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

Happy Father’s Day (Belated I know)

I know Father’s Day was a week ago. But it’s been a hectic week shall we say. 

I didn’t have time to say much about the occasion last Sunday. The reason why is a thought for another time. 

Father’s Day follows closely after Husband’s Birthday. He gets to have two days in one month of breakfast in bed. 

But then nothing for the rest of the year. Maybes this could very well change once #1, 2 and 3 are more adept in the kitchen. Until then, when it’s mostly all my work that #1, 2 and 3 pass off as theirs then it’s not going to be a frequent occasion. In saying that, a bowl of cereal, milk and spoon in bed is still breakfast in bed right? Sometimes it’s not the fact it’s a full cooked breakfast that matters, it’s the fact you’re not up sorting out everyone else’s for them. 

What I do love about school is that they take care of the handmade Father’s Day card. Husband doesn’t know it but I have a Father’s Day card dating four years back that I keep meaning to give him but then forget about as the school has prepared one from earlier that is so much better.

This year with #3 throwing into the mix her handmade contribution, my work for Husband’s special Parent Day is done.

And as is tradition, it’s always up to #1, 2 and 3 to decide what we get to do on our special days. So on Father’s Day it was bowling. 

  

Have you ever played bowling with small people? It’s value for money on a cost to time-spent-bowling-just-one-game ratio. 

So that’s what we did for Father’s Day with #1, 2 and 3 to make Husband’s day special (if you take out the usual random outbursts of small people rage they like to display at their leisure). 

Every day is Father’s Day and every day is Mother’s Day of course. It shouldn’t be left to one day a year to show your appreciation. I imagine for #1, 2 and 3 true appreciation will come some years later. When as Grown Ups you realise just how much parents take care of things, the financial burden and the difficulty of whether you’re doing ok as a parent. 

I think of this a lot and the sacrifices and hard choices my Dad, Mr Li had to make and how he does worry whether he did ok. You did. More than ok. 

But for me, I would like to say that Husband is doing a great job. I rarely say it out loud because it’s what we’re expected to do isn’t it? As parents of small people. 

But it is good to feel truly appreciated.
So, Happy Father’s Day Husband. A bit belated I know. 

And most importantly Thank You. It’s been a busy week I know and you did great. 

Bowl of cereal, milk and spoon in bed next weekend for Husband it is then. 
With a cuppa tea thrown in for good measure too. Just so you feel really spoilt.
  

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Firmly Feeling 40

So you may or may not recall, I spent a bit of time talking about Embracing 40 last year. In fact the whole reason I started writing this blog had something to do with Embracing 40.  

And now all of a sudden, I’m closer to Embracing 41. In less than eight weeks time actually. That is how fast time can pass us by.  

 We can have a bizarre relationship with the passing of time. Sometimes it can’t go by fast enough or needs to slow down a little. Sometimes we’re so busy filling it up doing stuff. And even though sometimes we may wish to do nothing at all, time moves on regardless. 

There’s no question about it that Embracing 40 is rather a milestone in one’s life. Like all Birthday’s ending in ‘0’. And over the months I’ve seen friends mark this occasion in a number of different ways as they Embrace 40 their way.  

I rather enjoyed Embracing 40 as you could probably tell. Whilst it may look like I spent a whole year building up to what kind of party it would be, I enjoyed reflecting on much of my previous 39 years. 

It was a good time to take stock and remember, whilst I can, what brings you to where you are now, what you’ve gained, what you’ve lost. What you can be responsible for, what you can’t and what you want to change.  

So what now? 

What does Firmly Feeling 40 mean now that the party is a memory. 
Does it even mean anything significant or did I build it up to be something much more? 

On the one hand I don’t feel much different to how I did ten years ago. And I’m not the first to think that. I still like the same flavours of crisps, smoky bacon, Marmite and prawn cocktail but if pushed to choose just one flavour for the rest of my life then I’d choose ready salted because they really are the most versatile even if you think they seem a bit dull. I still like the same bands, actually I love Blur, I really do. Or do I just love Damon. I still like the same kind of humour, books, fashion and chocolate eclairs with fresh cream and not your shit fake cream. In fact, looking at things now I think I’m stuck in some sort of time warp because these likes stem from my early 20s as well. 

Some time ago I mentioned Husband likens your 30s to the Transitional Decade. It is quite true. Though I still haven’t fully transitioned, maybe in a couple of full moons time I will. On the days when the responsibility of being a Grown Up weighs heavily upon you, it’s impossible not to feel the change the last ten years have brought. On occasion I feel myself reminiscing what I used to do with my weekends or how I never used to have to referee pointless discussions between four and six year olds and how I feel like I could just give up talking about something I’m saying to #1, 2 and 3 that is having no impact whatsoever. 

Firmly Feeling 40 doesn’t mean that I feel the need to act a certain way befitting my 40 years. It sort of just happens. I am fast morphing into my Dad, Mr Li without me realising. I can hear it in the things I say and what values have taken precedence over others. When amongst young people, I just can’t emulate the way they interact and thankfully neither do I want to. I’m quite happy with my ‘It wasn’t like that in my day’ way of thinking. But equally I know I can’t afford to lag behind in how young people do interact, there are some things you need to keep learning and it’s not because I wish to ‘get down with the youths’ but to remain relevant in gainful employment and to keep in step with #1, 2 and 3 then you have to know.  

And how does 40 feel?

It feels quite comfortable so far. As many who have reached 40 before me have said, you now have the right kind of confidence and self esteem. Having seen some of the world has put much of life’s tribulations into perspective.  With solid experience in Gainful Employment, Parenting and Friendships it’s easier to make good informed decisions on your own without wondering what others will think. I’m much more mindful of what I say and the impact of what I do and I have a greater depth of empathy for others. Because at 40, everyone’s story is much more complicated than it was at 20.

And how does 40 look in the mirror? 
Well I definitely couldn’t say I look no different to ten years ago! But at 40, not much has significantly changed since 30. I still recognise the face I see in the mirror. Yes, there are dark circles under my eyes that have no intention of leaving, subtle lines are forming and cheeks and jowls are becoming softer. I noticed these things because I paid closer attention to see what I thought was different. But really I don’t want to focus too much on it. You should take care of yourself inside and out. You should feel able to take care of whatever you think needs taking care of in the way you see fit. But I agree with George Clooney who says that he doesn’t want to look young but just good for his age. And he is doing this very well which I’m sure you’ll agree. For me, I just don’t want to focus on the things that don’t please me because then you’ll notice something else and something else again. It seems a shame to undo all the work we’ve put into building our self confidence to break it down again with a tweak here and there.

And to be honest, after incubating #1, 2 and 3 I can’t even remember what my body looked like beforehand. I do know that my knees creak going up and down stairs when they didn’t use to but I think that’s more to do with running which is a well known enemy of the knee. 

And that’s another thing, after a break of seven years I took to running again last December and what I find is that it feels so much easier. I’m much more focussed and disciplined and I find this is a great time to think things through in my head. And I guess it also helps that I have a group of friends who also run and I don’t feel the odd one for giving up pub time. Not that I live a life nowadays with lots of pub time. 

Everything is different in the life that I lead compared to 10 years ago. I’m not even in the same country anymore. So how can it be that I am not different. Well I guess it’s because I still like all the same things plus a whole lot more. I still have the same group of friends and all of us have gone through some form of Transition. Not often at the same time or the same sorts of Transition but what brought us together then still applies to now. And I have a new group of friends I’ve met during this Transitional period which has made it a lot more fun. 

The business of Embracing 40 and taking stock of all that I have and had and talking about it here, has been like some form of therapy. Like most personal blogs are. I mean it’s no different to writing a diary, a mindful one at that, and sharing your thoughts with friends and strangers alike. It’s quite a bizarre practice really. I wonder what makes us do it? 

So, you know, 41 is now calling and I have quite a lot more stuff to be getting on with. I’ll let you know what all that stuff is another time. For now, I need to do something about eradicating those dark circles under my eyes with some eye brightening, dark circle reducing, fine wrinkle line removing state of the art technology in a tube eye cream.

Or I could just got to bed and get some sleep.

 

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Stars of Stage and Home

Last month #3 joined her two older siblings and started school, well I guess it’s more pre-school. She goes just two mornings a week and she loves it. Why wouldn’t she when she gets to play with so many peers her own age doing fun stuff. Fun stuff like painting with your feet, making fruit kebabs and singing and dancing.

The toilet and sink is just the right height for doing your business. As are the table and chairs just the right size to sit down with your friends for a bit of sticky glue and paper activity. It’s you Grown Ups who don’t fit in here with your too long legs and too big bum for the toilet seat.

The day your youngest child starts school, even for just a couple of mornings, can be a bittersweet moment. On the one hand you are looking forward to this moment of freedom where you can have some time to do as you please. Just for yourself perhaps. Like enjoying a peaceful coffee and an uninterrupted thought. A late breakfast with a friend without the distraction of a small person eating from your plate. Watch a day time screening of a film if you dare be so bold. Because school is one of the very few places for them to be whilst they are not with you that doesn’t induce copious amounts of guilt.

And yet when your youngest starts school, there’s that part of you that has to relinquish complete claim to them. As soon as they start school, they have this whole other life that we are not fully privy to. The games they like playing, the arts and crafts they do, the friends they are making, how they behave without you and the teacher that comforts them when they get upset.

#1 and 2 can’t remember the days when they first started school and their classroom was up the stairs of this converted black and white house down a winding lane in the midst of plenty of greenery. Quite a rare find in Singapore. #1 has been attending this school for almost three and half years and #2 for almost two and a half years. I’m glad that #3 gets to have the same opportunity to experience this charming school with such caring, nurturing teachers.

As #1, 2 and 3 are fairly close in age, it means that in two years time all three will be in full time education. Which wouldn’t be so bad if we didn’t have to pay for their education but as we do, it’s not quite the holiday to look forward to. But that’s by the by. What I mean to point out is that it’s only been three and a half years since #1 reached this milestone of starting school. When for us as parents it seemed like such a big deal, worrying over how they will cope with the separation for the 4 hours if that. Having your mobile phone on LOUD just in case the school called and you had to rush back urgently to pick them up. Whether they would cope starting off on three days or whether we should ease them in gently with two.

But really, was this about them or us as parents.

Of course as we saw the possibility of some free time/time alone/free time to do chores alone was almost within reach, we naturally wouldn’t want the phone to ring. And as much as the smiling, kindly teacher said they would let you know if your child was sobbing hysterically so you could come back IMMEDIATELY to comfort them because only you can, I now realise that this was never going to happen. Their cunning plan is to say they will but really they won’t.

And after a while, on the days much later on and you are no longer first time parent dropping off your first child at school, and your #1 or 2 or even 3 is attached to you like Self Stick, you are able to prise them off you and hand over them to the smiling teacher. Ready to make a run for it because you know they’re never going to call, unless there’s been a medical emergency, and besides they are far more experienced than you in dealing with the Self Stick Child behaviour.

And so for #3, who has been coming to school with me at drop off and pick up ever since she was a newborn, I would say she was more than ready for her star turn to start school. To be the one who has her own school bag, water bottle and snack box and who has to find her cubby hole with her photograph on it to put away her shoes. And to annouce that she too has to go to school.

And I, for the final time in dropping off a child for their first day of school, felt the anti climax of how easy it was for #3 to skip off upstairs to her classroom. Where her teachers will soon be the ones telling me new things that she can do and how funny she was that day. Of course I want her to be happy and enjoy herself. But at the same time, I’m allowed to admit that it’s not easy letting go of someone you’ve spent all those months and years with. I know it’s only been two years and seven months but when was the last time you spent this much time with one person?

And to be fair to #3, it’s almost like she senses she ought to show me some semblance of loyalty. For every time I drop her off at school, she climbs the stairs happily to her classroom escorted by #1 and 2. Then at the very last moment, she does some crying in token protest whilst reaching out, not to me but towards her teacher. I like how she tries to cry to make me feel better that she really can’t bear to be apart from me but the fact she makes a beeline for her teacher makes me question her sincerity.

So today was the school’s annual concert. A really huge effort on the part of all the teachers of the school who work from January preparing the children for this event. This year’s theme was focussed on artists through the centuries and the concert was in celebration of Singapore’s 50th year of independence with music through the decades since then.

With #1, 2 and 3 all taking part this year, I would say that was pretty good value for the ticket price. No matter what kind of phase we are going through at home and believe me, we are experiencing a lot of simple requests being completely ignored, I marvel at just how much progress #1 and 2 are making at school. The confidence they have in performing on a big, massive stage in front of so many Grown Ups. How they are able to sing along to Chinese and English songs and remember all the dance moves when they can’t even remember I asked them to help me tidy up their toys just two seconds ago.

But the pride I felt as I watched them on stage really does give meaning to that saying ‘bursting with pride’. I’ve felt good about many of my own achievements and I’ve felt good about those of my friends and family. But nothing compares to the feeling of pride as I watch my own children doing something they have clearly worked hard on and the strength they have had to find to overcome their nerves and apprehension to perform their show on stage. They are still only very young after all.

And so #1, 2 and 3 have all started their adventure of learning and discovery. Their mind is a sponge for all sorts of facts and figures. They’re enjoying every moment of it too. Some of it I remember, most I don’t and a lot I’ve never even come across. Some days they share their learnings with me and some days they apparently have learnt nothing at all. But I have a feeling there’ll be many more days they’ll have me bursting with pride and amazement.

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Just with an extra helping of cake

There’s about an hour and a half left to celebrate of Husband’s Birthday for this year. I hope he’s had a good Birthday so far and I know he’ll say it’s been good because of #1, 2 and 3.

Equally I know it would also be fair to say that there have been more eventful, Grown Up fun filled Birthdays he’s had than today. 

If you have spent your own Birthday around small people then you will know that it’s actually not your Birthday at all. Sadly though, it’s doesn’t mean the aging process doesn’t happen either. 

The morning started promising enough. #1, 2 and 3 all said ‘Happy Birthday Daddy’ without any prompting. Husband got a rare but well earned ‘lie in’ until 8.40am. Then #2 and 3 were very helpful in the kitchen breaking eggs onto the floor and beating egg shells to make a specially textured scrambled eggs. We had bacon on the go and a chocolate cake in the oven that they all had some form of contribution towards.

For a blissful moment I thought to myself that perhaps this year when presenting Husband with presents and cake from #1, 2 and 3 that it actually would be from them. Because up to now, I think it’s been pretty obvious that they haven’t been pulling their weight and have actually just been taking credit for all my work.

Even when it’s been their own work, Husband has still assumed it’s been my work which sort of makes me feel like I ought to be a bit offended. I mean, have you seen how haphazardly those bags of beer flavoured Jelly Belly beans were wrapped up? A great effort for a six year old but for me? Really? I can do folding along straight lines with a sharp crease very well. 

Actually it has been a lot more fun this year letting #1, 2 and 3 take responsibility for choosing their own presents. But I think Husband already knew what they had got him as #2 was very generous with her hints. Such as ‘These beer Jelly Belly beans are not for you Daddy’. And #1 was busy waving his gift around which was a singing Elvis M&Ms dispenser.  #3 was clutching her gift and declaring ‘Mine, mine,mine’. 

No sooner had they handed over their offerings, or in the case of #3 not at all, they then proceeded to unwrap their gifts for Daddy and exclaim with great surprise what was inside. Almost like this was news to them too. It appears this year is still not the year we will be opening our own presents. Not unless we secretly hoard a couple in the cupboard like you do with your good chocolate and biscuits and eat them clandestinely. 

I think it may feel more like your Birthday when it falls on a week day and small people are safely away in school. At least then you may get the chance to have a Grown Ups lunch instead of sharing your birthday morning with 25 other small people at a Birthday party in a children’s play centre. Followed by your own small people opening your presents and cards and blowing out the Birthday candles on the Birthday cake they have already started tucking into whilst it was still cooling. Then going out for your Birthday tea and sharing your dinner with them and then having to contend with a couple of meltdowns because for #1, 2 and 3 the day has been quite something with the event of two helpings of cake today.

In the company of small people, Birthdays, holidays, anniversaries and any special event are on the whole, like any other day. Just with an extra helping of cake. To them they haven’t quite grasped that if it’s not all about them. Even if it’s just for one day. Or if they do get that it’s not all about them, it can be easily forgotten. And that’s perfectly ok. 

Sometimes the excitement of a special day and our expectations of it having to be perfect is often what leads to disappointment. When there are small people involved, you learn to accept that whilst it should be about you, for the moment it’s still mostly about them. And that we need to learn to share too, just like they have to. Whilst once we probably could have had a late lie in with breakfast in bed, followed by a long leisurely lunch and anything that takes your fancy, that will have to be on hold for a while. 

For now, small people need to be told at least a dozen times to get to bed, to stay in bed, to stop their moaning and fighting and high pitched screeching taken in offence against some minor slight real or imagined. Then only once they are in bed sleeping so soundly and looking so sweet can you say, ‘it’s my Birthday and I’m going to drink a large old man whiskey, eat a bag of Hula Hoops, enjoy a slice of chocolate without having to share it and watch a film about two F1 racing drivers’.

As I laughed out loud following the frantic last hour of the day that is bath and bedtime, I felt genuinely apologetic to Husband that his Birthday is like most regular days. Just with an extra helping cake. 

Still, I’m sure he’ll agree all Birthdays are good days. 

Happy Birthday Husband. 

  

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I’ll see your 40 and I’ll raise you another 40

When my Mum and I first met, she was just a bit older than I am now. Full of energy, verve and fire.

For whilst you now see a smiling, benign older person, I can tell you that back then my Mum was quite formidable.

When you think of your parents and perhaps most family members that you see day in, day out, you rarely understand how remarkable they are. It’s only at some point later on when some other family member shares a memory with you. A memory that puts that person in a whole new light to the one you’ve always known.

Better yet, is when that person shares memories of their own with you. You know, when they become a person outside of you. Far from being the person that does the looking after of you and telling you off for things and generally dictating your every behaviour. It’s interesting to experience that shift when parents become people who don’t always put you at the centre of everything. I honestly don’t think it ever occurred to me that my parents had a life before me.

And naturally, as I get older, certain conversations and events have made me appreciate the experiences my parents have been through and eradicated all traces of the insolent adolescent thoughts of ‘what do you know?’, ‘how could you possibly understand?’ and ‘you are soooo unfair!’. Sometimes, as much as it can pain me, I have to admit to my Mum and my Dad, Mr Li that they are right about certain things. That they do know because they have been here before.

Many things have changed in 40 years but some things have remained the same. The concern of raising children, the health of elderly parents, the importance of a good education, having enough finances forever, being with the right person, kindness and respect for others, being happy, living in good health amongst family and friends. I daresay this list, whilst not exhaustive, will still be valid to the way we live in another 40 years time.

It’s funny isn’t it. How we vow as teenagers never to be like our parents when we grow up. And yet, as Responsible Grown Ups, I would very much like to be about 80% like my parents. And I probably have the other 20% in me too but choose not to see it. And I rather hope that in some 35 years time, #1, 2 and 3 will be having these thoughts about me too. Though it’s a shame we’ll have to go through the ‘what do you know?’, ‘how could you possibly understand?’ and ‘you are soooo unfair!’ stage too. With plenty of door slamming and loud sighs. For the record, I never did any door slamming. My Mum was rather formidable remember.

And so today is my Mum’s Birthday. She’s 80. Eight Zero. Or Seventy Ten according to #2.

Still young to someone who’s 95. But as my Mum herself said earlier she’s officially ‘Old’. Yeah, she probably is. And when you compare being merely 40 to someone who is Seventy Ten then you realise just how young you are and how much more life there is to live. Some of it may not be so great but most of it will be brilliant.

And if you thought at 40, your best was behind you then you are mistaken. From 40 onwards, my Mum ran her own business, (without knowing any more English than numbers around a roulette table), welcomed in-laws, grandchildren, great-grandchildren into the family, travelled to new places and even went to watch Newcastle United beat Leeds United at St. James’ Park.

I sometimes think that I have a lot of answers to some of the questions out there based on my 40 years and almost ten months. But then I will have a conversation with my Mum and it’s not a patch on her Seventy Ten years. She teaches me that there is no ‘handover’ date when it comes to children. That there is no date in the calendar when they are officially Grown Ups and you can absolve all responsiblity. I have conversations with my Mum and I can hear her tone of voice is exactly the same as when I speak of #1, 2 and 3. She still frets about our financial security, perhaps a trait left over from being a child growing up in a rural country post World War Two and being widowed in her early 40s. And she is not beyond voicing her opinion when she thinks we’ve behaved like idiots.

The difference being that at Seventy Ten, she says she’s done her part and if we choose to do things a certain way then so be it. She’s done with telling us otherwise. Quite rightly so. It’s time for my Mum to take a seat in a comfortable chair and let the world carry on around her whilst she potters off to meet her other Seventy Ten Something friends at the local Chinese Community Centre for lunch. They apparently don’t know it’s her Seventy Tenth Birthday today because she doesn’t want a fuss. Not because my Mum is concerned with her age, I think she would forget the numbers if we didn’t remind her every year. Would she rather we didn’t? But I guess it’s just a number to her now. She stopped counting years ago and stopped caring about getting older and became more concerned with good health and happiness in the family.

She may be a smiling, benign older person quietly mosying along the high street. But she is so much more than that. Get her on the wrong subject and I can hear the energy, verve and fire in her. This makes me smile.

You may be wondering why I’m not back in the UK celebrating this milestone birthday with her today. Of course there are many times I wish I were there and not here. Today is no exception. But actually, in Chinese tradition Seventy Eleven is the milestone birthday for women.

We have a big family and whilst my Mum doesn’t like much fanfare, I’m sure she’ll be thrilled to be surrounded by many of them tonight at dinner. Before wanting to go home and get comfortable in her bed and be snoring by 10pm. She said she’s reached that stage of falling asleep whilst watching tv. Doesn’t sound so bad does it? Except when she tells me she just woke up less an hour ago.

There is not much I can give my Mum for her Birthday. By the time she was 67 she said she had enough slippers, perfume and pyjamas to last her the rest of her days. She’s quite right about that too. She’s got about five pairs of vintage M&S slippers in pristine condition.

What I can give her though is remembering to call often, letting #1, 2 and 3 talk at her down the phone and letting her know that she does a great job being my Mum and that I love her every day.

This is the 150th post on my blog and I’m quite pleased that it falls on my Mum’s Seventy Tenth Birthday.

Happy Birthday to my Mum.
  

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