As 2016 draws to a close, I am feeling a keen sense of loss. I know, I know…the year hasn’t made any sense on the global front and I have practically been in poor health all year, so I shouldn’t mourn the passing of 2016, but I do.
For more than four years now, I have been home to raise the kids and somewhere in the throes of fighting sleep deprivation and skirting around tantrums, I have unknowingly come to accept my role as (only) a mother as something that is set in stone. Yes, I have dabbled in bits and bobs to preserve a part of me that belongs only to yours truly but most of the time, I’m Mama and it is unfathomable to see myself otherwise. Whilst last year has been terribly challenging, what with me learning to survive as a mother of two by the skin of my teeth, 2016 has been rather wondrous. E turned one and started walking and talking, and even though I spent the year doing the mundane, the same old wretched things that I have been doing all these years, I too had the privilege to watch the kids grow and interact in ways that are nothing short of magical. This privilege is mine because I am Only-Mama and no one else.
This is all going to change next year. F will be turning 5 years old and heading to K1, while E will be starting preschool a few months in. They will be away for at least half a day on most days, and being in K1 means that I can’t pull F out of school as often as I did this year (let’s just say we paid a heck lot of school fees this year only for naughty Mama to keep her home because she misses the kiddo). It might seem like nothing much, this pocket of time that they are going to spend away from me, but just thinking about how swiftly they are growing up and how primary school lurks around that scary corner makes me sad. Sad, being an understatement, because when I am alone at times after the kids have gone to bed, there really is a gaping hole in my heart.
I don’t know how I am going to fill that hole. My heart aches and pines and…I am lost without the kids. Even though I run a business now, I am so used to working with the kids tugging at my legs and putting them first in every decision that I make, that I don’t quite know how to go on without them. Am I alone in feeling this way? Wishing the kids would grow up when they were infants who terrorised my sleep and sanity, and then wishing that they would stop growing up and hoping that they would never leave me alone to confront that faceless person who no longer resides in this Mum-shell?
Is anyone else with me? Is your heart breaking like mine? Are you as baffled as I am for not being anything more than a mother? Have you too forgotten who you were before you became a parent?
But, the clock will not stop ticking. The kids will grow up. My hair will turn grey. My heart will hurt with that gaping hole. Tears will fall. The only way out is through the swamp that I am deathly afraid to wade through. I will somehow learn to recognise and embrace the person I was before I became a mother. And I will get used to being that person and more, to make new memories with and without my littles. I will remember who I was.
2016. You have given me so much and you have taken as much. I don’t want you to go, but it looks like I must leave you now. And this I will do, with as much courage as I can summon.
2015 has been a number of pretty big things for us. We moved into our new home in late January after some mad packing and minor renovations done whilst I was heavily pregnant. I had a very smooth delivery and we welcomed little Ethan to our family a few months later. Over the year, we watched Faith grow into the sprightly young lady and loving big sister she is today. M advanced in his career and earned another qualification. I battled the dreadful postnatal blues, learnt to cope as a mother-of-two, and cooked and baked a lot more than what I thought was possible with two kids in tow. All four of us fell ill much too often, with me getting hooked up to a drip just a few days ago after the suay-est bout of suay-ness (suay = Hokkien for unlucky). So there we have it, pretty big things.
Through it all, there were plenty of tears shed, hurtful words both spoken and heard, and some very painful lessons learnt, but above all, I remember this. Our deep belly laughs. Trying to get out of the tangle of limbs (four sets, we have now!) as we collapsed in a pile of machine gun giggles. The quiet walks we took by the sea. The times when we were all covered in flour and sugar when Faith blasted the KitchenAid at the maximum speed despite repeated warnings. The smell of dark chocolate and sea salt melting moments wafting through our home when I was working hard for the bake sales. The nights when Ethan smiled at me like nothing or no one else could delight him more. The first time we took Faith out to ride the new bicycle which she finally grew into after receiving it on her second birthday. Those phenomenal steak nights at home with M. Us holding hands whilst we vegged out in front of the telly and tried to stay awake past 9.30pm. Putting up our very first Christmas tree as a family of four in our own home. Watching Ethan and Faith smile and coo at each other. When people told me they loved what I baked. Or when Faith slurped up everything that I cooked for dinner. Pretending that we don’t hear the kids stir on Sunday mornings so we could sleep in until 8am..even though we know we get headaches from sleeping in now (the irony). Stolen kisses. Stolen super-quick ice-cream jaunts after the kids have gone to bed. Stolen roller-coaster rides. The night when I was alone with Ethan in the hospital after giving birth. How my heart burst as Faith reassured me that I would be okay when I was bedridden. My papa and my mama giving their all to tide us over the toughest times. Those tear-jerking (in a good way) texts from my baby sister, who got me through the dark times. This New Year’s Eve during our nightly bedtime prayer, when Faith told God that Sleeping Beauty farted and we laughed and laughed, and in doing that, unknowingly thanked God for Joy. How faith and love brought us further than we could have ever imagined.
It’s been a challenging 52 weeks, as I had expected it to be this time last year, peppered with lots of Ups and rather stormy Downs. I feel like I have aged quite a bit from roughing it out so much this year…and yet, I have come out stronger and more mature with quite a bit of clarity having gone through all that and survived. Truth be told, I know it’s going to get harder, what with the uncertainties that we will be facing in 2016, and I don’t quite know what to feel about the year that will be dawning upon us in a few hours’ time. But the only way forward is to go through whatever Life hands us anyway, that I know, and I pray for wisdom, strength and guidance for me to make the best out of 2016. That, and more tales of Sleeping Beauty and her mysterious farts, please.
Here’s to joy, peace, good health and the heartiest laughs for all of us. Happy New Year, my friends. See you on the other side.
“BRING IT ON, TWO O ONE SIX!”
So. After the crippling everything-also-DIY party we held for F’s second birthday, I was put off by the idea of having another party for years to come, not until she was old enough anyway (the word ‘enough’ being very loosely defined, as it really depends on how her old folks are feeling – likely to be sleep-deprived – a week prior to her birthday). The only thing I wanted to do was to make her a birthday cake, as I would like to keep to our family tradition of having homemade birthday cakes for as long as the kids and husband would want them.
Then, I made the mistake of asking F what she would like for her birthday cake.
(Of course I did. How else did I end up with a party?! ASKING FOR IT, I WAS.)
“Mama, I want (an) Olaf cake!”
Somehow, that got me looking for cake designs on the web, and somehow, I had my eyes set on one that I thought would thrill F to bits. Somehow, I thought, “Hmm, that cake wouldn’t look nice if it was made to serve only a few people, and somehow, that got me thinking about how F hardly gets to be with her friends outside of school, and how this would be the perfect opportunity for her to have some fun with them….YOU GET THE GIST.
We ended up having a party the size of three playdates.
I wasn’t particularly keen on doing up a full-blown Frozen-themed party. F loves Olaf but not to the extent of wanting everything Elsa-Anna on her bedspread, schoolbag and water bottle (thank gaaawwd). Instead, I had the theme worked out from the cake design, and came up with something simple to execute, neutral, yet fun and colourful for a three-year-old.
Now, when times are good, we all know that LIFE’S A BEACH (as opposed to the other B word)! Birthdays are happy occasions so ocean blues and buttery yellows, spell a summer, poolside party, yes? F loves to spend time in the pool, and so do most of her friends, Life’s A Beach was just begging to be themed this year!
The cake was naturally the most challenging bit of the party preps. F had asked for an Olaf cake, and I knew I had to get it right. I am no cake artist and was really quite nervous about pulling this one off, so I made sure to start working on the cake two days before the party. Red velvet has always been my go-to flavour for a cake that boasts a moist and tender crumb even after a few days, and the cream cheese frosting recipe that I am so partial to holds up well in the heat without being cloying. I am completely unfamiliar with how fondant works and was worried that it might melt in the heat, so I fashioned an Olaf cake topper out of jumping clay a few weeks before the party, you know, just in case Mama fails and winds up getting one shipped from who-knows-where. It’s a win-win, really, because F gets to keep and play with the figurine, and it is non-toxic. Of course, it wouldn’t be a party on the beach for Olaf without a nautical deck chair, coconuts to sip on, seashells, flip flops, a beach ball, float and a cute umbrella, and I was delighted to hunt down some miniature toys on Amazon for the cake. A simple bunting made out of construction paper, twine and gold-striped straws and some blue and yellow skinny candles later, the cake was complete and really quite fun to look at! I would say this is the toughest cake design I’ve had to execute to-date (it took a while to nail the look of the waves crashing on the shore) (Disclaimer: I take absolutely zero credit in the idea because I simply looked up the designs online and did whatever I could to make the cake look as decent as possible).
Now that my hands are full with two kids, I didn’t have much time to do up a full dessert table. I cheated by making some dark chocolate tofu mousse topped with choc feuilletine, salted caramel sauce and strawberries. I did go overboard with the 64% Manjari and the chocolate tofu mousse ended up tasting a little too acidic and…weird (sorry, my party guests). I should have stuck to the yuzu-flavoured version I tested out a couple of days before the party…oh well.
The dessert table wouldn’t be complete without THE easel that we lugged back from Perth when F was 3 months old. We have put it to very good use for all of her birthday parties thus far and we plan to get even more mileage out of it! In fact, I get so nostalgic about the themes I scribble on that I don’t erase them until the next party comes around..there are two sides to the easel…so yeap, I literally *just* erased F’s first birthday party theme on one side to make space for her 3rd birthday!
We aren’t fantastic party planners and are definitely not the creative sort; I was rather worried that the kids might get bored at the party especially if they choose not to splash around in the pool, so I thought it best to get something (ANYTHING) to entertain them. I freaked a little two days to the party, having nary a brilliant idea on what to do for the kids to have some fun, so I settled on…a piñata. I sent M out to hunt for one that doesn’t bear any resemblance to human beings, animals and cartoon characters because I don’t want the kids to be traumatised by the eventual mutilation, and I thought this would be akin to looking for a needle in a haystack but…look what he found! A BEACH SLIPPER, ALMOST in our party colours, no less! M picked up some sweets from our childhood – haw biscuits, White Rabbit milk candies, etc (oops, couldn’t stay away from giving snacks, could we, but we wouldn’t resist the idea of showing the kids the candies of yesteryear) – and balloons, and stuffed the slipper with it. We found a sturdy tree with a resilient-looking branch, hung the piñata and the rest was history. The kids had fun getting the goodies out of the beach slipper with the aid of their papas, and scrambled to pick up their prizes when the beach slipper was done-done.
Being time-starved and all, I was really glad that we had some help with the rest of the party preps. One of the things i really struggled with in the previous parties was party favours! I mean, I didn’t know what to get for kids of different ages and wound up getting snacks and useless knick knacks. (YES, I AM ‘THAT TERRIBLE PARENT’) This year, I am no longer every parent’s worst nightmare, thanks to Kiddy Packs who gifted us with all of the party favours this year! They have a selection of good-quality favours to choose from for children of all ages, and best of all, they pack them up beautifully in brown paper packages (MY FAVOURITE, no tacky packaging, please!), can customise the wording on the label and the colours of the ribbons to your needs, and they deliver! I will reveal the favours we chose in the next post but no prizes for guessing the colours we picked!
I also purchased some honeycomb balls in white and the most stunning shades of yellows and blues from Most Wonderfully Made, after a very lengthy consultation with the ever-patient S who owns the store, strung them up on garlands, and hung the latter up around the poolside area. I loved that the garlands added lots of cheer to the party, and the best part was the honeycomb balls are reusable because I fanned them out and held the ends together with paper clips instead of using the double-sided tape adhered on them!
I put up a simple backdrop for the dessert table too, using pinwheel fans of different designs that I bought from Most Wonderfully Made and another vendor (silly me, I should have gotten both from Most Wonderfully Made because they do have more than one design for the fans). I was really quite pleased with how the backdrop turned out with different shades of yellows and blues. The varying styles and sizes of the pinwheel fans made the backdrop pop!
Had to take another family photo when Mr. E woke up from his nap!
It is truly a party to remember because E is finally here to join us for our celebrations (I was pregnant, unbeknownst to our friends, when F had her 2nd birthday party). F is also a lot more conscious about what goes on, now that she is three years old. She loves the cake to bits and often talks about it, and it makes me happy that she is thrilled. She has also come to associate the function room with ‘Mama, we sing Happy Birthday inside the room, okay?’, and that’s pretty hilarious. Our guests were such lovely friends to have over, ever gracious about the lack of fancy entertainment or a particularly acidic chocolate tofu mousse, and the kids seemed to enjoy themselves! Well…I guess we might have a 4th birthday party after all; the husband said no because it can be pretty tiring to put a party together, but…never say never!
Six years ago, I sat in my room with my sister, wondering how life would change once I flew the nest. That pensive moment was abruptly broken up by the ruckus going on outside the very room I had shared with my sister for the past decade.
He is here! I thought, on the cusp of being unable to contain the flurry of emotions that were washed ashore, and I struggled to hold back my tears.
This day would mark our union, but I knew that once the two-day festivities were over, we were still right on track of uncertainty. How long would we be in London? How long more till I see my family again? What happens once I graduate? Will I graduate? What does our future hold? Where will we end up? Will we be able to start a family?
Then, he walked into my room having been tortured by the bridal party, holding onto my bouquet with some sort of a death grip, perspiring ever so slightly and sporting a silly, uncomposed grin.
“The aluminium foil is still attached to the bouquet!!” I greeted my new husband with a tinge of OCD, momentarily ignorant of all the questions that have been buzzing in my head.
And he whisked me off to our new lives, with the aluminium foil still wrapped around the end of the bouquet.
Six years on, whilst our journey together has been fraught with uncertainty, we have held onto each other as tightly as we could. We have fought, laughed, cried and made two babies along the way; it hasn’t been a bed of roses but…
I’d rather go through bad times with him than live in good times with someone else.
Six years on, I think I love him more than ever before. No, scratch that, I know that I do.
Happy 6th anniversary, my best friend, my worst enemy, the rock that I don’t ever want to let go of. Here’s to more uncertainty to come. Oh, and don’t forget the kids’ laundry that needs to be hung, I am stuck in the room nursing Ethan right now. Nothing like slaving after our children to celebrate our anniversary, eh?
The nasty bug that F brought home from school hit me real hard a few weeks ago. We all know that ‘what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger’, right? Well, this bug was trying its darndest to kill me.
I was very sick on a Sunday, threw up a couple of times and had to wrap myself up like a burrito. It didn’t help that I had to get up and nurse E a couple of times in the night; I was unrested and practically died when I had to care for the children the next day. As the week progressed, I got better, in that I no longer threw up, but remained flu-ish throughout. Just when things were looking up, I lost my voice from the sore throat and I became very ill again on Friday. I was nursing E before putting him to bed for the night, when F zipped in and out of the room. As I looked up to whisper to her, the room tipped as if I was drifting on a rough, choppy sea. Everything went downhill thereafter and M said it was best for me to skip putting F to bed, and hop into the shower instead. So I did.
After M was done brushing F’s teeth, they stopped by the bathroom to say goodnight to me and I happened to be gagging from the dizziness. Little did we expect that to take centrestage in the conversation F had with M before she drifted off to sleep.
F (having caught M yawning): Papa, you tired? You want to sleep with Faith?
M: No, I am okay, Faith.
F: You want to sleep in your bed?
M: Yes, Faith.
F: Okay, you sleep with Mama, okay? But I think Mama is not feeling well. Mama wants to vomit. Mama is sick. You take care of Mama, okay?
Now, this…took us by surprise. F usually cries hysterically if I don’t put her to bed. I had expected much tears and resistance that evening, and I was reluctant to skip her bedtime routine, but…small mercies, small mercies.
I had a pretty rough night thereafter. E felt very hot to touch from 3am onwards, and I was up to nurse and soothe him till morning. I was worried sick, on top of being ill, and when I finally had a half-hour window to crash before F woke up, I couldn’t fall asleep. I wished that M could take emergency leave from work to help me out but he couldn’t, and so I was left stranded.
Eight weeks into being a mother of two then, I would say that the most challenging parts of the day are getting both to nap without one waking the other, and getting them to bed on time before they are overtired. I was certainly dreading naptime because synchronised napping is a mythical beast and it didn’t help that I needed some shuteye badly to recover.
I managed to nurse E and put him down for a nap before rushing F through lunch so that she would start napping before E wakes up. Luckily, F went down pretty quickly, and I was horizontal (Finally! Even if I wasn’t sleeping…) for 45 minutes before E cried. Then, F woke up and I cursed as I wondered how I was going to get her to go back to sleep lest she be overtired. When E finally fell asleep after feeding, F was much too awake. Of course. So I asked for the impossible.
Me: Faith, Mama is sick. Can you please let Mama sleep for a while?
Faith: Okay, Mama. I (will) wait for you.
And she did. For TWO glorious hours. A toddler in the throes of terrible twos-to-threes, my daughter, actually waited patiently by my side for two hours while I tried to get back up on my feet. She did kiss me a couple of times when my eyes were closed, in a bid to get me up but…small mercies, small mercies.
Heck it. Make those big small mercies.
(Now, if only they were more of a mainstay, than a delightful, rare occurrence.)
Sometime between putting my firstborn to bed and waking up in the middle of the night to nurse my secondborn, I felt that I couldn’t go on.
That inertia, the dead weights that are my body and mind, snuck up on me very quietly and ousted whatever will I had left. And I thought this to be very weird indeed.
It wasn’t an exceptionally bad day. I have gone through worse. In fact, there were only two tantrums, a couple of very challenging nursing sessions and the usual lack of sleep, all part and parcel of the new-norm since I became a mother of two. There was absolutely no good reason to be flat out of motivation, but I was. In that moment of surrender, I knew that whatever bogged me down wouldn’t last forever. Yet, in that moment of surrender, I didn’t want to budge and move out of transience into logic. I simply wallowed.
I let the exhaustion overwhelm me as I crept into my son’s nursery. My shoulders burned with weariness as I hunched over a shrinking will. I hid my teary eyes from no one in particular behind a curtain of greasy, tangled mass of unwashed hair. As I nursed my son, my heart ached for him, for he had no idea how much I wanted to be someplace else at that instant. His mother was giving up on the most ordinary of days.
I prayed for my children.
Then, a twitch on my secondborn’s milk-drunk face spread into the widest smile, and everything changed. I knew that this is where I am meant to be. This season of seemingly mindless child-minding (the irony) and that much-dreaded loss of self will pass once I get the hang of being a new mother of two. And another season will dawn, when my children will play, fight, cry, argue and throw their heads back in unrestrained laughter, and I will have the privilege of breaking up fights, watching them kiss and make up, and witnessing the making of precious memories that they will thirst for one day. Then, they will grow up and no longer need me to be part of their lives. So, this season, however trying and joyful and overwhelming and blissful, is mine and mine to live, and it will pass. Its passing will herald the commencement of another.
This season, which I get to be part of now, will not last forever.
The gravity of how wilful time is finally sunk in. My shoulders still burned, but only from wanting to go on. My eyes still welled up, but only because I was mourning the loss of permanence when the smile on my son’s face withered in his sleep. It was 3.45am and yet another day has passed. My children were one day older. My hair stank, but who cares about hair when I know that, one day, my children will no longer be babies, that I will no longer get to ‘kiss, hug and pat-pat’ the five soft toys that F insists on having on her bed when we tuck her in every night, that I will miss perspiring each time I nurse/wrestle a very wriggly E.
And so I choose to hang on to this season, even if I yearn for it to end on some days. Because this season, this night, will slip away to a time when only vague memories can be recalled, to a time when this season and I will no longer be.
It’s been a rough couple of weeks, and I feel a little out of sorts, what with mummy’s guilt and a poor sense of day and night overwhelming me.
I am not going to lie and say that I am holding up perfectly. When there comes a moment to pause and reflect, I know I am very blessed to be part of this family of four and I smile at the thought of us. This love, one that evokes warmth and a sense that we are complete, however, sprouts stabbing pangs of guilt. Guilt of not being able to meet all the needs of the little people (and a certain big person) whom I love so very much. The sort of guilt that gnaws at me silently. The sort of guilt that reduces me to a watery mess when no one is looking. But, life has to go on, even if the guilt paralyses. My children need me to do what I have to do, to care for and nurture them, and I need to be strong for my husband. So, I wipe away my tears, hold my head up high and focus on getting through every good and bad moment that I have the privilege of sharing with them.
That said, there are moments of doubt that trail in the wake of guilt. When the going gets tough, it is not unusual for me to wonder if I have done anything right for my family. Should I have gone back to the workforce? Have I been too proud to ask for help? Or perhaps, I should step up and do more? I may have given birth to my children, but does it make me the best person to care for them? Why, oh why did I not rein in my temper? Do I have to be so hung up on the boundaries that I have set for my children? Could I have done things differently so I can attend to everyone whom I love when they need me simultaneously, without having to sacrifice one for the other? Do I have to be so stubborn on some of the things that I set out to do for my family?
These questions beg for answers, from when I was a new mother to when I became a mother of two, and it took me two children to learn that there is no right answer. With my firstborn, I subconsciously allowed these doubts to crush me one too many times. Now that I have two children, the challenges I have faced, even in such early days, have keenly illustrated just how crippling these questions can be if I choose to dwell on them. As I plough through these doubts that come a-knocking on a daily basis, I learn that I can only do my best for my family and hope that my best is good enough. An overly thorough dissection of those questions would only feed my obsession over getting things ‘right’ rather than encourage me to do the necessary; after all, parenting two very young children and being the main pillar of emotional support to my husband with limited help, energy, resources and sleep often mean that one has to delve deep and just do it.
So, I learn. I learn to let my doubts keep me on my toes, just enough to help me make the best choice for my family in a given circumstance, but not too much to make me keel over. I learn to acknowledge the guilt and appreciate that it is born out of love, which is a good thing, really. I learn to roll with the punches because my loved ones need me to be there for them, regardless.
Most of all, I learn that there are good days and bad days. There will come a time when I feel that my family deserves a better Rachel. But, that is okay, because there surely will come a time when I know that my best is truly enough.
We don’t celebrate anniversaries with much fanfare, but I guess being together for ten years today is good enough a reason to celebrate…with words, that is.
Throughout the decade together, we wrote to each other quite a fair bit, more so when we were living in different countries, and less when the daily grind got in the way. We may not be the best writers, but we find much solace in words, especially when they come from the other. I remember eagerly checking my mailbox after a harried day at work for a letter signed ‘With love from London’, doing a happy dance when there is word from the Mister, and saving the letter for a read at bedtime when I am all showered, relaxed and ready to devour his comforting words that evening.
This morning, as I roused from restless sleep, M handed me an envelope stuffed with letters that he had written over the past four months. He is due to work the night shift this evening, and wouldn’t be able to spend our tenth anniversary with me. Knowing that I would likely need encouragement as I would be putting the two kids to bed myself at the most trying time of the day, he asked me to save the letters for when the kids have gone to bed.
I couldn’t wait. Of course, I couldn’t. I tore the envelope open and savoured every word penned in his doctor’s scribble after dropping F at school.
He chided me on Whatsapp, “I took so long to write the letters and yet, you finished reading them so quickly! They were supposed to last you through the night.”
“I read your letters over and over again. They will last me a lifetime”, I argued.
So, write me for another ten years, won’t you, darling? And if I have ten lifetimes, I’d want for nothing.
Happy Tenth, my love.