routine and we work on consoling our youngest who is understandably heartbroken again. Prolonged hugs intermingle with whispered endearments and wishes for safe travels is our dance as I breathe him in one last time.  This has become our routine of late – saying goodbye.

Lingering at the gate until he goes through immigration only brings the promise of more tears so I force a smile and concentrate on cheering up the girls as we pull away from the airport, giving them the usual “we can get through anything if we stick together and remember to be kinder to each other during this time” talk.  The tête-à-tête is normally followed by a trip to their favorite restaurant for a sushi fix, a spot of CD shopping, followed by a visit to the library. By the time we walk through the door back to the now painfully quiet house a few hours later, my heart feels like a stone has taken up residence as we ‘get on’ with ‘everyday’ life.  On the Jambox, even John Mayer is singing my blues as “come back to me” replaces the normal chatter and giggle from a few hours earlier; and what was once a clear blue sky is now dark and cloudy, reflecting my headspace.  But I cannot afford to be so self-indulgent with this looming depression and tell myself to get a hold of myself – I need to set a positive example for the girls.

We have been doing this ‘dance’ for six months now and not only do I know the routine all too well, but am also familiar with the key: distraction by means of a busy schedule is a welcome albeit temporary ‘band-aid’ to our ‘malady’.  Alas my head is an expert but my heart is very much a novice still.  But I soldier on, opening up my diary to see how I can distract the girls, and myself, in the coming weeks.  I am filled with guilt as I realise it is a mere three weeks before I get to see Matt but nearly 8 before the girls get their reunion!  I make a mental note to make plans for the next seven weekends for them, quietly grateful for their otherwise busy schedules during the week.

Sleep does not come easily whenever Matt is away as I go from falling asleep (and STAYING in the land of nod!) at a drop of the hat to becoming a night owl; putting off going to bed – all of which does not abode well for my 5am starts.  Interestingly, it is always these stretches of Matt’s absence which also see Paige becoming a troubled sleeper who more often than not, ends up in my bed normally around the 1am mark.  Argh.  The first night is always the worst.  I am now bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at the ungodly hour of half four in the morning, having been up for over 2 hours already.  Sigh.  It is going to be a long day and although my day is only just beginning, I am already looking forward to my bed tonight.  Hopefully a peaceful slumber awaits.  19 sleeps to go before I can say “hello” – so much better than saying “goodbye”.

*** end ***

Sunday, 12 January 2014

56. New Year's Resolutions

It has been 12 days since those final seconds ticked over to herald in the new year.  How am I coming along with my new year’s resolutions?  Well, here’s the thing.  Previous transgressions have long taught me I am a bit of a commitment-phobic and lack the willpower to see through any sort of major resolution requiring prolonged obligations (hence my nickname as the runaway bride but THAT is another story!).  Simply put, I don’t make resolutions.  Instead I simply make decisions then just follow it up with action, albeit giving myself wriggle room to tweak, modify and occasionally discarding as I see fit.  But resolutions, no way, not me.  Okay, I confess.  The last time I made any sort of New Year’s resolution I must have been in my 20s.  Seeing I just turned 45, maybe I owe it to myself to revisit this whole ‘new year’s resolution’ thingy. Hmm… Where DO I start?

So.  I am only too aware of how traffic conditions and other drivers drive me so crazy I feel myself transforming into a highly emotive (that’s code for swearing) driver.  Mind you, its not that my ‘repertoire’ turns the air blue --it normally starts with “bloody idiot”, followed by “where in the hell did you get your license from”.  I should also qualify I don’t hurl these insults out of the car but rather mutter them under my breath, but I guess that doesn’t make a difference.  I did however, for a spell, try to replace “bloody idiot” with “flaming galah” but it just didn’t flow off the tongue as fluidly.  A quick explanation for the non-Aussies reading this:  a galah is a common Australian cockatoo with a reputation of being stupid.  You get the picture.  Not so pretty.  Next?

Writing a40somethinglife.  What started out so promising with an average 8-10 pieces each month has dwindled to a pitying ONE every (gulp!) 6 months (or so)!  I know!  Bad!  What happened?  My writing career took off and as more people read it, I started psychoanalyzing everything I wrote about and agonizing that the topic matter might be too mundane!  That, and I started getting offers for work which led to the launch of “Write Content”.  I love my work but I really need to devote more time to this ‘baby’ before it evolves into a 50somethinglife! Okay, so that’s two resolutions so far!  Looks like I’m on a roll! 

While I’m at it, I might as well add to the following of my ever growing list: exercise more (yes), moisturize more (patchy.. no pun intended!), drink less (no), stress less (getting there), be more organized (patchy), learn how to sew (finally started), eat cleaner (feels ‘mahfun’ ie troublesome) – and I could go on.  After all, there is ALWAYS room to improve, no?  Frankly, instead of feeling motivated, putting together this list just makes me feel exhausted and intimidated before I can even get started – which leads me right back to where I started in the first place – I JUST don’t 'do' New Year’s resolutions.

What I will do however, is continue to TRY to set a good example for my girls by being true to myself, always trying to be the ‘better person’, not putting up with BS AND continue to work on being a more zen driver.  Oh, and I will DEFINITELY finish my book this year AND up the ante in all my writing projects.  Watch this space!

**** end ****