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!
I don’t know about you but these days, there will come a moment everyday, however transient, when my heart goes all frail on me and I wonder if I have even done anything right. I have always been very self-critical; it hasn’t always worked to my advantage but as I grew older, I learnt to harness the ability to find fault in everything I do and turn it into motivation for excellence. And it paid off in my studies and career (or whatever I used to have before I became a mother). I excelled in everything I worked on, and the grades, appraisals, anything that was telling of a report card were apparent indicators of my best efforts. It was easy to know that I did my best, and I thrive on knowing that I gave my best efforts.
But…parenting is NOTHING like I have ever worked on previously. Don’t get me wrong…I have never once thought parenting to be a race. I don’t seek to be the best mother in the world. I simply wonder if I have done enough for my child because everyday, something is bound to happen that makes me feel like I could have given more to the being I am nurturing. And surely, this being is way more important than any of the silly exams or projects I have undertaken in the past?
My everyday could look like this:
F is playing independently or reading in our living room. I look up from whatever I am doing, and I am suddenly consumed with guilt as I realise that I haven’t taken her to the playground to run with wild abandon for weeks just because I haven’t been feeling well enough to do so.
F is ill. I have been trying to coax her into drinking more water but she refuses every attempt. When I finally get some fluid into her, she lets the fluid dribble down her chin and breaks into a cheeky smile because that is apparently funny to her. I lose my temper and tell her off for doing so. She looks at me with tears welling up in her eyes and tries to hug me. I dodge her attempt to be close to me and go on to clean up the mess rather angrily. As I calm down, I feel like a downright lousy mother as I realise I should have been more patient and that I should have held my tongue and accepted her gesture of apology.
These are just two of the infinite permutations on how I feel that I have let my daughter down. And I have been struck by this guilt every single day ever since she was born. Have I done anything right? There isn’t a pat on my back to make me think otherwise. And it’s not like parents are routinely entitled to pats on the back. In fact, criticisms inundate my everyday, and it’s up to me to filter them and take up the constructive ones, but it is just so darn difficult when I doubt myself to begin with. On good days, I shrug the guilt off and know that it is okay that I tripped up. On bad days, like today, I crumble.
This evening, as F clung onto me tightly with her head buried in my chest for our bedtime prayer, I took in her baby scent and am reminded of how small a person I am and yet, how much she needed me, and how much she needed me to be BIG. I asked God to help me become what I can never be without Him, to help me do something right, and I broke into sobs mid-prayer. It was then when F drew her head back away from my chest and looked at me with so much love and concern in her eyes that I knew my prayer was answered in an instant.
“Mama, you want tissue?” She asked gently, yet earnestly as she stroked my face and nodded to urge me to go on and take a piece of tissue.
And there and then, I thought, of all the things I have done wrong, I might have done one thing right.
I know, I know. I have gone way off the baking and cooking radar for the longest time, since late 2011, I reckon. You know my excuses. I’ve moved across three countries. I got pregnant. And before I know it, my hands were full with a newborn, then a baby, and now a toddler. These days, I write less about my culinary adventures (or rather, lack thereof) and more about the ups and downs in motherhood. Some of you have left, some of you have stuck around to see what I’m up to, some of you have joined me in this new and permanent part of my journey. But I am still here, and I suspect that I might always be.
You see, this blog is not just another website. Not to me, at least. It chronicles my everything, and everything about me (well, almost). It documents challenges I have faced in life, be it graduate school a few couple of years ago, my new then-life in a foreign land, and yes, food too. I remember the first time I bought my very own set of baking equipment. We had just moved to London in 2007, and I was keen to pick up baking again since the kitchen was all ours. I bagged the cheapest of the basics I could find, including a very noisy handheld mixer from Tesco which cost me only £3.99. It served me well, taking me from basic cupcakes, to layered cakes, chiffon and even macarons.
Each time I learnt something new, I was absolutely delighted, but not without feeling utterly deflated at my failed first attempts. I was amazed at how basic ingredients could yield all sorts of tasty morsels, and how every quantity, step and trick made the world of a difference. It was particularly rewarding, when I stumbled upon random tricks on my own; baking is almost magical to me, save for the fact that its roots actually lie in the heart of science.
After leaving London, I barely had the opportunity to learn new recipes. My repertoire was old and tired, and it was mostly executed to feed my husband and daughter, or for special occasions. I have very, very loyal fans though. Most people are always happy to have a slice of my signature chiffon cake or that soft cookie or the grand old dame of a red velvet cake, and I am truly thankful that they still appreciate what I do. But that isn’t enough for me. Soon, I got bored of my own creations. Sad, but true.
I have been pushing myself to try out new recipes, to conquer new pastries and master new dishes. It’s not working out too well, as all this takes far too much time, something that I am in desperate need of. But I’ve stolen pockets of it, when F sleeps (thank goodness we insisted on early bedtime), when M is finally free from crazy shifts to help me with her. A month or two ago, I was really happy to have nailed the tart (the pastry, not a person), and filled them with lemon curd (also a first in my culinary adventure, I know…I’m real slow), or dark chocolate ganache and sea salted caramel. They were, IMHO, absolutely spot-on! I was on cloud nine when I learnt that the tarts were well-received…that buzzzzz, that joy I get when I know my bakes have made someone very happy…
I wish I have more opportunities at some point to challenge myself. I could use with feeling a little more accomplished than just doing what I have been doing thus far. I miss dreaming up exciting flavours in my sleep, and jumping out of bed to get cracking in the kitchen. I miss scribbling ideas on random scraps of paper, and hopping into the pantry in the middle of the night to whip something up. Those days were absolutely glorious, utterly inspired and undeniably pleasurable…and those days couldn’t come sooner.
“Unkindness is inspired by hatred, anger fuels it into action in which there is no great joy; it would take sadism to turn it into something pleasurable; unkind people imagine themselves to be inflicting pain on someone equally unkind.”
- Marcel Proust, The Guermantes Way
Raise your hands, all of you who have been victims of unkindness. Oh yes, I’m sure we have all been trampled on by someone at one point, some of us getting it worse and/or more often than others.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this because I am a mother now, and I have been asking myself how I would like to raise F. Most of my life, I have been there, eating dust, meek, smiling as I (figuratively) get slapped in the face because it was not in my nature to retaliate, especially if the unkind were elders. It was only in my late twenties that I started learning fair ways of standing up for myself and the people I love, without being noxious to the perpetrators. Sometimes, it works; at other times, it doesn’t. Sometimes, I keep my cool; sometimes, I lose my cool. But above all, I’ve learnt that there is a reason why people can be unkind, and if we can remember that, then we would not and need not feel sorry for ourselves.
Ahhh, yes. It may not look it, given that I have been airing my thoughts publicly for a decade now, but I have felt victimised before by various forms of unkindness, ranging from outright bullying to malignant criticism to being cruelly ridiculed and cornered for that innocuous seed of information that would be miraculously spun into a mossy tangle of rumours. I used to blame myself, and think that people must have a good reason for doing this to me, but as I grew older and learnt the ropes of life, I realised that these, being unprovoked, were done (mostly by the same group of people) to bring me down. But I fought, not to hurt them back because that would mean stooping to a new low, much like the perpetrators, but to stand up tall with a clear conscience, and be happy regardless.
The truth is unkind people are discontented, deeply unhappy, insecure, and dare I say, jealous. If you think about it, there is absolutely no reason for genuinely happy, contented and loving people to gloat over another’s misfortune, put people down to make themselves feel happier, or be sadistic. Now that I know better, they are the ones I actually feel sorry for, because nothing else makes them more elated than being unkind and watching their victims squirm. How devastating it must be to lead that life, to wake up every morning thinking up ways of bullying people they think they have a right to despise, when everyone else is probably waking up to the joy of being alive so they can love, live, give back, and laugh.
And so, I tell my husband, M, that I do not wish to raise F to be an elitist, one who is revered for how well she does in school, how much money she makes, how well she plays sports, the type of car she drives or the district she lives in. There is absolutely no value in any of that. Instead, I want F to be strong enough to stand up against the unkind and not crumble like her mother once did, because let’s face it, the grotesque nature of Man will always be plain for all to see. It breaks my heart that I will not always be around to shield her from bullying, even at such a tender age (sad to say, I have heard kids pointing at an overweight man crossing the road and yelling, ‘PREGNANT MAN, HAHAHAHAHA’ (and get this) in the presence of their parents, who do NOTHING to correct them). And it breaks my heart that she is going to have to take the fall a few times before learning what I learnt the hard way. But yes, I hope for her to be strong enough one day. Above all, I want F to be as kind and loving as humanly possible, because we could all use another friendly face, don’t we?
Yes, we could. Even those who have been unkind, for I am sure they would want their children and loved ones to be free of bullying.
Kindness begets kindness. Don’t ever forget that.