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

World Mental Health Day 2018

A whole school day was dedicated to discussing mental health and well-being to mark World Mental Health Day. I welcome the more open dialogue on the pressures faced by children and young adults that could have a profound effect on their well being and the importance of building mental resilience to help them face the many stressful conditions they will come up against as they move through adolescence.

It is a concern for me as a parent to three young children who are growing up in a digital world so different to the childhood that I had. Certainly there exists the same issues that were there some 35 years ago such as friendships and being accepted and not being excluded for whatever reason.  There are now new ones that have arisen through the widespread introduction of technology into our everyday lives.

#3 asked for an iPad for her Birthday, which she didn’t get, because to her it seemed like a normal thing to ask for. I can imagine what she would most likely use it for is to watch YouTube videos of people unwrapping LOLs. If left to her own devices, she could probably spend hours doing that. In our household, much like most others, I have daily requests for tv time, iPad time, games console time or time on my phone. If they have time on one form of technology, they think it should be acceptable that they can have time on another form too because they are not the same. It’s not that I say No all the time, I would just feel better if I saw them out playing and having fun with their friends too. Whilst the weather is still good, we are out at the park after school everyday and it makes me feel good to see them playing and I get a chance to talk to other grown up people. All of us feel good.

Technology in all its form has simplified many aspects of life but makes parenting more complicated.

The message that #1, 2 and 3 bring back today is the importance of liking your physical and emotional self and how to take care of both. More importantly how to take care of each other. The school promotes meditation club as an extracurricular activity, they do yoga and from today they are engaging in a ‘fill your bucket’ activity. It’s an initiative to encourage children to be kind to themselves and others, to help them think of what would be a kind act that would help you fill your bucket today. By filling your bucket with kindness, brings happiness and at the end of the day, you think of how this could share the happiness.

In an age of growing isolation, lost art of communication, suspicion of others and time, I think this is an important initiative and life skill to bestow upon children. To support their well being and ability to look out for others. In my recent experience of feeling less than emotionally strong and mentally tired, the difference to your a day is when someone notices that you need someone to ask “How have you been?” and not be afraid of what you say.

I don’t know how many schools have a team of counsellors on site that look after the emotional well being of children who attend the school. It was a pleasant surprise to discover this when #1, 2 and 3 joined last year. I asked the team what kind of support was provided to the children and I was told that it’s a cozy space that children of all ages can come to talk about anything that is on their mind. It can range from building confidence, chatting about friendship concerns to helping children make sense of some of the deeper emotions that they may be feeling due to circumstances at home.

I think we’re very lucky that school provides this valuable resource. Even if you never have to use it, you know that’s its there. That there is always someone who will listen if you need to talk. And just being someone who will listen will make all the difference.

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Birthday Eve so soon again?

So it seems that Birthday Eve is upon me again. And not just any ordinary Birthday Eve. It’s been five years since I wrote my first post on this blog just before I turned 39 and started the countdown to that significant 40th Birthday, which also means that in another five years time I’ll be starting the countdown to that next significant number! Along with most of you too.

I remember last Birthday Eve my thoughts were on new beginnings that were yet to start. It was both exciting and daunting, the prospect of starting a new life in a new town. There was so much I had absolutely no idea about. Even the seemingly simple stuff like when do the rubbish bins and recycling get collected. One week rubbish, next week recycling. You’d think from the same spot for both right? But no, rubbish from the back of the house, recycling from the front. Who knew sorting out your utilities would be more complex than your tax return.

I have found that it takes just a handful of people who are kind enough to reach out and make a newcomer feel welcome to help you on your way. I did notice though that it was mainly #3 starting in Reception year that made the most difference in opening doors to a new social network. I discovered that for #1 and #2, their peer group was a lot more established with friendships having been formed some years ago as early as when they were in Nursery. I guess for the parents too, most parent friendships were formed back then. Still, it takes time to slowly get to know people and on that note, I’ve been very lucky in having made several new friends that I look forward to seeing more often.

After the bright lights and convenience of city living for so long, at first it felt restrictive to find myself back somewhere that shut shop at 6pm latest. So that town centres became quickly deserted and empty of people. Then I realised what did it actually matter when it’s not like I have the freedom to just pop out once the children were back from school! There is also something comforting about that too, to just be at home. I particularly liked that feeling in the long evenings of late autumn and winter where you could take time to slow down, draw the curtains and hibernate.

After a year of settling back in the UK, I get asked what is it that I miss most about Expat living, I miss the diversity of culture and the food. I miss the adventures and exotic locations. I miss home help in the fact that it afforded me so much freedom and spontaneity. Most of all I miss the friends that I have out there. The diversity of those friendships and the mix of interests, passion and inspiration they give.

A year in, I have a varied life here, perhaps not as glamorous (on the surface) as before but one that I have enjoyed pursuing. I have been trying out new things like knitting and jam making. I know it sounds so quaint but the jam making in particular has been highly satisfying. I have this lovely big jam making pot and in it I’ve boiled many bags of sugar with a mix of seasonal local fruits and you end up with lovely jars of yumminess. I can leave bowls of strawberries seeped in sugar overnight without fretting about a trail of ants overtaking my kitchen in seconds. There’s something very soothing about creating something yourself. The action of changing this into that, mixing a bit of this with a bit of that is very good for the soul.

Most of all though, I have really enjoyed getting back together with family and friends. And it doesn’t take long to fall back into step with family like you haven’t been away at all. Exactly like you haven’t been away at all…

The children in particular have loved getting to know cousins and old friends that they’ve met on previous trips back. It gives me great joy to see these children having fun together and forming new childhood memories of their own. I’ve also had the opportunity to reconnect with an old childhood friend I hadn’t seen in over 15 years. It was quite some catch up, not just to hear about how she was doing but also about some old friends I hadn’t heard about since we were 16 years old. I’m sure we all know people that we have lost touch with over the years and from time to time wonder how they are doing.

I’m not surprised really that this past year seems to have passed by so quickly. So much has happened. So much change. So much to process. So many things to get used to whether I like it or not. It has been my most challenging year so far but also one that has probably given me the most strength and reflection too. I guess this is what sets us apart from our 25 year old selves and what ultimately makes us better able to support and empathise with those around us.

So tomorrow I’ll be firmly in that new category of middle 40s. Ooof. And as a new Birthday dawns, I’ve decided that I’m not quite ready to think about the next big goal yet.  I’m content enough with the small things, I’ve got a woolly hat to finish by November for #3, some more varieties of jam to make, crafts to finish, a home to declutter (snort, I mean one can think about it) and this blog to keep going.

 

That for me, is enough to think about for now.

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Where did that school year go?

The brand new shine of black patent leather shoes has long since been scuffed away. The pristine white of a school polo shirt has been washed out of shape, mottled with splodges of paint. Cardigans have buttons missing and jumpers are well, just missing.

It’s hard to imagine that we have reached the end of another academic year. Yet here we are about to start six weeks and two days of summer holidays. You could see that for many the 2.30pm bell today couldn’t come soon enough, with Teachers following swiftly on the heels of parents and children out of the school gates.

It doesn’t seem that long ago when I waved off #1, 2 and 3 off to their new Big School and wondered about the six hours I would have to while away. (Turns out that six hours isn’t really that long after all when you’re back to doing your own laundry and general keeping of home.)

It is a stressful decision choosing a school and especially when we chose a school without the benefit of paying a visit beforehand. We really were throwing them all into a new unknown. Especially after the gloss of a large international school overseas with all the facilities like an on site swimming pool and full size running track. These things do matter of course and it is a shame that their current primary school lacks the space of a sports field.

I know without doubt that all three have had a happy year at school. I don’t think any parent could ask for anything more at this stage. Sure, academic standing and sporting achievement is important but also is the well being and welfare of each child. Times have changed dramatically since my school days in the 80s. There’s a lot more out there competing for the attention of a child’s time than Maths and English. Indeed, even we as parents offer children a lot more extracurricular activity than just Brownies and Scouts.

But also not much has changed for children going to school. Maths and English is sort of the same but somehow long division is not a thing anymore. The complexities of playground friendships however, remains every child’s golden goal and parental heartache.

“What did you learn today?”

“What did you have for school lunch?”

“Who were your friends?”

These three questions form the basis of our short walk home after school. Most of the time they can’t remember what they’ve learnt but will speak quite enthusiastically about lunch, especially if ice cream or cake pudding is involved. The answers to the third one though, have on many occasion made me want to weep for them. Sometimes there have been minor fall outs and you figure that’s something they’re going to have to navigate themselves.

But sometimes, when you hear that your child went to lunchtime club by themselves without another buddy, your heart wonders why. Because no parent likes to imagine their child has not made a friend and we can not be there to help them. Of course we can’t be there engineering friendships we think our children should be making either. I have found that a lot of a child’s social circle evolves around school, unlike our days in Singapore where they had friends within the condo we lived in and also from the Expat community in general.

Everything is a lot more compact, a lot more local community in the town that we live in. And with that, and within the school, there seems to be a greater holistic approach to nurturing each child’s ability and emotional well being that I really like. I can’t remember with much significance whether my Reception year teacher gave out as many warm hugs and encouraging words. Perhaps she did and I just don’t recall. Perhaps #3 won’t recall how kind, caring and warm her Reception year teacher is. But I do and as a parent wondering whether you’ve made the right decision in sending your child to the right school, this is what you need to see.

As I look through all the school books that have come back with #1 and 2, I can also see how hard they’ve worked and how each piece of homework (a source of much weekend angst to be honest) is a reinforcement of what they’ve been learning in class. And I have been so impressed and grateful for how quickly it was noticed where a child has lacked strength in an area and how a support plan was put into place.

The children’s school was recently inspected by Ofsted and achieved Outstanding in every category. A well deserved recognition. And it’s also a school where the happiness and well being of the children who attend is at the heart of it.

At the end of this school year in a brand new school for all of us, I’m so glad and relieved over how well each child has thrived and the lovely friends they’ve made.

And I will be so glad to wave them off again back in September but first we’ve got a summer holiday to see to.

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Longest day of the year

It’s almost 10pm and it’s still daylight out there. Officially the sun set at 9.41pm in my area of the UK.  These long days are a lovely part of a UK spring/summer. It makes you feel you’ve got so much more time to do things. Even putting out the bins at 8.30pm instead of thinking it was late not to have done so by 6pm.

If I had a garden, I can imagine leaving the back door open and sitting there with a glass of something enjoying the last rays of daylight. I say I imagine myself doing that, but most likely I’ll be trying to convince #1, 2 and 3 that it’s bedtime. They are just about accustomed to this new way of living. When we first arrived back in the UK last August, they were adamant it can’t possibly be bedtime when it’s still light outside. That’s one thing you have in Singapore, consistent sunset and sunrise. No need for blackout blinds when it’s dark by 7.15pm and light by 6.45am. There’s also comfort in that too. The predictability of things.

With warmer weather and the evenings drawing out, we’re back to visits to the park after school until it’s ready to go home for dinner. Last September, new to all this, I asked a friend what did everyone do when the clocks go forward and it’s getting dark by 4.30pm. Her answer was, everyone goes home or you arrange playdates. The idea that I could potentially not converse with another grown up all day was quite frightening. Equally not only is it getting dark but with that it gets cold. Unlike in Asia. So your preference to be at home is increased.

The change of seasons is one of life’s greatest pleasures. It adds variety to our day. It stops us from being monotonous and it allows for spontaneity. It should teach us not to take things for granted and help us to open our eyes to see what’s around us. There is so much change and hard work going on in nature without us noticing. It has taken nine years of living with no seasonal changes to appreciate this now that I have it back.

Whilst I was living away, I always cited how I missed the change of seasons. So perhaps because of this, I’ve paid more attention to how summer fades into autumn and drops into winter to rise again in spring. Winter has been particularly harsh for my first one in 10 years but I didn’t mind so much. The cold wind on my cheeks as I trampled paths in the park made me feel energised. Watching the bloom of snowdrops in the dead of winter. The revival of crocuses that had blossomed and then were crushed under a late snowfall, only to reappear once the snow had melted away showed me how resilient nature really is.

I also had another reason to lean on the seasons. When my Dad, Mr Li, passed away in November, the days were already quite short. I was thankful that I didn’t need to go to the park in the sunshine and while away time in idle chit chat. I needed to be at home and I needed the grey skies and cold wind that reflected how I felt at that time. And it almost felt like as winter turned to spring and now to summer, I too have slowly gathered strength and started to replenish myself again.

So on today, the longest day of the year, I thank Nature for all that it gives us.

This photo was taken at 10pm! Can you imagine.

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Happy Father’s Day today and everyday

Today has been a good day. In fact this whole weekend has been a good weekend filled with family time exploring our new home town and all the local festivals it has to offer. It’s been quite surreal actually. Yesterday, in our local park we joined in the celebrations to mark Pride and watched a trio of flamboyant drag queens perform a Spice Girls medley in stack heels and glittery leotard. The crowds were just as colourful with rainbow fashion everywhere. Today, on the same stage a brass band performed war time classics like ‘We’ll meet again’ to mark 1940s day. It has been a poignant and nostalgic day when I think about how far we have come to embrace diversity and the sacrifices made decades ago to enable us the freedom we have today.

Today is also Father’s Day. Husband has been back in the UK for nearly two months now and after a few weeks of getting back into sync, we’ve adjusted like the time apart almost never happened. As far as young children are concerned, that time is already a distant memory. And for that we ought to be glad because there’s nothing more disconcerting for young children who have no perception of time than to imagine when a parent will return. I guess that is why no sooner have I sneaked off to the toilet or just gone upstairs to my bedroom to hide from them for a minute or two, there are cries of ‘ Mummy, where are you?’. Unless the television is on of course which could buy you a couple of hours at least. Quite so.

As much as solo parenting three children on my own was a tough gig at times, I think being away from them for that length of time is far more challenging. No matter what happens during any one day, there is always a moment of harmony at the end of it called bedtime that enables us to forgive the trials and tribulations that have occurred or bask in the warm glow of a good day. I know that Husband missed the close proximity of being around #1, 2 and 3. They may smother you at times with demands of sitting right up close but soon, we’ll lament the fact they no longer sit in the same room as us to watch a whole television programme.

I imagine for  Husband, the days since he’s been reunited with us as a family have been quite special enough. For he, unlike young children, has a different perception of time and the nine months was a very long stretch. And I think to have experienced an absence like such just makes you appreciate what it feels like to be a family again. Nothing is easier, we still face the same challenges of unruly and demanding young children but often it feels much more accessible. A little less intense when there’s someone to share it with who love your children in equal measure as you do.

And what is sweetest about today, is the pure love that children show for their Daddy. The effort of making their cards (each convinced theirs is the very best) and the thought that goes into choosing ‘the best present’ ever. We still need to work on who is putting in the most effort with preparing a full fry up breakfast in bed but the sentiment is there.

Today has also been a not so good day. I’m sure you can see why. It took me by surprise just how difficult this morning was. Of course I expected a degree of sadness but the depth of how low I felt hit me quite hard and I had to take some time to sit alone as I gathered myself to get through the day. I know there will be occasions that the absence of my Dad, Mr Li will be felt acutely, I’ve had those moments aplenty already. But each time, the wave of grief feels so fresh even seven months later.

Whilst I end the day better than when I started it, it has been emotionally exhausting. What do you do as you wait for the day to end on another day of not having to do something. As I scrolled through social media today and across all the messages of love to all those amazing Dads out there, it occurred to me that whilst some may no longer be with us, they will always be our very own Best Dad Ever.

Happy Father’s Day today and every day.

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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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