The here and now and a bit of way back then

I relived my journey to 40 and found there's so much more to say

A family reunited

Hoorah! With less than 12 hours to go, I feel I can safely congratulate myself on getting through nine months of solo parenting. On less than 12 bottles of wine throughout that time. Give or take a gin, whiskey or two. You know what, I think I may crack open a bottle of wine tomorrow in celebration.

It is not just the end to solo parenting that I’m looking forward to. Parenting in itself will throw up the same challenges whether there is one parent or multiples parents around. I don’t think in that respect, anything that I’ve had to deal with has been any harder just because I have been on my own. Though I think what has been hard is that there has been no respite from it. No one to give you that time to recharge yourself for the next round and no one to share the load of just how unreasonable small people can be. No one else for me to say, ‘Can you please just tell them…’ in a way that would suggest another person will make any difference to the bickering going on.

It has definitely been an intense nine months of solo parenting. And yet, I feel thankful for it too. Of course there have been plenty of times I have felt like quietly disappearing to my room to escape them but I would not exchange my role for Husband’s. I can imagine the last nine months has been harder on him being apart from us. Watching from afar as we have struggled through extremely tough and turbulent times and not being able to be the support that he wants to be.  Equally being unable to join in all the new experiences that we have had and all the new friends that we have made whilst trying to fill too much free time.

But we have made it through, as I knew we would. Although at the very beginning, before the very beginning when Husband first said that most likely I would have to come back alone with #1, 2 and 3, I did fleetingly wonder how that would work. How can you split a family apart and make it work? And for how long can you do that for? I had discussions with other friends in similar situations and we all decided that up to a year was doable. Anything longer is not sustainable. But thankfully we won’t have to think about that.

As I reflect upon the last nine months, I feel in a bit of a daze that so much time has gone by and in particular all that we have been through. It hasn’t been as simple as moving back and settling into a new town with new friends to find and a new routine to establish. All this and a bereavement too. Being on my own meant that I had to get up and get going every day. To do otherwise was out of the question. And there were many times that another parent would have helped the day run much better. I can think of the moments I would rather forget but I am also amazed and proud that we did get through them.

So finally, I feel it is time to exhale and relax a little. For when Husband arrives tomorrow, we will no longer be counting the days we have until our family is split across two continents and different time zones again. I feel that we can now start ‘living’ our new life. That’s not to say that #1, 2 and 3 and I have not been living our new life. We have and we are doing it really well. But it has also felt like we have been living ‘on hold’ too if you get what I mean.

Just last week, we were walking through town and noticing all the different places we have yet to try out and with Husband’s pending arrival, we can now include him in our plans and that feels so much better. We can start thinking about all the places we can explore and take him to visit the places that we’ve already been to. We can start thinking like a family.

This evening, #1, 2 and 3 were so excited it took them a long time to fall asleep. They cannot wait to see their Daddy. It’s been almost four months since they last saw him. I know people say children are much more resilient than we think and they have handled all the changes with acceptance and an open mind. But I have not enjoyed wiping away their tears over missing their Daddy and for him to miss out on Birthdays and school performances and the joy of their company (when all is good) on a regular day. We have asked a lot of the children and I would not want to put them through this again.

When you need to do something and you think at first you haven’t got it in you, it all falls into place eventually. Taking each day as it comes, you discover quite unexpectedly one day just how far you have come and surprise yourself with how good that feels. I have been strong and resilient and also fallen into a crumpled heap during this time. I have forced myself to be brave when I wasn’t feeling it. Being the only grown up in a household is quite scary. You have to lead the way all the time and be expected to know what to do! I will appreciate the company of another grown up so that I’m not the only one making all the decisions and that includes what we’re having for dinner every night.

Tomorrow starts the beginning of another new adventure and no doubt we will need some time to adjust again. But this time, we begin as a family reunited and it’s time we got to be one again.

Double hoorah!

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Mother’s Day with three

Last year, I wrote about what a lazy Mother’s Day I was having. Pah. I should have kept my mouth shut because this year the word lazy has not been part of it. It’s amazing to think how different my parenting role is now, compared to a year ago.

A mere 12 months ago, I was a working parent where I saw my children half an hour in the morning and sometimes as little as half an hour just before they went to bed. Hardly any time at all and I had live in home help taking care of the daily household chores. Whilst I always knew, I can confirm with myself now just how relatively easy I had it back then. Even though I was juggling many things at once, there was a big chunk of home life that was taken care of. Having home help always made me feel slightly fraudulent as a parent even though in Singapore it was the accepted. Support systems work differently in an economy where home help is affordable and it’s all relative to the environment you are living in. Most new Expats struggle with the concept of home help, especially when they’re not working but from my own experience, I would say take it. Even though it comes with challenges of its own, having the time it enables is a positive to put to good use. The present I’m in now is not infinitely much harder, the balance is just different.

To make up for lost time, I am with my children by myself Every Single Day. Bar the hours they spend at school. At weekends that’s a straight 42 hours. And I wonder why I feel like I need a nap come Monday morning.

When it became apparent that this move back to the UK would be led by myself for some time, it was definitely a daunting prospect. Not just because I was out of practice with all things UK but because, if I am honest, I was basically not used to having my own children to myself all the time.  No matter how involved you are, whether a working or non working parent, you always have that extra pair of hands so that you don’t have to do everything yourself. And sometimes, that extra pair of hands means that when things are going tantrum, whether from you or them, you always have that option of taking yourself or them out of the situation so that even though things may reach simmering, it never reaches boiling point.

And another luxury of home help, is Time. Whether that be for yourself and partner or for your children. When you don’t have to do the daily chores, you have so much more time for all the lovely stuff and homework. In my new parenting life, I miss the lull between finishing dinner to getting ready for bedtime. There is no lull now. From the moment the children finish school to until they’re asleep, it’s like I work through a checklist of Things That Must Be Done to conquer bedtime on time. I’ve never moved so fast and think I would be highly efficient on a factory production line. But with trying to be efficient, I’m constantly verbalising instructions because as is the want of young children they seem to take in one word of a sentence each time it’s repeated. Sometimes I can feel myself losing the will to be heard and just stop talking much to the relief of them and myself.

I’ve been various types of Mums. The Stay at Home Mum with home help, the Working Mum and now the Solo Parenting Mum. The Solo Parenting at times Shouty Harassed Mum for full disclosure. When I’m that Mum, it feels like my head is going to explode and expletives are going to shoot out like rainbows and stardust. Sometimes it also makes me want to crumple into a heap sobbing at how feral my three children appear to be. And it’s only by my own self imposed rule of not drinking alone that I’m not downing a case of wine each week. However, I have been known to offer parents who cross the threshold a glass around 3.30pm and it also counts if you’re having a chat with someone on the phone.

And whilst I can’t say which I preferred, I can say that in each reincarnation, there is always a degree of guilt. Guilty that I’m not contributing financially and having a lovely time going on play dates and having coffee. Guilty that I’m contributing financially but not going on play dates and having coffee. Guilty that I’m not contributing financially and not going on play dates and having coffee because I have laundry and cooking to do and everything becomes ‘Just one minute’.

At the very start, I was told that guilt will follow every parent wherever they go. The degree to which I feel that guilt varies day to day and can be about anything. With my newfound Solo Parenting experience, I miss the opportunity of spending time with each child on their own. I can see how important it is for each child to have their own time with a parent. They all want to be heard and because there is no other parent to go to, I often have all three talking to me at once. I have only recently started a ticket queuing system with them and putting them on hold so that at least only one conversation is going on at a time. #1, 2 and 3 are at an age where each has their own individual interests and the world is an exciting place that they’re exploring and each new discovery is so amazing that it has to be shared immediately.

But there is only one of me and whilst being able to multi task is one thing, I find it impossible to function with three conversations going on at once whilst trying to focus on the checklist of things that need to be done. It’s an absolute necessity to have to tell a child to wait and for them not be annoyed about it. But I often forget this as I react and respond immediately to what’s happening and then my brain gets frazzled and then it does not end very well. Then Guilt pays a visit. And there are days where I am the only one who seems interested in getting through the checklist of things that need to be done and #1, 2 and 3 don’t really seem to care at all. And I try and not care but I really want the checklist to bedtime to be done and feel upset that no one younger than me in this household seems to care and then it does not end very well.

It has not been all volcanic eruptions and chaos. On our own we have had some amazing times. Full of fun, smiles, wonder as we explore new places together. And being the only parent around, you get to have all the hugs, kisses and cuddles. I would not want to give that up for anything.

Of course, whilst Solo Parenting and being the rock to support three young children adapt to a new home, country, school life with no friends, I wasn’t expecting to lose a parent myself and that has had a profound effect on things. How have we all functioned during this time? I wish they didn’t have to experience this with me and I will always feel guilty that to have gone through such and upheaval they had this emotional maelstrom dumped on them too.

I know that #1, 2 and 3 have kept me moving through the day. No matter what I may have felt like doing or not doing in the days following our loss, there was no time to dwell on things or imagine a day spent in bed or in my pyjamas watching day time tv. Children need to be cared for and be places. This is where the routine of their day, helped to shape mine. I was also trying to comfort them and provide an understanding of an unfamiliar world whilst I myself was feeling such deep pain and sadness. I don’t know how they will remember this period and I wonder what memory they will have thinking back when Mummy was an incredibly sad and teary mess with no other grown up around them to make it better. But again, children are amazing and so resilient and accepting. I think they have a better understanding and empathy and that grief and sadness is how we express the loss of someone so important to us.  But I feel guilty that for ones so young, they felt it was their responsibility to try and ease some of my pain. As hard as I  have tried, there have been many moments in days where I haven’t been able to hide it from them.

I know that it’s ok to let them see Mummy or any grown up, being upset over something but some days I just didn’t want it to be seen as an unhappy day. There came a moment, where I felt incredibly sad that they were sad and I knew without doubt that this is not what my Dad would have wanted for any of us. And so I told them so. I told them that I know in our hearts we are sad but we are also allowed to feel happy about the good in each day and to feel this way would not mean that we missed the person we have lost any less. This was a relief for me too to realise that much of their day was like normal and they were having the same squabbles and getting angry over the same injustices like before and it was my reaction through grief and weariness that made it feel like it was so much bigger and hopeless than it actually was.

Thankfully, I hope we will soon be back to being a family of five living in the same country. I am looking forward to that in so many ways. Solo Parenting these past eight months has been tough and tiring but we’re also in a good rhythm now even if there are days I have a mini laundry mountain going on or every surface anywhere is occupied by bits of Lego or anything. Every situation is a matter of getting used to it, even if it’s not ideal. In this time, I have learnt a lot about myself as a parent and some parts I haven’t particularly liked and agree could certainly do better. More patience for a start. And whilst there are many times I miss working and getting involved with interesting conversations about anything outside of parenting, I do feel lucky to have had this time because I know it is so fleeting. And being so closely involved with #1, 2 and 3 has enabled me to see them deal with the challenges and flourish.

#1, 2 and 3 will never understand how much they have helped me through these recent months. The chaos can come from three different directions but so does the love. Children are great healers without even knowing it with their ability to talk unconsciously about things that make many adults shy away, children confront things head on. And the outpouring of love they have for you as their parent, well we all know what love can do. Their keenness to try and make you smile, the empathy they have that surpasses many adults. And their lovely, warm hugs and kisses. Without which, every day would feel that little bit less lovely.

#1, 2 and 3 have already done more than enough to make today happy and I was so touched when #3 was adamant that she was to buy me a beautiful card and Lindt chocolate bunny out of her own money instead of spending it on herself. I know you know this, but #1, 2 and 3, you are all amazing.

This Mother’s Day I got to spend the day with my Mum and my wonderful cousin and that’s what I really needed. I realised as I headed back home that these two women have done this before me. Not just being parents but parenting through challenges far greater than this. No matter how much responsibility I have or how well I am handling it, I feel instantly much more able to cope when among those who have been parents far longer than I have. Their support and sense of calm anchors me during times of great upheaval as they know what it’s all about and things will pass.

Happy Mother’s Day and much love to my three children.

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International Women’s Day 2018 – #PressforProgress

Following the momentum of important gender equality issues that were raised since last year’s International Women’s Day, this year’s theme focuses on #PressforProgress.

What exactly does gender equality mean to you and for you? Do we even think about it enough. And what are we doing in contribution. It’s only been in the last few year’s that I’ve taken a closer interest in what the campaign is all about for that year’s International Women’s Day.  I feel I’ve been on the periphery of real action towards any chance of achieving real equality for all.

As a parent of three young children, I feel, I hope that so far Husband and I are raising them without it being based on gender specifics. I want them to just be as they are. But sometimes, even at such a tender age, I find that I have to challenge their perception of themselves.

“I don’t want the girl plate.”  But do you want what’s on the plate?

“That’s a boy top.” Would you rather be warm or cold?

“Girls/Boys can’t do that.” Yes they can. There’s nothing girls and women can do that boys and men can’t do. And because my daughter is going to be a future trailblazer, she says to me but “Mummy, Daddy’s don’t have the babies.” Ok, that is true but without the Daddy contributing in some way, there would be no babies.

That to me also sums up the journey towards gender equality. It is not just a women’s challenge but also men’s too. We fortunately live in an age and a part of the world where more and more men are vocalising the need for equality. Conversations with a good friend gives me hope that our children will be faced with a more equal, kinder future. At the same time, we will be raising them to be strong, resilient and brave. And that’s not easy to do because at times you’re challenging not just society’s view on gender equality but also the views of people around you.

The throwaway comments that include gender bias annoy me the most. As do using gender as an excuse for behaviour discrepancies. Children are highly impressionable and easily influenced by what the grown ups around them say. Pressing for progress means being mindful of what you say around children that undermines their ability to do something because of gender or even undermining your own ability because of gender. I know this makes some people feel like their hands are tied. Comments like not being able to say anything because it’s considered inappropriate or politically incorrect. Everyone’s brain and mouth should have that filter. Even if once it wasn’t necessary, times have changed and if we strive to keep up with all the latest fashion and technology, then we sure enough need to keep up with the changing way of thinking.

For years I glossed over gender inequality in my own culture. It’s no secret that in Asian culture males were thought of more highly than females. But to be honest, in my own experience, I never felt it hindered how I lived my own life thankfully. My Dad, Mr Li, was such a risk averse man that I think he would have fretted over everything I did regardless of my gender. And yet, he never stopped me from doing anything that I chose to do. And that is hugely important.

During my time in Singapore and living closely to other countries where gender equality really will take 200 years to achieve, it opened up my eyes to the privilege that we do have. We have access to good quality education, careers and the right to choose where we want to be. Yes, we still have some distance to go otherwise all the conversations going on today wouldn’t be taking place. But I’ve caught a glimpse of women without this privilege. It was hard to delve too deep into the lives of the helpers who worked for us in Singapore. To hear of the lifestyle they led and the reasons why they left their homes and families to come and work as a domestic helper in a foreign country at great risk and cost. Poverty and lack of education was usually the driving force. But even those who were educated professionals in their home countries said that working as a foreign domestic worker paid more than their previous career. And whilst these women are able to provide a new home, education for their children and a life of less hardship for aging parents, the sacrifices are huge.

Reading up on the stories that have been shared today show us how much there is left to do and perhaps it will take 200 years for true equality. However we are the generation that will sow the seeds of change and change needs to start somewhere. It starts with us and being able to press for progress and change perceptions of what gender equality should really mean.

Here’s to raising a new generation that will respect themselves and each other with equality, understanding and kindness.

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A UK Lunar New Year

It’s officially Spring and the end of celebrations marking the new Year of the Dog. But where are the delicate flowering peach blossoms. Oh I forget, they’re on the other side of the globe.

The times I will miss Singapore the most will be the gap between 2 January to the Lunar New Year. Perhaps I’m just attracted by pretty decorations. No sooner are the Christmas lights whipped down then up go all the reds, gold and pinks to usher in the new Lunar year. There’s no time to dwell on the lows of the holiday season being over with when there’s preparations for another underway.

In Singapore, it was easy to embrace the Asian and Western sides to our lives. For the children in particular, who have grown up in a visibly multicultural society, this is what they know. The streets are festooned with decorations to celebrate Christmas, Chinese New Year, Hari Raya and Diwali. In between we have Easter, Halloween interspersed with friends talking about Thanksgiving and Sinterklass.

The children find it difficult to grasp that the UK is ‘home’ and why should they because it’s not been their home until now and especially when we are not living together as a full family. Perhaps over time they will when we are more settled and have a house of our own. At the same time, I want them to value the country they were born into and be proud of those roots with an understanding of life over there. I don’t think a boomerang back over to Singapore would ever be ruled out.

In the meantime though, how do you create some of over there, over here. Now that I’ve experienced living in an Asian country, I understand so much more of the cultural importance and traditions that go with certain festivals and it’s been one of the best things about living abroad. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know my cultural roots and being able to pass that on to my children. It is too easy to focus on one dominant culture and getting a balance with a second culture requires effort and reminding.

This year may have been a subdued affair at home with less of the decorations but I was happily surprised that the children remembered we needed to spring clean the house before the start of the Lunar New Year. Traditionally, on the eve of the Lunar New Year it is a time for family reunions for dinner. In Singapore, with no family around, we would have Reunion Dinner with good friends. So this year with Husband still back in Singapore, we invited a bundle of friends over and I was particularly touched by new friends who really put some thought into what should they do to help join in our celebrations of Chinese New Year. They came laden with gifts and red envelopes with chocolate coins in and asking me, ‘what should we do to celebrate?’ and I hadn’t even thought about it because I had never been asked before. Then I remembered when I was much younger, how proud and excited I felt to invite friends to the Chinese New Year celebrations in Newcastle and how they came dressed in their best outfits. So perhaps we can create our own traditions of celebrating this important festival .

I’ve already been trying. In fact, even this time last year when I thought there was a chance I wouldn’t be in Singapore I started thinking about what would I try bringing back with me. One of the biggest associations we have with the Chinese New Year in Singapore is eating a lot of pineapple tarts and last year I made my first homemade batch of tarts and then I worried about where would I find pineapples in the winter of the UK? Well it turns out that these days, nothing is quite out of season. So we had our pineapple tarts and mini cornflake cookies. We had decorations and we even had friends from Singapore join us for the first day of the New Year.

As you may know, during this time there is a strong emphasis on family. Hence Reunion Dinner and spending time with your own family as well as visiting relatives. It has been a very long time since I celebrated this festival with my family in Newcastle. Even way before we moved from the UK. It has definitely changed and grown in stature within the region so that it doesn’t just involve the Chinese community but the whole community. You could say that it has grown so popular that many Chinese people shy away from the event because of the crowds which is quite ironic.

There were firecrackers, Lion and Dragon dancing, parades in traditional dress and street food stalls. Of course not on the grand scale that we’ve been used to but a colourful celebration all the same on a winter’s afternoon.

The best part though, was being with family. Pottering around Chinatown with my Mum and my Uncle, my cousins and their children. As quietly but deeply painful and bittersweet as it was for me. I remember as a child how much fun it was to bump into older family members and pocketing lucky red packets and playing with cousins and friends my own age. In just the same way that my children were out playing with their cousins and collecting many lucky red packets.

You can’t have it all. But you can make the very best of what you have.

May this Year of the Dog bring you happiness, good health, prosperity and peace.

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Love is……..all the little things

This year I have definitely taken a tumble from my usual high horse with regards to St. Valentine’s Day. I haven’t once raised a cynical brow to all the displays of red roses, chocolates, champagne and a few non related items to love and romance that have somehow been related to love and romance. No, I just haven’t had the heart for it.

It is always the way isn’t it, that you only appreciate something when it is no longer just at your finger tips. I suppose I always felt that gestures of love and romance should happen at any time and not always be on a grand scale shop bought. I guess I want love and romance to be presented with thoughtfulness.

For exactly six and a half months now, Husband and I have been living in different time zones of sometimes seven or eight hours apart. It’s not ideal of course and it has been a true test of everything that we are or hope to be. At some point, I will look upon this time and marvel at how we did it. It is not just the distance between us that we have endured but an avalanche of events that have unexpectedly passed our way in that time.

It is quite true that we as individuals are stronger than we believe. When something hits you hard and you wonder how you’re going to face up to it and inside your heart your first thought is ‘but how?’, you just do. We seem to have unknown pockets of reserve somewhere inside of us that just keep bubbling to the surface when we need it. But I find that whilst we can be strong because we have to be, it is hard work to keep digging up those pockets of reserve. There are days where you just want to say, ‘can someone else do today please?’ and needing someone else to say, ‘you can do this again.’ I may know that I can but isn’t it lovely when someone you love and who loves you right back just gives you that little extra boost. With renewed vigour, you say, ‘I can get through today because you believe I can.’

For me, I find losing one’s parent is, among many things, a humbling experience. Humbling because you have lost someone’s unconditional love for you. Not only have you lost someone but it feels like you have lost their love too. I imagine that doesn’t make much sense. When that person is gone, all the things that they did because they loved you go too. The phone calls, the concern, the unwanted parenting advice. All the little things that one day have turned out to be the big things.

These many months apart from Husband has also made me see all the little things that he does that make up the big things. I’ve been having to make my own bedtime drink would you believe, when in the past I’d just bellow  from the sofa ‘hot drink’ like instructing one of those Amazon gadgets to play music or something. All these small every day gestures that make up your relationship and what makes you both unique to each other. Of course I can make my own bedtime drink. But it’s the act of being looked after and looking after someone that warms you up from the inside.

In this same time, I’ve been doing some intense single parenting to small people who just assume you are there to serve them, which of course I am. It’s an age full of demands and wants and unfairness times three lots. But this morning, I got woken up with these three wanting to be my Valentine and handmade Lego heart because as #1 knows how much I do love Lego.

I hope someone showed you some red hearts and love today.

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Progress is an on-going, collective responsibility

“You’re ugly because you’re from a different country.”

I want you to take a moment to absorb this statement.

How did it make you feel?





I hope it made you feel something at least.

I am not about to continue this post detailing encounters of casual racism that I have experienced throughout my life. But if I may say a little about it then whilst much progress has been made on that front, a lot more still needs to be done. I view it as a life work in progress because if you think about it, every one of us can find ourselves in the minority in some part of the world. Which means it ought to be everyone’s life work. A collective responsibility to see each other as equals regardless of race, gender, sexuality, religion, ability.

I know that many people will feel they know this already. That they live their lives actively promoting equality. And if not, then they certainly are not promoting the opposite. I feel I’m inclusive in what I do and generous with my time for those who should have it. I gravitate to like minded, inspiring, welcoming people with a certain sass about them. As such, I feel accepted and comfortable with who I am and the influences around me.

Or do I really?

Strip back the layers of tolerance, I feel like I have in the recent past ignored, accepted even, episodes of casual racism and gender bias directed against me. It can happen so discreetly under the guise of something else that you often don’t realise it’s happened at all so you don’t think to speak out about it.

And I fear that having not spoken up about things and having no one else to tell me to speak up about things, well, how can progress be made if we don’t articulate the fact that what has been said is just wrong and how do you know you’re wrong if no one challenges you about it. What will change?

As I said earlier, much progress has been made since I was a child in terms of racial harmony. To be clear, most of my childhood and my adult life bar one or two incidents from misguided older colleagues, has been free from being stereotyped due to ethnic background. However, I realised the other day that the memory of having grown up in times where you lived in fear of being racially name called in the street and the shame of how that feels when it does happen, never really goes away.

I thought that it was enough for my children to be surrounded by kind, caring, open minded people, living in a progressive, multi cultural society. Embracing all our differences and cultural celebrations which is what makes life interesting, colourful and fun.

Most importantly, be proud of who you are and be happy in yourself by not putting others down. So what if they say you were born in a different country. Ugly? People who say and think mean things are ugly and you are beautiful both inside and out. And even though that someone said something outrageously mean to you today, I still want you to be kind to them tomorrow. Show them strength through tolerance because they did not speak the truth and you know it.

The opening remark was not said to me. When I heard it, it knocked my own self confidence let alone that of who did hear it first. In that instant, I felt powerless. I thought, how can this still be a thing in this day and age. How many times will my children’s feelings be hurt by words like this. It brought back old memories that I have had to overcome with grace and not bitterness which is very important. I crumpled for a short while remembering back then. It leaves you feeling embarrassed, panicked and ashamed. Trying to be invisible walking past groups of people who looked like they may name call you and then feeling relief when they don’t. Look at that, I too was at fault for making prejudiced assumptions. See the kind of cycle it breeds.

I asked you to absorb those words and think about how it made you feel, not because I want you feeling angry or cast aspersions on anyone else involved. That’s not important to this. What is important to me is how do I react to it all. I felt really low and worried which is natural, until I realised that I was projecting my own old fears and we are not in those times anymore. Yet all the progress that has been made will slow down if we become complacent with our actions in shaping the kind of world we want for future generations. Consider the significance of today’s date being 100 years since some women were first allowed to vote and all the high profile movements that have escalated in the last few months highlighting the areas where progress seems to have faltered.

Keep up the conversations about kindness, take active involvement celebrating cultural differences, open up the world to children and their friends by talking about it. Let them see it as the Big, Bold Beautiful place that it is for them to want to explore, love and look after. That’s the kind of action I need you to take.

And remember. Never grow complacent in shaping this world for ourselves and the future generations.

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2017 Year End Reflections

Yet another year is drawing to a close.

I remember thinking at the start of this year that big changes were ahead. I thought it would be a year of progress and taking charge of areas that I felt I had lost my grip of in 2016. I was thinking mostly about the work life balance I had going on after a return to full time employment with three young children in a new and very different work culture. A lot of hours in the office and out of it, a lot of energy fretting about work and feeling a disproportionate level of satifisfaction at the end of it. I knew I needed to gain a better perspective this year and get back to doing the things that I enjoyed the most.

I wanted this year to be about the good stuff. More time for people, more running, more baking, more crafts and more attempts at aspiring to an aesthetically pleasing home. These were simple changes that I could make and feel all the better for it. I do believe we have a responsiblity to ourselves to be the change we want to see happen.

I felt ready for change. And so when Husband and I first spoke about leaving Singapore to return back to the UK, it felt both the right move and time but albeit quite a daunting one too. Finally, we were heading back to the UK. It was exciting to think about being with family and friends and getting to know all the new additions and reconnecting in new ways. Going on different kinds of holidays and introducing the children to favourite pastimes and places of our youth.

After living in Singapore for nine years, the life we had over there was our normal. I knew how everything worked. I did not know how everything worked over here. And not knowing how things work can make you feel quite vulnerable. Knowledge is power so they say. Setting up a new home on my own was hard work and running it almost like a single parent has taught me new skills and found reserves of energy I knew I had and most definitely need.

There are days where I miss my old life that I used to get ribbed for. The one where we have live in help who helped with all the household jobs. I appreciated her then and I miss her a little bit now but I do enjoy having the whole home to myself. And there is also something soothing about doing laundry and ironing. In times where you have no control, you at least can make clothes look like new and have a fresh, clean bed to sleep in which is satifyingly pleasing. There is no denying that I miss the freedom though of having someone on hand who can look after the children whilst I just pop out. Though at the moment there is no one to just pop out with!

Some of these changes I expected. I wasn’t completely unnerved by the big move back to the UK. I don’t really think too much. I know! I know you know that too. Such a move is managed through doing. You have to set up a new home, get into the school routine, go out and find new friends, do the household jobs. These are the things you have to do to take care of your family and their basic needs. And if I don’t know the answers right away, I’m also not afraid to ask for help and that is important too.

You also need to explore and connect. Explore your new surroundings, find things to do,  go places. Connect with people, be it family or friends and connect with your new home town. Be present. I find this an ever important aspect right now. I don’t think there’s much to be gained from wishing to be anywhere else but here. Especially when there are young children involved who have no say in what happens and it is up to us to give them as many good memories and experiences as possible.

We would have preferred coming back to the UK as a whole family and not with Husband still working overseas. We are also not unique in this set up. I know plenty of people who are in my position and I know we are all more than up for the challenge. There have been times when I have felt out of my depth but I hope I am managing ok. It is overwhelming at times being the sole, responsible grown up taking the lead and being all things to three young children. We are all in this new adventure together but often you have to appear braver than you feel. I have also had to push myself with going to new places that I’m not familiar with. I know it has been hard on the children and they miss their Daddy terribly, as he does them. So it was good that we were able to share our first family snow day experience together. After years of looking forward to snow, they finally had their day building snowmen and sledging. My heart will always feel some guilt that they’ve had to bear some of my sadness these past few months without Husband around to comfort them too. But they are incredible children and can teach us a thing or two about getting on with things. In time, I hope they will remember and feel incredibly proud of themselves of how brave and strong they are and what a bundle of love and comfort they have to give.

As a couple, I also know how difficult it must be for Husband to watch from afar as we get through this time and not be here to provide the emotional support that we all need. The difference his presence has made over the Christmas holidays has been the tonic we have needed.

The events of this year has certainly put last year into perspective. With hindsight, I allowed some people’s behaviour to get the better of me. I doubt I could have changed it then but I am in a position today to let it wash over me. I do not dwell on the value I gave myself based on their words and actions which by all accounts are worthless and is a reflection of them and not me. It was a valuable lesson and reminder about what our roles as mentors should be.

You all know what the biggest change and challenge this year has been for me and my family. Bereavement is a necessary part of life. I keep telling myself that. Everyday though it’s still there. That well of sadness that may always linger a little even years from now. A few days ago, I made my first visit to Newcastle since my Dad’s funeral and stopped by the cemetery with Husband just to have a look at my Dad’s resting place. Until the 100 days since his passing are over there’s not much to do but I wanted to go and see because how could I possibly make a trip to Newcastle and not see my Dad. As I stood there, I still felt a wave of disbelief that he is really gone. My Dad, Mr Li. I feel his absence acutely but at the same time, I have my Mum and all my other family to see and be with and that in itself is a huge comfort.

I can not imagine being anywhere else but here right now. No matter how short the time I had with my Dad since our return, it is far better than how I could have managed my time with him if we were still living in Singapore. At the moment, we are catching up on family time and doing all the things at Christmas that we have missed out on in previous years. It may have been a busy few days travelling up and down the motorway but what we have gained is invaluable. The children will remember Christmas holidays spent with family more than anything. Yesterday, the children disappeared for hours with their cousins and had a wonderful time, those kind of moments make up for many others.

I end this year feeling quite sad still, a bit blurry around the edges and not quite at full capacity. I have lost not just a parent but one of my biggest supporters, someone who is always looking out for me and champion of my children’s achievements. That will take some getting used to.

At the same time, I feel the multiple sources of love and warmth that have helped me through this. I still find myself at a loss to express just how much this means. Not just in the immediate afterwards but even now, perhaps more so now, when I get asked how am I doing, how are the children doing and expressing your words of condolence when we meet to acknowledge my loss. You may be at risk of seeing my tears fall but that’s all that will happen. This feeling of grief is something I cannot fully control so I guess I will have to be patient and allow the passing of time to heal my heart and bring peace and laughter once more as it surely will.

2017, you have exhausted me. But I have not written you off. It is not a year that I will say good riddance to. To do so would mean I haven’t valued anything that this year has brought or taken away. As sad as the memory of this year will be, I take forward life lessons and experience that can only serve me well. I am far stronger for it and I hope more understanding too.

Tomorrow is the start of a brand new year.


It sounds like it ought to be a lovely year. I have no plans as to what to do with it just yet. I know there is lots of practical things to do. I need to get on with the sorting out jobs that I didn’t do in November before I got caught up with preparing for Christmas. I hope to learn a new crafting skill, make use of my sewing machine finally, continue to aspire to an aesthetically pleasing home. I may even return to employment too. I’m looking forward to planning a full calendar of visits to people and places. I feel like starting the year at a more gentle pace to recover from this year, though I’m sure it will soon snowball like every year does when you have a family with young, busy children.

As I look towards a new year, for the first time in many years, I will just see how it goes with no expectations. I shouldn’t forget that I have made a pretty good start with this new adventure in the UK so far. I think just making the most of what we have right now will be more than good enough as we look ahead.

Whatever you do, I wish you a happy and fun filled New Year’s Eve. May good health, happiness and time spent well be yours in 2018.

Cheers to you and here’s to us.

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Finally, we have ourselves a proper cold Christmas

Finally we have ourselves a proper cold Christmas. Though at a ‘mild’ 11 degrees celsius, I’m told it’s warm outside…I don’t think you know the meaning of a warm Christmas!

For how many years whilst living in the Tropics have I longed for a cold Christmas! This will be my first in ten years and the first ever for the children. That in itself is exciting enough. Even after all these years, Christmas only feels much more like Christmas when it’s dark and cold with twinkly lights shining out from people’s homes and on the streets.

Singapore knows how to dazzle at Christmas but our first UK Christmas has brought us back to a more traditional tone. The story of Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem, Jesus born in a stable, the Three Wise Men, Shepherds, Angels and a wandering star. My three children have been enchanted by it all and I have to admit that there were key parts of the Nativity story that I simply hadn’t known about. It’s amazing what I am learning at School.

This week we attended the school’s Carol Concert at the local church and today Husband and I took the children to our first Christingle concert. Previously I had only been to church for weddings and funerals but for the children to discover their own path, I’d like them to know and later decide for themselves. Though for my own part, I have found on both occasions a certain calm and opportunity for reflection.

This year for the first time ever I have found myself with no social engagements at all! Not one Christmas lunch! Can you imagine! No rolling home inebriated in the early hours. No fancy cocktails in some exclusive bar. Bah humbug indeed. Until I realised it’s about who you want your Christmas celebrations to be with and so we did have a Christmas do after all and it was exactly just right.

I hope I have managed to create a good enough Christmas experience for my three children this year. There is guilt in my heart that due to my own sadness and even their own that Christmas preparations for my three children has been missing a bit of its usual shine. I have really tried my best but it has been hard to think about presents when this year it is people who matter the most.

We have a lovely tree all lit up brightly, we’ve baked batches of gingerbread people, we’ve sung countless Christmas carols and songs, we been to visit Father Christmas and gone on winter walks. I’ve circled all the tv programmes in the Radio Times and already missed a few shows.

I really don’t know what I imagined this Christmas to look like but I do feel the warmth of goodwill, family and celebration all around me.

And if anything, hearing of how others are celebrating this year has buoyed me along too. I love Christmas. That will never change. And what has been most exciting is sharing with friends the chit chat on what they’re cooking over the festive season. I bought all the cooking magazines and have barely deviated from my usual! But who doesn’t love looking at a good festive feast and oohing at the many variations on a turkey dinner with all the trimmings that you can get!

I really hope the children wake up yelling with excitement that Father Christmas has been! That they come running upstairs with full stockings and have raced downstairs to check he’s left something on their list for them too. If anyone deserves a bit of magic tonight, it is them.

They’ve excitedly and carefully laid out goodies for Father Christmas and the reindeers and placed a ‘Santa Stop Here’ sign on their bedroom window. They’ve sprinkled Santa and Elf magic dust on our doorstep (previously unavailable from the shops in Singapore would you believe.) They handed out good things to eat to our neighbours and strangers on the street. This year, I have asked them to think of not just themselves but others too.

Surprisingly though, I seem to have everything ready and can even enjoy a restful glass of wine. In previous years I am still wrapping gifts until the early hours on this night. I have so little to do I suspect I have forgotten something!

But whatever it is, I’m sure it won’t ruin the day. Tomorrow is a day about family being together. Something my children will value more than anything. They have done amazingly well whilst we have relocated ourselves and their Daddy has remained in Singapore. So whilst there are many gifts under the tree that will be met with great enthusiasm and much joy, the best gift we have is that we have these next nine days of togetherness to share the holidays with.

This year, I have not sent out Christmas cards as is the custom during the first year. Though I wish you more than anything a Happy Christmas to be shared with those who matter the most. May you laugh, love and enjoy each other’s company.

Merry Christmas to all. xx

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The first of many

Dear Mr Li,

I miss you. I miss you every day and all of the day. As if you could ever doubt that.

That’s probably the sum of what I need to say to you.

And oh my goodness, how I miss talking to you. The hardest part of each day is that moment between busy and calm when we would talk and you would have a garbled jumble of voices from your grandchildren before they got ready for bed. You took great delight in figuring out which child was speaking to you until each became more proficient in the art of telephone conversations and announced themselves properly.

The landline doesn’t ring anymore. It was always only you who called me on it. And the really terrible telesales calls. We never transitioned with the times. Our preferred mode of communication was the old fashioned way. Postcards from my travels. Birthday cards you sent with a few handwritten characters. I never told you I used to carry one of those notes in your shaky writing in my wallet whilst I was in Singapore until one too many accidents with a water bottle made me put the notes in a safer place.

It’s been over a month now. So much has taken place even though at times I feel like I’ve stood still. I realised last night that the book on my bedside table hasn’t been picked up in weeks. I’ll be ready for such simple pastimes again soon. It was a surprise to realise that whilst I’m busy all the time, I’ve been going through the motions of the day and some point soon I’d like to get back to the things I used to do and those that I planned on doing.

The other thing I really miss is sending you all these photos I take. Sharing with you our life in pictures. What’s the point in taking all these photos if not to share them with someone who looked forward to receiving them. I came across an old Facebook memory of you showing your youngest grandchild photos of herself on your phone. And I took a photo of you showing her those photos. I haven’t felt able to look up more photos of you, us and you and them together. To do so right now just heightens the loss but the photos I already have in frames smile down on me.

Sometimes I can’t believe you left so soon. I haven’t even had chance to sort out the pictures on my wall or declutter all the stuff I won’t be needing here. I have at times felt so cross by this. Until I remember you saying how tired you were. It’s funny how I look back at photos from the summer and see this more clearly, underneath the smiles. And even if I disagree with this turn of events, what can I do.

I still marvel at the complexities of grief. My logic telling me this is the natural order of things. And with all due balance, we were lucky. You were 80. A lovely rounded figure. A big Birthday. Many people told me not to be sad. You were old. But 85, 90, 95 would have been even better don’t you think. And even though you know this will happen to us all at some point, there is just no telling grief to behave.

I know my sadness would make you upset. But isn’t it just testimony to how much you were loved and valued. So I think it’s ok to allow me this.

Time will heal. I’m sure you know that too from your own experiences. Memories could fade but equally some forgotten ones can resurface to make us smile some more. The things you used to do and say will be recounted with affection.

I wish you could have lived to be here today. The day we would have marked your 81st Birthday, whether it be the true date or not it’s the one we’ve always gone by. When you turned 80 last year, I thought we could have celebrated when I was back in April but your body had other plans. Today, other plans took place too. But Birthdays never bothered you. It was a wonderful sign you were still living and were here with us. I will embrace all my Birthdays.

We had a tea party earlier today. Not to celebrate your Birthday. That would be too weird. No, we had a lovely boisterous Christmas tea party with 11 children in the house. I think we’ll do it again next year. You would have loved it. The sound of children playing and having fun brought you the most laughter. In all my years as a child and with your grandchildren never did you tell us to keep the noise down. The party food definitely wouldn’t have been your thing though. Nor the Prosecco.

Keeping busy helped me through today. Today is the first time I haven’t called you to wish you Happy Birthday. That has been hard. But your grandchildren still insisted on singing Happy Birthday to you all the same. Your granddaughter wrote a note about you in her special book for your Birthday. She writes Gung Gung in Chinese characters now. She also asked me how will you receive our messages. I told her when you have someone in your heart and you think of them then any message you want to send with go straight to them. Your younger granddaughter said ‘I sent my message this morning.’ I’m sure you got them all.

To my Dad, Mr Li, Happy Birthday.

With love always. xxx

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The gift of memories

The children have had a wonderful weekend. They’ve spent it with friends (the parents included) who are not just good friends but who are their best friends and this came from my eldest. If I’m not jumping too far ahead, in years to come I hope these are the friends they’ll be talking about as having known all their lives.

Among the sadness and challenges of this past month, my three children have rolled with it all. In fact they’ve been rolling amazingly well for the past six months with all the changes that have upheaved them from home, school and away from their Daddy. Finding themselves in a new country and starting over again. In my heart, I worried about them. But oh my goodness, haven’t they been bold and brave getting out there and I am so proud of them.

Many people assured me that they would be fine because children are resilient and they adapt so much easier than us grown ups. This is true and as parents we ensure that we do all we can to support them with love, strength and encouragement. We try to protect them as much as we can but there are some realities that we just can’t deny.

As early as the age of four, all three of them went through a phase of questioning the concept that things do not live forever. A curious preschooler’s mind can obsess about the notion of death and talk about it incessantly. Sometimes with fear and upset and seeking reassurances that it wasn’t something that would happen imminently to anyone or anything they knew. The fear and questions subsided over time and death became a semi accepted fact of life.

Not one that is yet fully understood but what they do know now is that death brings great sadness.

Many people also advised that children shouldn’t be shielded from the grief that I am feeling. It’s ok for them to see that I am sad. In an age where there is more encouragement for everyone to express themselves and talk about emotions for better mental health well being. We are actively advised to share with children that we all have a range of emotions and to help them articulate and process the confusing and unknown new feelings. Luckily, the school the children attend have on site counsellors and a drop in room where children can stop by and talk to someone about anything that is bothering them. They are encouraged to say what they are feeling in class with their class friends and most importantly their feelings are valid.

Among all that has happened this past month and longer, I want to acknowledge just how brilliant and surprising they have been. I have lost a parent but they have lost a Grandparent too. Maybe some day they will read this post and I imagine much of what I would like to say to them now, they will have forgotten about by then.

As time goes by, my children’s memory of my Dad, their Gung Gung will fade. But whilst their memories and their stories are still vivid, I just want to capture them as they recall him.

That morning, I had no real plan on how to tell the children that their Gung Gung had passed away. But there was nothing I could do to delay breaking the news to them. As it happened, the opportunity presented itself quite naturally. The older two woke up first and clambered into our bed, one on either side of me. They were chattering about plans for the day before I then made the decision to tell them something that would shatter some part of their hearts too. With my arms around them, I said I had something to tell them. My eldest instantly knew what it was. He had already asked me the week before whether Gung Gung would die and I broke his big heart by saying that if I didn’t tell him the truth then he probably wouldn’t believe me again if I said he wasn’t and then he did quite soon later. He already told me that he loved Gung Gung so much and wished he could live with us forever. I knew exactly how he felt. There was nothing I could say to take away his pain except for how much Gung Gung loved him and loved us all.

So when I said I had something to tell them, he knew and asked me not to say it but I had to. Tears followed from all of us. My eldest Daughter cried and declared how unfair it was that this should happen when she was only seven. Indeed it was my darling. A short while later, my youngest enters into the fray and with all the upset knows something not good has happened. But being still only just five, it’s enough for her to know that we won’t be able to see Gung Gung in person but he will always be with us in our hearts and we will always have the memories of the times we spent together.

It is something to hold onto that, even though it was brief, we have new memories recently created. Like how he just took the girls off into town for ice cream by himself. I imagine he loved that. Just pottering into town with my granddaughters. My eldest was busy playing Pokemon Go with his Aunt J before I called my Dad to see where he was with the girls.

“Where are you Dad?”

“I’ve taken the girls for ice cream”

“But where are you?”

“In the shopping centre. Just past the watch shop.”

I had to ask my eldest Daughter to name the shops she could see to work out where they were. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that ice cream shop now. My eldest and I went after them and they were allowed any flavour ice cream they wanted. Followed by coins for those machines you see around that give out little toys. Small gifts, simple gestures.

And just a month later, we went out for dim sum lunch to celebrate my youngest’s Birthday. My Dad looked so happy to be surrounded by 11 people who all known him as Gung Gung. Some grown up with children of their own. These memories are all the more precious because we have so few of them.

It seems unfair that we only just arrived back to have more of these outings. I think a lot of my sorrow stems from not having enough. Not enough time together. Not enough memories. Not enough for the children to hold onto. I may be wrong on this point. The older two have excellent memories. When they choose. They seem to forget every morning the getting ready for school routine. My youngest was worried over how she was very forgetful. When we talk about remembering my Dad in our hearts, she worried she would forget too soon. When I asked her what does she remember right now, she replied, “Gung Gung always gets my elephant and pretend to hide it from me”. I think that’s a pretty good one because elephant is her most precious belonging of all.

And during this time, what I will remember is how these three children looked after me too. Not just because they keep me busy with the daily stuff. That carries on regardless of everything else. No. Children have huge capacity for love, kindness and empathy. They talk about him and how they wish he was still alive. They give me hugs and tell jokes to make me laugh. They give me a share of their advent chocolate.

There’s no hiding the fact that at times there is a visible air of sadness around me. Just at times an overpowering wave of emotion floors me. Like when the children and I were looking at their school portraits and how smart they looked. I could feel the tears flow from nowhere and suddenly two arms are around me. “It’s ok Mummy.” I explained why this was making me sad. How proud Gung Gung would be to see these photos. I can picture his face. “It’s ok Mummy, we can still give them to our Por Pors.”

These tiny arms and gentle voices that coax you back to the present. Their grand ideas of where they think their Gung Gung has gone. My eldest is convinced he’s living it up in a 5 star hotel. No make that a 7 star hotel Mummy! In other words, he’s in a good place having fun.

My eldest daughter put pen to paper and crafted a book of memories that she worked on for over a week to send him off with. She took the book to school, stood in front of the whole class and shared her memories out loud. My youngest made Christmas decorations to give him and my eldest chose socks that said ‘The greatest Dad in the galaxy”, I thought you’d like these for Gung Gung, Mummy. A bundle of notes from the children were given to my Dad.

“I loved you and I still do.”

“You will be in my heart every day and all the time.”

“I will miss you.”

“I will always remember you.”

I couldn’t have worded it better myself.

The other day we were talking about the state of the world. How did they feel about living in the UK? What did they miss about Singapore? Are they enjoying themselves at school?

They all answered they were happy to live in the UK as there is so much more to do. Though they missed some friends in Singapore but were glad their best family were living close by. They were excited to see more of their family. I can see that they are happy.

Then we talked about their Gung Gung for a while. Here’s where they surprised me again. My Dad and I would speak on a weekly basis. He would insist on calling me back as he had an international phone card that practically made the calls free so he would say. As well as the usual parenting advice, the not to worry about hims, he would ask about the children and have a brief chat with them. Not at all the time did the children feel up to chatting but most of the time they were. He would ask them about what they’d been doing and they would ask him if he’d been out or had a cup of tea. But there were also times he would call and I wouldn’t be home from work yet. The children told me he would call any day he felt like and not just on a weekend.

“We spoke to Gung Gung a lot Mummy. You weren’t always there.”

It turns out they had their own shared moments too.

I haven’t quite been able to look at my huge library of photos yet. To seek out the ones of my Dad with the children. But I have looked back at the photos I sent to my Dad. My nephew getting my Dad a smartphone brought my Dad up to speed on his grandchildren. All the photos I would send him of them celebrating special occasions to the everyday normal. I know he would look at them often. I know this because he wasn’t that tech savvy and would accidentally call in the middle of the night!

I have felt a lot of sadness over the children being so young and my Dad passing away before they got to know him. But my children think the opposite. “We did know him Mummy.” All the conversations they had. The times I spoke about him. They knew the things he liked to eat. Photos of the children with my Dad. They’ve all helped to build a picture in their mind of him. I’m sure over time I’ll add to this picture.

But most of all, it was something my Dad did all by himself. The feeling he gave them that he loved them, he was interested in them and that he was kind.

I can’t think of any better reasons to be remembered for than these.

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