Category Archives: Meme

We Choose What We Choose

Today, I bumped into a university classmate whom I haven’t seen in about ten years.

“So…are you still a stay-at-home-mother?”

“Yeap, I am.”

“Oh my…but it’s..it’s such a waste..! You could be a high-flyer by now.” (At this point, my friend was in disbelief, placing a palm over his forehead.)

I knew he didn’t mean any harm. I knew that he was just thinking aloud about how a girl who used to be one of the top students in the cohort could go from having a paved road to success ahead of her to being a mother who stays home now.

A few months ago, I would have been utterly shattered by a remark such as this. Because that was how I used to feel about myself most of the time, that I was worthless because I was doing something that couldn’t be measured by assessments, key performance indicators and results, and hence, it felt like I was doing nothing even though my exhaustion and lack of time to myself spoke otherwise.

Today, I blinked back my tears (that reek of years of being ridiculed and talked about) and put all naysayers (intentional or not) in their rightful place.

“No. I choose to be with my children. I am lucky in that we don’t need two incomes to survive, so I decided that it is more valuable for me to be with my kids than to be out there advancing my professional life. It is hard, because I don’t like everything that is associated with staying home, but we choose what we choose.”

“But, wow, you could have been…”

“Yes, I could have been a professor or a research director by now, but I am raising my children to be the future of our society, and that is priceless.”

“…Yeah…I guess women can choose. Men can’t.”

“No, men can choose too. My husband chose and lives with the consequences and ridicule from family, friends, colleagues and patients everyday. But, we choose what we choose.”

“…”

I have always known that I am not the sort who can juggle work and family life. I know I would not do remotely okay at all, on both ends, because I am an all-or-nothing sort of person. In a parallel universe, I would be completely focused on my career and having children may not even be part of my plan. But right here, right now, in this universe, I am very blessed to be in a situation where my husband is alright with and comfortable with being the sole breadwinner. We are not in need and do not require both of us to work to make ends meet. When I was faced with the dilemma of going back to work and staying home for the family, my hands and legs were not tied, and I chose what I chose because of my circumstances and outlook then. Faith refused to take the bottle and I didn’t have an alternative, trusted caregiver who was willing to take care of her when she was screaming bloody murder at every feed. M was working 100 hours a week and we hardly saw him. I knew that I wanted to be home for Faith, to tide her through; weeks became months, months became years. I don’t like everything that is associated with the (at-times) thankless, mundane, unglamorous job of being a stay-at-home-mother. I have struggled long and hard with it over the past five years and I often questioned myself if I was doing any good being home. Over the past few months, certain things have surfaced on the personal front and I have changed; I am no longer that person.

Now, when someone says that I am wasting my talent, intelligence, education and time by being home, instead of letting them run me to the ground, I wonder, in defiance, if people would say that it is a waste of a woman’s talent, intelligence, education and time by being the director of a company or the top investment banker instead of being home all the time to take care of her children. Not common, I’d say. But, I know how people jump to conclusions and say that a working mum isn’t spending enough time with her children and how ridiculous it is that she should delegate caregiving to helpers, nannies, or grandparents when she, as a mother, should do it, as if these naysayers know her struggles and tears? How can it be fair to the mum who works herself to the bone, trying to succeed, make ends meet and be there for her children at the same time, when someone says something like that to her? And how can it be fair to someone who stays home like I do, when I am being told that I am wasting everything I have got by being home?

We walk different paths, steered by circumstances and our personalities which ultimately shape our decisions. Some decisions are more easily made than others, some decisions require a heart (not guts!) of steel to pull off, and some decisions have us wondering if we are doing the right thing for the rest of our lives. We make a myriad of these decisions, everyday, and it is terribly taxing on us.

So…working mums, SAHMs, WAHMs, mums with help or not, we are full-time mothers. It’s hard enough as it is to be a parent, to raise our children to be decent, loving people in this mad, mad world. Let no one run you down, whether the person is doing it intentionally or not, because it takes an ocean of courage and unparalleled strength to walk the paths of thorns we chose. Take a deep breath, assert yourself, look at the person in the eye, and say, “We choose what we choose.”

 

 

Mine

I nursed my little boy for the last time on 27 February 2017. There were no tears from the 23-month-old the next day, but boy, did Mama weep.

It all started a few weeks before that, when the husband and I felt that he could do away with the morning and pre-nap feeds as I noticed he was merely comfort-sucking and not actually taking in any milk. Those feeds were, surprisingly, incredibly easy to wean off. All I had to do was plonk him on my lap in the mornings and tell him that there was no need for Mama’s milk, and he would happily run off to the living room to rummage through his toys. For naps, I used to lie down beside him on my bed and have him feed until he drifted off to sleep, but when it came to weaning the pre-nap feed, I told him that he could hug me instead and we could fall asleep together, and he happily did just that too. It all seemed too easy.

I didn’t think too much of weaning E off those two feeds, because I still had the opportunity to nurse him at bedtime and I didn’t really mind doing that except for the fact that he was due to start school soon; from our experience, we reckoned it was just better to at least plan to wean him off completely before he embarked on the next phase in life. I didn’t have a date or plan in mind, in part due to my lack of experience in actively weaning a child (F weaned herself off the final morning feed at 21 months old, she simply ran into our bedroom while we were holidaying in Hanoi and watched cartoons before breakfast was served) and also my reluctance to let go of my baby, who seemed to have sprouted overnight, far quicker than what Mama’s heart could cope with.

I don’t know what prompted me to start weaning E off the bedtime feed on the last day of February. M was working late that evening, and I had just cleaned the kids up after getting them fed at dinner. Before I knew it, I whipped out the bedtime story (Time For Bed by Mem Fox)  that I have been reading to F for years and told E that Mama’s milk was ‘spoilt’, that we could read a book instead and I would cuddle him as he falls asleep, and he…said, “Okay!” He was clearly ready. I wasn’t, and I still don’t know what possessed me to wean him off before I was done.

This went on for a few nights and that…was it. No tears, no drama, just my boy reading (what is now) his favourite book whilst sitting on my lap, and me cuddling him to sleep. A week after the final feed, E even said this a few times while we were in the car on the way to F’s school, “No more Mama milk. Spoil spoil. Read book, okay? Sleep sleep.”

Oh, how my heart broke.

Breastfeeding had been a part of my life for the past five years. It’s almost all I know about feeding a child. You see, both my children refused the bottle and I latched them on for 99.98% of their milk feeds (0.2% being the bottle feeds which failed spectacularly). I had felt trapped at first. I couldn’t go anywhere without them. I barely slept because no one else could bottle-feed them. If I went anywhere without them, it was for my annual haircut, and even then, I was anxious the whole time and sped home just to be back in time for the next feed. Both F and E had painful reflux too, E being the one who suffered from a more severe form than F did. E, especially, screamed hysterically and arched whenever I tried to feed him; for two months, I thought he hated me. Every feed had me wrestling him (not kidding) until I perspired and both of us ended in tears. He was underweight (completely off the chart, not even on the lowest percentile) and yet, was pained by nursing. I was devastated and exhausted and at my wit’s end as to how I should help him put on weight without causing him pain. It was cruel and punishing to go through this, even as I fended off naysayers who had much to say about my breastfeeding. Our paediatrician then put him on MUPS and much too slowly, breastfeeding grew to be a mildly better experience. But it was too late, breastfeeding had scarred me physically and emotionally. I was bone-tired, resentful, and I felt unattractive, having to bear witness to what pregnancy and motherhood had done to my body over the past five years.

Yet, I didn’t want to stop nursing my children. As much as I felt tied down, it was the one way I knew how to mother. If I couldn’t meet their other needs, I could still nurse them. If nothing else went right in motherhood, there was nursing to count on. And there were plenty of occasions when they smiled and cooed and played peekaboo with me as they nursed. Breastfeeding, as gruelling as it was, forged unbreakable bonds between my children and me, and weaning felt like some sort of an un-welcomed rite of passage.

They are growing up much too quickly for me to play catch-up. I am losing them.

For both F and E, I checked on my supply each time I was in the shower after they weaned. It took more than a month before my supply dried up for F. It took two weeks in E’s case. I cried in the shower that evening. We were holidaying in Bali, and there I was, standing in the shower,  relieved (and feeling guilty at the relief) that I need not sacrifice my body that way again just to keep my children alive, mourning every single night when I had the opportunity to hold them close to me and comfort them, wincing as I tried to forget the hurtful remarks that people had hurled at me for breastfeeding my children, trying desperately to recall that twinkle in my baby’s eye as he or she nursed, stroking my fingers absent-mindedly as I struggled to remember how they clung onto my index finger with their tiny, tiny hands. Five years went much too quickly, but the days were so very long and at times, painful indeed.

A month has since passed and E has cheekily asked for Mama’s milk on a few occasions. Sometimes, I catch myself lifting up my top when I hold E in my arms as I put him to bed, only to stop halfway and realise that I have nothing left to give. But I guess we still have cuddles. I will always have cuddles, so long as they let me.

And when that is no longer, the memories are forever mine to keep.

 Photography: Grow Old With Me

The Girl On The Airplane

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.

Love Me. Love, Me.

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.

“Dear You,

Love Me.

Love, Me.”

Happy Valentine’s Day, to all who love and are still wandering, in search for the love within. 

 

Remember Me This Way

Festive seasons are hard for me, especially when we have to gather with people. You know those questions that people get during the Lunar New Year?

“When are you getting married? You are not getting any younger!”

“Har?! Married for XXX years and still not pregnant?!”

“You should have a boy next!” (If you already have a daughter.)

“You should have a girl soon!” (If you already have a son.)

“You should have a third!” (If you already have two children. Or have a girl if you have two sons, a boy if you have two daughters. As if procreation is a service that you can order online and have DHL deliver it to you.)

“WOW, FOUR!” (Accompanied with one raised brow and a smile of a mocking Cheshire cat.)

I have only been subjected to a few of these interrogations as I had the luxury of being away in London for 5 years while I got married and had my first child. Since returning home, however, I haven’t been spared from the curiosity that (unfortunately) didn’t ‘kill’ the cats.

Yesterday evening, I attended a dinner with the in-laws’ extended family and I shed a few tears and lost sleep over what ensued from some conversations. The same, old, tired shit that happens every year.

Catching up:

“So, Rachel, you still taking care of the kids from Monday to Friday?”

“Yes, I am.” (And I wanted to add Saturday and Sunday to the list of days I’m working too.)

“You….don’t go out to take classes to learn something?”

“No, because I need to take care of the kids.”

“You…don’t do anything for yourself?”

“Oh yes, I bake and sell.”

“Oh.”

Being a SAHM, I clearly do not have anything in common with mothers who have high-flying careers. Apparently. From this convo.

When caught not drinking alcohol:

“Why are you not drinking? Are you still breastfeeding?”

“Yes, I am.”

“WHAT?! Still breastfeeding?! OMG, I cannot believe it!” (This was said with disdain, not admiration, mind you.)

“Yeap.”

On sending Faith to XXX primary school:

“So which primary school are you intending to register Faith at?”

“XXX primary, I guess. I am not particularly keen but given the number of phases and restrictions, going via the alumni route seems to be an easier way of getting her into a primary school that is close enough to us, instead of getting dumped into a school even further away. We are still thinking about our options.”

“Har?! Your daughter is just like you, right? If your daughter’s character is like yours, then I think she wouldn’t fit into such a competitive school culture.”

(I had this irresistible urge to point out that I was one of the top students in an elite secondary school and two of the best universities in the world. You know, brag till the cows come home in the name of self-defence, even though I don’t actually believe my achievements at school and at work reflect my abilities; I tend to think all those achievements were flukes.)

It felt like I was stabbed in my heart several times over. I think the questions and remarks made by this relative were innocuous because she is more of a straight-talker who wears her heart on her sleeve than a person who is out to hurt another, but I couldn’t help feeling like I…wasn’t enough after the conversation.

Did I choose to be a SAHM because I wasn’t competitive or driven enough?

Is my son still on the breast because I invested too much of who I am in him? 

Am I a poor role model for my kids because I stay home and take care of them, and that I don’t go out and learn new things to stay in touch with the world?

Have I been forgotten by once-friends and the society because I chose to be a SAHM?

Am I a lesser person because I am not a working mother?

Am I now…irrelevant in the age where success is measured by salary, power and the time one spends at work? 

I couldn’t sleep yesterday night. I tossed and turned and cried myself to sleep. Have I gotten it all wrong?

Then, I thought about someone I had visited in the morning. She is bedridden, frail and struggles to open her eyes. Breathing is weak, laboured and a luxury. Her body is eaten up by sickness, and what was once a whole person, a mother, wife and friend, is now reduced to a shell. People would hardly remember what she has achieved or how much she earned or how she struck the perfect work-life balance between her career and her family. Those who gather around her would instead, fondly remember her loving, caring, giving ways that made the world a better place for them. Or at least, that is what I’d like to think it should be when we arrive at the winter of our lives. 

It’s never easy to be questioned about your decisions that were so painful to make in the first place. I don’t always sail through them and quite often doubt what I am doing when Envy, Expectations, Struggles, Comparisons get the better of me. I am a work-in-progress and my thoughts are too. But I hope, working mother or not, I will leave the world a better place for my children and loved ones to live in. That in small ways, where I have been forgotten in a world that sees otherwise as Success, when my breathing is laboured and weak, when my flesh is being chipped away by Time, my children will love and fondly remember me for the mother I have been to them.

 

 

2016, Do You Have to Go?

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.

I will be brave. For them, for me.

I Don’t Want You To Go To Work

For the past month or so, F has been telling me that she doesn’t want me to go to work. Now, this caught me by surprise because I have never spoken to her about my thoughts about returning to the workforce. She understands that Papa goes to work to provide for us, and that Mama bakes in the night whenever she can to help with minor household expenses.

Being a SAHM was not part of my plan when I gave birth to F. Back then, I struggled with the decision to leave the workforce (a decision made for a few pressing reasons) and it was indeed painful to say goodbye to my career after years of hard work in research and graduate education, as well as time spent working in London. I still struggle with the consequences of my decision today, especially when I get that-taitai-flak for being a SAHM or when people seem to think that I have no aspirations post-PhD, that I do shit at home and bake for fun because I am a Stepford wife or something. But, I have to say that I am better at embracing this decision we have made as a family more than three years on, because this is what works best for us, even if it means making sacrifices that can be unpalatable or very stressful at times.

Now that E is older, I have thought about going back to work (even if my tendency lies with being home with the kids), and if I do, it would be (mainly) to help with the finances. I would love to take the pressure off the husband, but I would be doing it at the expense of my time with the children, something that I have had the privilege of enjoying over the past 3.5 years, and I don’t know if it’s worth it. Sure, there is a small part of me that misses being out there, working on projects, getting back into the kind of research I was doing after grad school, and I miss being in the rush of problem-solving that doesn’t involve getting tangles out of my daughter’s hair, negotiating naptimes or the best way to change my son’s poopy diaper without him kicking and screaming, but that’s not nearly as important to me anymore in the grander scheme of things. Perhaps a part-time arrangement would work better for us, financially, stimulation-wise, kids-wise, or maybe part-time work wouldn’t get any of us anywhere, I don’t know.

These are just some of the many thoughts that tear me apart from time to time, and I do look to the Big Man Upstairs and ask, “What am I to do? What would You have me do?”

Then, out of the blue, F comes along and says, “Mama, I want you to stay at home. I don’t want you to go to work because I don’t want to be alone.” So I guess that’s that. For now. Clarity, closure, an answer to quell the uncertainties I had on where I would be better placed in our current circumstance.

Perhaps, things may change in the future. The children may have different needs. It may very well do the children more good, in one way or another, if I were to go back to work. Who knows? But right now, F’s repeated request makes me feel okay about staying home and not helping out much financially. I don’t feel as guilty about the husband working so hard because F made me realise that I have done something (intangible yes, but) valuable enough for her to want me to be home, and that, I can’t just write off like I typically do with my best and worst efforts. What I do means more than what I give it credit for, and it germinates and nurtures something that I can’t see or measure. It doesn’t make me less of a mother, even if I don’t have the means to provide for their necessities and  nice-to-have’s, and it certainly doesn’t make me less of a role model even though I am not that driven, career woman for them to look up to. If staying home means that we have to make some adjustments financially and that the journey to getting where I want to be aspirations-wise has to slow down, then so be it. I am just thankful that I have the husband’s and children’s blessings to still do what I do, and that we are still living comfortably without having to make huge sacrifices whilst on a single income. I am also thankful for F to say this out loud to me every day; I know her desire for me to stay home is implied and yet, obvious, as with most children who yearn to be with their parents, but listening to her speak up about this issue, which I have never brought up to her, is nothing short of a divine and timely reminder of the importance of what I do.

Most mothers I know, working and stay-at-home alike, go through some variant of this emotional turmoil. It doesn’t matter what form the struggle takes; we have all been torn apart by stereotypes, our aspirations, needs, roles and wants at some point, or for several times in a day. May we continue to do what’s necessary and what works best for our families.

Goodbye, 2015

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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.

ANT_5787 “BRING IT ON, TWO O ONE SIX!”