Credit. Something that I generously give everyone but myself.
Each time someone pays me a compliment, I’d immediately blurt out, in a manner akin to a knee-jerk reflex, that the stars, moon and sun aligned at the exact time I reached up to scratch an itch on my right cheek to cause things to turn out so marvellously. You get the picture…I’d honestly believe in any cause other than my efforts or talent, and this is the way I have been since I was a little girl. I didn’t know how to say thank you to people who said nice things to me, until M told me that it was rude to brush off people’s compliments; after all, they went the extra mile to voice their opinions when they didn’t have to. That’s when I started to practise saying thank you, but only because I want to be polite to others and not because I truly believe in what they say.
I know I don’t make sense. I think the world of people who have done something good out there. Mamas who go to work just because. Mamas who stay home just because. Mamas who know when to let their hair down because they deserve a breather. Mamas who refuse to take a break even if they are on the brink of a burnout. Mamas who hold it together in tough times. Mamas who sob into their knees in their bathrooms when the kids are asleep. I see so much good and strength and resilience in people, especially after becoming a mother, but I fail to give credit to yours truly where credit is due. Each time I may have done something worthwhile, I brush it off and believe that it is something that others could and would have done (and they would have excelled at it instead of scraping by just like I was) if they were in my position. No biggie, is what I’d say.
Now, I didn’t realise what a slippery road that mindset has led me to. Up until yesterday, I had discredited myself so many times that I have unknowingly reduced my self-worth to zilch over the years. And it took a heart-wrenching, tearful conversation with M after our weekly brisk walk for me to realise that.
It all started when I told M I overheard someone telling a mother that she was incredibly brave to drive her two young children out on her own. I thought the mama deserved a pat on her back too, and I thought that friend was very sweet to have pointed it out to her. Two minutes later, it dawned on me that I have been doing that since E was born. Many mothers would be home with their newborns during confinement and even in the first few months while their partners or family members help take the older kid(s) to and from school, but after M’s week-long paternity leave was over, I was driving a screaming newborn and a petrified F (because she didn’t understand why her new brother was crying) for a total of two hours everyday, come rain or shine. I didn’t have help to ferry F around and I just had to step up to do it, even if I were exhausted, scared, confused and recovering from the physical trauma of childbirth. I remember the days when all three of us would arrive at F’s school soaking wet because I didn’t know how to balance an umbrella whilst fishing E out of the car seat to pop him into the sling and getting F out of the car with her bags in tow. I remember the days when I would cry as I drove a screaming E home after dropping F at school. I remember the days when I just wanted to curl up in bed and not confront the fear of having to anticipate E’s crying (in crescendo, no less) that comes on cue whenever I loosen the sling to pop him into that damned car seat. It is easier these days, having had almost two years of practice in juggling two on school, errand, clinic and fun-time runs. But when I was in the midst of all that and taking deep breaths to dive headfirst into my fears and worries that accompany what others might think is a ‘damn simple school run, liddat also cannot handle ah’, all I could think of was how I failed whenever I broke down or leapt into wishful thinking that help would come in some form. Or when I got the kids all drenched because I couldn’t work out whether it was best to get kid number 1 out of the car first or kid number 2 into the sling before anything else. Many times, I felt defeated by what I thought must be the easiest thing to do (heck, I don’t even have to do that on public transport, I have a car, for crying out loud), and I didn’t dare tell anyone I was feeling that way about a simple school run for fear of wagging tongues and pointy fingers. And shame.
This applies to everything else. I just don’t give myself credit where it is due. I don’t pat myself on the back when an awfully long day is over even though I managed to feed the kids and keep them alive. When people tell me I made a great meal or baked some lovely cookies, I’d say thank you out of courtesy and silently wonder, “Really? I think they are just being polite and they didn’t want to hurt my feelings.” When others marvel at how I manage to take care of the kids and cook and bake, I’d be thick with guilt and shame and say, “I don’t need to go to work and I have help with cleaning and chores, so that leaves me time and energy to do the rest…” Because, somewhere in my pea-sized brain, I have come to think that all I do is the bare minimum that is required of human civilisation, that even if I succeed, it’s luck, that everyone can do what I do and they are stronger, better and just so damn awesome while I have been reduced to some kind of a weak sauce because I can’t drive my screaming newborn around without feeling anxious, for instance.
Then, M said, “You are not weak. Not at all. You are one of the strongest people that I know, and I am not saying this because you are my wife. Remember the day when we were at the Uncle Ringo fair, and Faith suddenly walked straight up to the airplane ride and said that she wanted to go on it, much to our surprise? Remember how she sat there so stiffly and quietly, with her lips steeled in absolute determination and her eyes brimming with fear? We all know that she has always been terrified of rides like this, and yet, when you asked her why she went on the ride without any of us prompting her to go on it, she said, “I was trying not to be scared, Mama. I really try.” She fought a battle that would seem insignificant to others, but she is far from weak. So what if you have help with chores and cleaning? You don’t have to put meals on the table but you do it regardless. You are talented and you bake the most beautiful things, and that has nothing to do with whether you have help or not. You can leave the children and go out and have fun but you refuse to because you want to be the one taking care of them even if it overwhelms you. You could have forced me to squeeze in school runs or made our parents do it and caused them much inconvenience but you stepped up and now you drive yourself and the kids around just so you become independent. No one is stronger than another, dear. The strongest person is one who fights a battle he or she fears most, however trivial it may seem to others, and that is what truly matters. That is why you are one of the strongest people I know. Believe me.”
I was in tears by the time he finished. I knew he was right. Any protests that I had worked out in my mind before he started talking fell silent and I was completely thoughtful after that. In the evening breeze, I sat by the pool and recalled countless things that I admired other people for, and realised that I too have overcome similar challenges. For the first time in many, many years, I see myself in new light. I have been giving myself so much pressure, and thinking that everything I am doing is a norm that I have taught myself, unknowingly, to forget that I have actually done some pretty wonderful deeds in my life, that I am more than decent. That I am more than what I think I am, that I am not that weak a person or that lousy a mother. Perhaps, this seems pretty obvious to most people, the fact that one is still getting up to do something that trips her in the smallest or biggest of ways is an effort that is worth applauding. It is such an astounding revelation to me and today, I woke up feeling better and calmer than I have in a painfully long time. And all I had to do was to remember the look on my four-year-old’s face and her white knuckles as she held on tightly to that ride at Uncle Ringo’s. She tried…I try.
That courage, and this lesson…I will never forget.
Valentine’s Day is a bit of an alien concept to me. Through the years I had been single, depending on how old (or young) I was, I either spent the day feeling ostracised by girls romanced by eager boys bearing bountiful blooms, or feeling like it was perfectly okay to be alone.
Then, I met and married a very practical man.
We have never celebrated Valentine’s Day, gazing into each other’s eyes with our knees touching in dimly lit restaurants. He was either away in London for his studies, or we would have a home-cooked meal together (a part of our daily routine, anyway) and that would be it. It has been an unspoken tradition every year since we settled down in the same country. Flowers, chocolates, jewellery and gifts are not usually what we do. I would be lying if I say that it didn’t bother me when I was all of 25 (and brimming with naivety), but now that I am in my mid-thirties and have become a mother of two, I have come to realise that love need not be shown in ways prescribed by the society, and that love is much more than a day and the biggest bouquet.
As the years passed us by, we learnt to subtly show our appreciation for each other. Get up a little earlier than the other to tend to the kids, so that one of us gets more sleep. Change out a particularly offensive diaper. Offer to clean up the toddler who has a newfound, screaming hatred for bath time. Hold out on gobbling down the last piece of wagyu steak because the other half loves it but is too frugal to have more. File tax returns. Take the kids out for a walk so the other half gets a break from the ruckus. Offer hugs, lots of them, and naturally offer comfort during painful moments that need not be told to be understood.
A tonne of hard work and the occasional grand gesture fuel our marathon together. We pace, so we don’t fizzle. We hold hands, so no one gets left behind. Now, it sounds like a fair partnership, but before one assumes M and I are equals, I’d go as far as to say that the man has been the better half all this while. It wasn’t a bed of roses but his love for me triumphed and he just…gets me. He is the more selfless, thoughtful one and I often wonder how I can parallel his love for me, for us. And it dawned on me, as I woke up to Valentine’s Day greetings on my phone this morning, that he would be the happiest man if I would just…love myself a little more.
For many years, I have forgotten who I am and I often feel like I am just wandering. It doesn’t make sense when I can’t seem to get out of bed on more mornings than I care to admit, because I am in a such a good place in my life. I have a doting husband who loves me in spite of who I am not, two beautiful children who are so quick to forgive me and smother me in kisses even after I completely lose my shit at them. It just doesn’t make sense.
But it did today. That while I love the people I love with all my heart, and live, breathe and wake up in the mornings for them, I have forgotten how to love myself. To appreciate every strength that I can’t seem to recognise at the moment, embrace the multitude of flaws that I am all too well-acquainted with, to learn that I am more of a human than a failure in life, and just be kind to myself.
So, on this Valentine’s Day, perhaps the heart I too should have been tending to, is mine.
Happy Valentine’s Day, to all who love and are still wandering, in search for the love within.
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!”
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?
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.
With the second pregnancy, I have been getting Braxton Hicks contractions and those painful ones way earlier than when I was carrying Faith. Yesterday night, I was resting in bed, timing the contractions whilst the husband kept me company.
At one point, after about three hours of frequent contractions, the pain, intensity and frequency somewhat abated and baby resumed its movements. M noticed that I wasn’t as bothered as before, and asked if the contractions were still coming on.
“I think we are good for now, but who knows, being the sound sleeper that you are, you might suddenly get woken up by piercing cries of a newborn! OOOOH-YEEEEAK OOOOH-YEEEEAK!” I teased.
“Yeah, and then you will go..M, HURRY UP! GIVE ME A TOWEL, MY PRISTINE WHITE BEDSHEETS ARE ALL BLOODSTAINED!!!!” He retorted.
Well, true that. He knows he married a clean freak. *shrugs*