Category Archives: Family & Friends

And Here We Are

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 Big Small Mercies

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.)

This Season

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.

201505 Faith putting on sock for Ethan

Enough, Sometimes

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.

Write Me For Another Ten

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. 

This Year, Our Year

2014 was a little bit of everything. It was a year when we worked hard and played hard. When the three of us grew up in our own ways and as a family. When we became acutely aware, more so than ever (if that’s even possible), that family comes first. When we started praying together as a family, every night before Faith goes to bed. The year zipped past, chock full of laughter and joy, with a little bit of drama and some heartbreaking tears from personal struggles, and it ended off on a quiet note, with Faith going to bed on New Year’s Eve, softly chiming, “Happy New Year, Mama. Happy New Year, Papa”, and with M and I solemnly reflecting on our lives at the stroke of midnight as we crossed into 2015.

The greatest changes were evident in the little powerhouse of ours. Faith started pre-school in March and grew up very quickly after that. She can now speak in full and rather long sentences, string and express her train of thoughts quite coherently, and insists on doing things on her own. “No Mama, Faith wear shoes herself”, she says whenever I forget that she is no longer a baby who needs Mama to tend to her every need. She continues to be a joyful girl who now loves to sing (like a rockstar) and dance (like a member of some indigenous tribe with two left feet) to anything that is remotely rhythmic. She is mostly an easygoing, chatty child with family, generally shy in the presence of others and extremely loving, one who is always quick to express genuine concern when somebody is in tears or yelps in pain. I will not forget how she has somehow learnt to hand me tissues, rub my back and ask, “You okay?” with furrowed brows whenever I cry. Her antics and conversations with us have M and I laughing until our bellies hurt. And she laughs like it truly matters, when we do. We often find ourselves staring at each other incredulously whenever she says or does something extraordinary, which is pretty darn often, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. There were the epic displays of tantrums, of course, but thankfully, they were far and few between; whilst we did feeling like gouging our own eyeballs out on certain occasions, there has been no casualties. 2014 was the year when we watched Faith’s personality come into being and we can’t wait to see how she blossoms next, even as I quietly lament at how she is no longer my squishy baby.

We also enjoyed more time as a family with holidays and a better work-life balance for M; this is in stark contrast to our topsy-turvy lives back in 2012 and 2013 when we barely saw M. We travelled to Bali and stayed in a villa with a large private pool, where Faith fell head over heels in love with what she thinks constitutes swimming (she can’t swim and hates going under the water, so….). We sat through the worst traffic congestions ever in Jakarta and lugged Faith along to the most kid-unfriendly activities such as vintage shopping in the extreme heat. Faith also gamely tucked into the dirtiest street foods with us (bún chả, anyone?) in Hanoi and we all survived. And we enjoyed the most beautiful spring in Sydney, where we spent lots of time running outdoors and soaking up the sun rays in the cool, dry weather. We giggled and cuddled lots during our family vacations, as if to make up for the time lost in the two years before. Most of all, we saw M on a more regular basis, at humane hours too, and we cannot be more thankful for the new working arrangement.

2014 was also a year when I watched M grow into his calling. This is the tenth year that we have been together and I’m not kidding when I say that we have spent the last ten years chasing his dream of being a doctor. From the trying days of medical school in London to the toughest training at work in Singapore, I am immensely proud to witness the huge differences he has made in people’s lives, not just medically but emotionally as well. I may be biased but to me, that’s the true mark of a great physician. It’s absolutely wonderful to see him progress in the right direction. If anything, I feel like I’m realising my own dream too. Hopefully, 2015 will bring him good tidings, and that he will continue to mature personally and professionally.

As for me, well, 2014 was a mixed bag of everything. I baked a little more in the first half of the year, and ran a very tiny venture (which is now closed owing to other commitments I have got going on). In the second half of the year, I started writing professionally and it’s nice to receive remuneration and recognition for my written works. These made me feel like I’m more than just a mother. I started driving at the end of March after overcoming one of the biggest fears in my life (yes, I was such a scaredy-cat, to only start driving 8 years after getting my license!), and am now a lot more confident behind the wheel. I attribute this newfound bravery to #thelengthsthatmummiesgotofortheirchildren. I have also grown to be a lot more vocal and do not hesitate when I need to stand up for myself, and I like that bullies are beginning to realise that I am no longer the pushover I once was. I have also learnt to let go of friendships that are no longer working out (sadly, they started to deteriorate after I became a stay-at-home-mother) and keeping those who really matter, understand and love me for who I am, close to my heart (thank you, to those who have stuck around. I don’t say very much but you mean a lot to me). Braver, and a lot less tolerant for pretence and bullshit, well..I guess Faith wasn’t the only one who grew up loads. Whilst it was generally a happier and much more fulfilling year than before, there were heartbreaks here and there too…but I’m glad that I’m still on track to a better sense of well-being. Fingers crossed for this year then, for me to make the best out of whatever life hands me. I pray that 2015 will be the year in which I grow stronger, live passionately, love freely and trust whole-heartedly.

This year…this will be a year of change for us. M is settling down into a new work routine, and I, into a more challenging role as a mother and hopefully, a better (and more professional?) writer/baker/whatchamacallit. Both of us hope to be better, not just at what we do, but as people, parents and a couple. Faith has started N1 in a new school recently, and is adjusting well, and we hope to help her blossom into a considerate, loving young lady. We are definitely looking forward to the many kick-ass interactions we will have with our funny little girl. We will also (finally!) be moving into a space of our own and are all set for a new lease of life in our new home. We aren’t certain how things will pan out but we know that we will get into and out of 2015 as a family, with a whole lot of excitement and a healthy dash of fear, and that’s really all that matters to us right now.

We hope to make this year OUR year and wish the same for you too. Say “Aye!” to a better life and a better you!

201412 Happy New Year