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

Lellephant and all things like it

This raggy looking almost threadbare manky elephant that looks like it ought to smell really bad (and most days it does) is the beloved treasure of #3.

#3 is not unique in having the equivalent of a ‘blankey’ or in grown up terms a ‘comforter’. But until #3 came along, Husband and I had never been held to ransom to the mild disruption, scrap that, to the total mayhem and panic that the absence of Lellephant brings upon our household at bedtime.


As I watched #3 search high and low for Lellephant and the joy on her face as they were reunited, I began wondering how long will this relationship last for. Already it’s been going on for over two and a half years. And as much as #3 loves us, without Lellephant around, she simply cannot fall asleep soundly.


#1 and 2 have had their attachments but no one single article as been as beloved as Lellephant to #3.

#1 was a thumb sucker (as is #3) and that was mostly enough. He’s since outgrown this habit but the callus on the back of his thumb still remains a telltale sign. At a year old, #1 favoured a pink and yellow watering can. When he was two years old, he moved on to carrying two Thomas the Tank Engine trains, one in each hand as he pottered along, whenever we went out. When he discovered a love of Cars at the age of three, that then morphed into two Lightening McQueen cars. Followed by two Dusty Crophoppers when Planes came out. At the age of six and a half, he’s moved onto Lego models which invariably means tiny pieces are misplaces here and there never to be found again.

#2 from the age of eight months old has championed the muslin cloth. Any muslin cloth will do. She couldn’t sleep without one covering the whole of her face. Quite disconcerting when she was a baby. But the look of joy on her face when she has a cloth bundled under her cheek just before she falls asleep smooths out all the troubles of any day.


So it’s not like #1 and 2 have never had that ‘blankey/sleepy toy’ relationship, they were just so easily low maintenance with it. And thus I was complacent about the dependence on a ‘blankey/sleepy toy’ that I used to find it quite bemusing when other parents would run around like headless chickens when their equivalent blankey/sleepy toy went missing.


Like total shutdown of all activity until it was found. The fear shining in their eyes. The mutual look of despair that passes silently between two parents. Without words, they know what’s coming if ‘blankey/sleepy toy’ is not found. They just KNOW.


And what do they know? They know that the attached child when detached from ‘blankey/sleepy toy’ will not sleep soundly that night.  And neither will anyone else in your household. No amount of cradling, hushing, stories, poor choice of fake replacement blankey/sleepy toy will do. You are doomed. You are.


Husband and I experienced this for ourselves. It was not pleasant. And so, just like that we became those kind of parents that has a checklist that includes ‘Lellephant’ on the list before we can leave the house.

  • When #3 goes to school, it’s part of her school kit. Even her teachers know that Lellephant to some degree is placed higher in her affections than even Husband or I.
  • When we go on holiday, Lellephant is on the essential list of things to pack.
  • When on long car journeys, Lellephant is clasped tightly in her little hands.
  • When going to bed, Lellephant is the last thing that #3 lets go of before she falls asleep.

The risk factor of taking Lellephant on holiday is the extra vigilence you need to ensure that Lellephant makes it back home with you. A toy train, car or plane can be replaced quite easily. A muslin cloth comes in packs of six. But a particular soft toy, blanket, sock even is not so easily replaced. And even a very similar duplicate will not fool the one attached to it.


I’ve thought of Plan B over the years and have tried to introduce variations on Lellephant. Is it because #3 loves elephants? She does. So I bought her similar sized elephants which brought her joy but did not displace Lellephant from her affections. Was it the fabric? So Brilliant New Adventure bought her a manatee same size as Lellephant and exact same colour and fabric. Manatee does have a place in her heart as it’s her second favourite animal but will never replace Lellephant.

So, what made me realign my thoughts on no longer looking on with bemusement when other parents freeze at the mention of the disappearance of ‘blankey/sleepy toy? An incident in Kyoto, Japan last year which was an amazing holiday that could have turned into one of the worst. All because the night before we were due to leave and after a long day of touring this amazing city, we returned to the hotel room at 9.45pm to find we were without Lellephant.


Where’s Lellephant? Is it in the rucksack? No. Is it in the pushchair? No. Is #3 holding it? No. #1? #2? Do you have Lellephant? No. Is it in the rucksack? No. Check again. I already have. Check again! At this point voices are rising slightly in a rathe shirll manner. And soon it’s about to descend into accusatory tones at the other for not looking after Lellephant more carefully when you know just how important Lellephant is to the harmony of this household. Especially at bedtime!


So at 10.15pm, I set off on a half hearted mission to retrace our steps in the hopes of what can only be described as a miracle happening that Lellephant would be found. We were in Kyoto! A busy metropolis. I could barely remember all the places we had been to. And most of these places would have closed for the night. I was not filled with hope. How could I explain to #3 that we had lost her most treasured belonging. How would she trust us again? Would our relationship ever recover? Or would she spend the rest of our lives with a look of disappointment and do a deep sigh whenever she saw an elephant for real.


Luckily we won’t have to find out. For as I turned a corner on the 7th floor of this shopping mall which was like a labyrinth of nooks and crannies, there on a bench all by itself was Lellephant.

Now, many inanimate objects can fill my heart with joy. But none so much as the sight of this raggy looking almost threadbare manky elephant that looks like it ought to smell really bad (and most days it does).

#3 is two years and 10 months old today. But her relationship with Lellephant remains strong. It is not really a raggy, threadbare manky elephant. It is an elephant that has been much loved. 

And I think this shows a child’s huge capacity to demonstrate love and affection.


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Why? Because……..

It was with half a smile that I greeted #3’s first exploration of the word ‘Why?’ 


The power of that small, innocuous three letter word that can open minds to new ideas, instigate interesting debate and bring forth stimulating dialogue and perspectives from people you never knew about. 

In fact it’s a good thing that we can ask open ended questions isn’t it? We’re actively encouraged to develop this skill to further our careers in Gainful Employment. Attend any course in ‘How to Negotiate Effectively’ and invariably the Trainer will start with ‘Ask open ended questions’. You know, the who, what, when, where, why and how of things. 

And it is a good thing to be able to do this. Surprisingly it’s not something everyone is good at. Think of all the times when you have tried very hard to make a conversation out of nothing because the other person doesn’t know how to who, what when, where, why and how back at you. Yes. I would consider myself as having a high pain threshold under such circumstances but there are occasions when I have left Husband to deal with it as he has an even higher pain threshold. Two hours one time without a break.

And I suppose you have to start somewhere with the who, what, when, where, why and how of things. Like around the age of two it seems. With the ‘Why?’ 

It’s not that I don’ t like ‘Why?’. ‘Why’ is good when it’s followed by some other words like ‘Why does the dark get dark?’ ‘Why does Father Christmas only come when I’m asleep?’ ‘Why can’t I have another ice cream?’ ‘Why does Nana Moon live in space?’ 

But it takes some years of practice to develop this level of ‘Why?’ questioning and by that stage you’re experienced enough to deflect some of the ‘Whys?’ like ‘Why is that man wearing such small shorts?’ Or you are  able to provide genuinely articulate ‘Because’ answers to follow.

It’s when ‘Why?’ puts a brake on routine that previously ran like clockwork, when it adds about 15 minutes to any activity you need small people to participate in and muddles your mind trying to figure out the ‘Because’ to the ‘Why’ that has just been thrown at you. That’s when ‘Why?’ is not as much fun. When it’s just a downright hindrance and not a prerequisite to interesting and stimulating conversation. 

What do I mean by that? Just last week I could ask #3 to put on her shoes and she would go and put on her shoes.

This morning I ask #3 to put on her shoes and this happens

#3:  Why? 

Me:  Because we’re going out. 

#3:  Why? 

Me:  Because we have to get to school. 

#3:  Why?

Me: So you can see your friends.

#3: Why?

Me: Because you have fun with them.

#3:  Ohhhh! 

Like realisation has just dawned on her as to the connection between putting on her shoes to having fun. 
And yet still there are no shoes on her feet. She doesn’t even have to do anything like tie shoe laces or do up buckles. Not even a velcro strap. Just put her feet into small people’s Crocs (which are acceptable in mini sizes only). 

So I try again.

Me:  #3 can you put your shoes on please.

#3:  Why?

There is one person I know who will read this and say that it’s about time I suffered the pain of this ‘Why?’ It’s been over 35 years since it happened but Our Jenn never lets me forget one incident when she was walking me to school. It goes like this:

Our Jenn: Come on let’s walk faster.

Me: Why?

Our Jenn: Because it’s going to rain.

Me: Why?

Our Jenn: Because you’ll get wet.

Me: Why?

And then I doubt very much it was allowed to carry much longer than that. In fact Our Jenn may well consider my ‘Why? years the most challenging.  

The introduction of ‘Why?’ to any two year old’s vocabulary is of course the natural order of things. To question the world around them and to question exactly what’s what and well, to question why we do things I guess. 

I’ve really enjoyed experiencing #1, 2 and 3 develop their language skills. From waiting for that first word, to non-sensical babble, to the sweet way they get words mixed up and mispronounces them. I would say that right now #1 and 2 have mastered language so well that they feel confident enough to correct my grammar and my accent. Indeed.

For a long while I thought #2 would never be able to pronouce words that started with an ‘s’ followed by a consonant. I remember clearly how she would say ‘Top it’, ‘Ponge’, ‘Potty dress’. Then all of a sudden she stopped and articulated herself very clearly.

At the moment #3 is a fan of piders, dingrays and trawberries. And ‘Why?’ 
And what’s so unusual about her use of ‘Why?’ in amongst all the other chitterchatter that she does non stop all day is that she’s not just babbling in a monologue anymore but she’s learning to open up a conversation. 

‘Why?’ makes me stop and answer her rather than just offer a placatory ‘Mmmm’. It makes me have to listen more and sometimes when I’m getting them ready or getting myself ready because we need to be someplace else, I am often not fully listening because I’m thinking of all the other things that need doing. Hence the ‘Mmmm’. But now I really have to listen more because soon enough they’ll move onto the ‘You’re not listening’. ‘Mmmm’. Which is a different blog post altogether.

And what else does ‘Why?’ signify? 

Ah yes. It signifies the end of a dictatorship  and opens up the start of endless negotiations. 

As well the start of endless interesting and stimulating conversation possibilities.

Whyever not.


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The next best thing to going to see family and friends is when they can come to see you 

As the years pass by and I am still finding myself calling Singapore ‘home’, one of the great joys of being here is when family and friends can come and visit you.


We’ve had a steady flow of visitors over the years and it’s a privilege to be able to host them whilst we’re here. It’s not just family and close friends we’ve seen but old colleagues who randomly find themselves in Singapore for work or just on their way to someplace else.



It’s impossible to fully describe what living this Expat life is like. Is it really like a permanent holiday and how lucky are we to have hot weather, home help and sunshine most days all year round. To come and see for yourself is the only way to find out. It’s a chance for us to share what this lifestyle is all about.



But most importantly, it’s a chance for us to catch up properly at a much more relaxed pace than the galloping speed I find myself doing on every trip back to the UK. I see you but it’s so brief, yet brief is better than nothing. But when you’re out here in Singapore, we at least don’t need to try and cram everything we need to catch up on from the last few years in the next few hours. We at least have a few days to do so.


I love the anticipation of waiting weeks and days until the moment you need to go and collect visitors from Changi Aiport. I love an airport. It usually brings a promise of something fun and exciting. Singapore is so compact that you can get to the airport within half an hour. And the design is such that you can see your visitors come into view whilst they queue for their luggage and not have to wait until that Surprise Surprise moment when they walk through Arrivals.



Uncle Monkey will not like me saying this as he will no doubt take it as a dig, but Nana Moon has stayed at all four of the apartments we’ve lived at in Singapore. Rating each condo on the size  and shape of the pool downstairs. I’m pleased to say that our current condo rates rather high.




Her latest visit last week must have been her fifth or sixth stay in Singapore. Usually it’s because she’s en route to someplace else but this time it was purely to visit us. And rate our new condo pool. Quite often I hear people say that there’s not much to do in Singapore. That you can do the main sights in three or four days. Yes that’s partly true but then how much do you get to see of any other place you’ve been to on holiday. And really, isn’t it about seeing us?



Of course it’s about seeing us! But equally you are on holiday and I wouldn’t want you to go home more exhausted than before you arrived because of the demands of #1, 2 and 3! I’m fully aware of the fact that you are on holiday but as Guest of Honour, you are also a huge source of attention and entertainment for #1, 2 and 3!




And as #1, 2 and 3 grow older and they remember family and friends they’ve met before, there’s something very touching about how they feel when visitors come to stay. They love it. As much as Nana Moon loves Whittaker’s white chocolate with Lemon & Paeroa and bursting with popping candy. Trust me, it’s a deep love. But I also see her point having tried some and immediately having to put it on my grocery list.



You see, as much as there’s hot weather, home help and sunshine most days all year around, there isn’t the consistent presence of something as fixed as family and friends. Don’t get me wrong, we have great friends here but Singapore is a transient hub and at some point, they or we, will move on. It just depends on when. Two years are fast approaching seven.




So you can imagine the excitement when I told #1, 2 and 3 about the return of Nana Moon. Plans were made months in advance of the places they wanted to take her (Legoland, Malaysia), gifts were bought with a Star Wars theme attached and they were even going to take her to school as their Show and Tell exhibit A but much to their disappointment we had to go to Legoland instead.



I’m not quite sure who had the most fun at Legoland. Or who most enjoyed the stay at the Legoland Hotel. I do know that Nana Moon taking them on the rides that go round and round spared me many moments of being sick. At the moment I’m still the Mummy Who Can. #1, 2 and 3 haven’t quite sussed out that I’m rubbish at theme park rides, that I’m no natural adrenaline junkie and that I’m rather scared of the dark with mysterious noises and low flying animals around. And Nana Moon knowing that I am all these things, always steps up to lead the way.





Equally as I saw how much #1, 2 and 3 gained from Nana Moon’s company, I came to question again the value of those close relationships they are missing out on. On both sides. With lots of people. Even in the seven short months since we were last in the UK, Nana Moon could see how much each of them has grown up and changed.




We often talk about reverting back to type when we are with our siblings. That we adopt the roles we’ve always played when with brothers and sisters. That is so true. But what I’ve realised over the years is that we also revert back to type with those who we have known the longest. We talk about the same things, almost picking up conversations we left off a couple of years ago. There’s something quite comforting and reassuring when that happens.




For me, it’s the safety of knowing that whilst I have been away and you and I have done so many things that haven’t involved each other, I ultimately know that beneath it all, you and I haven’t changed that much at all. And you know, I like being able to talk about the ridiculous. Like whether I’d like to be a vampire or witch more. I’ve given this much thought. Ask Nana Moon.



Without doubt, taking this unknown step of moving out to Singapore all those years ago was the right move. It’s been good to be pushed out of your own comfort zone. Meet new people. Meet some amazing new people who have brought so much and widened the world for me. I’ve travelled to places I never would have done. Tried new experiences that would never have crossed my mind to want to try and do. Like the G5 bungy ping. It’s been calling me for six years and I can say I’m never having to do it again. Besides I definitely won’t be if my Dad, Mr Li hears about it. (What were you thinking? You’re a 40 year old mother of three and you go and do this? I despair. And so on)





In this modern era of never truly being out of touch with people anywhere in the world at all times of day which I’m truly thankful for. I daresay I couldn’t have stayed out this long without social media and various apps that help us keep relationships going and friendships alive.  Though nothing can compare to their actual presence.



Whilst the Arrivals Hall of an aiport is one of the most exciting and happiest places to be, equally the Departures Hall can be one of the most hardest places to be if you are the one not going anywhere. I must be notoriously rubbish at saying Farewell because #1 kept asking me whether I was going to cry. And he and #2 were so upset they had to be consoled with fries before going home….. But it’s good that we miss you because it means we’ll be looking forward to seeing you again.



If we can’t go and visit family and friends all around the world. The next best thing is when family and friends can come and visit us here.



And so if you can, it would be lovely to see you .


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There’s something about IKEA

As soon as it became apparent that we needed to go to IKEA on a Sunday, we were already doomed.

And having #1, 2 and 3 in tow as well.



It’s not that I don’t like IKEA. I do. I like looking at all the gadgets that I don’t need. 

And then buying many of those gadgets I don’t need. 
And then going back to buy generic looking storage for all the items I bought that I don’t need. 

And judging by the number of people who frequent IKEA day and night, Monday to Sunday, it seems I’m not the only one. 

Only Husband is immune to the charms of IKEA. He doesn’t like IKEA. But understands that on occasion we NEED IKEA.

Every time we move home, we need to make at least one trip to IKEA. I don’t understand why this is so when we move from one place to another with exactly the same stuff. Yet move to another apartment and suddenly there’s an urgent need to go to IKEA. 
It seems a trip to IKEA is the new housewarming party. 

But surely all these people who frequent IKEA day and night, Monday to Sunday, can’t all be moving home?
I mean there are those who have clearly just landed in Singapore and realised they have packed all the wrong stuff in the air freight and find themselves without the basic essentials like an ironing board, tableware, pans, cutlery and towels. I once made this rookie error.

This is probably the reason why IKEA was invented. Along with the $2 shop. 
Then there are the bulk of people who hang out in IKEA for what appears to be, JUST FOR FUN! *

And for chicken wings. 

And hot dogs.

And ice cream cones. 

I wonder how many chicken wings, hotdogs and ice cream cones are shifted each day? 

But whilst I say this, IKEA diligently sources sustainable salmon in it’s stores. Considering IKEA is as famous for its salmon and meatballs as it is for useful gadgets we never knew we needed, this is quite a remarkable and responsible achievement.

But it still doesn’t make up for the fact that IKEA on a Sunday at 11.30am with #1, 2 and 3 in tow is as far away from my ideal Sunday morning as you can get. It practically has ruined IKEA for me. Not being able to browse at leisure the many useful gadgets I need and many useful gadgets I already have that now come in a new hue of bright plastic that I simply must have.

When Husband is in attendance there is no following the arrows the long way round. For once I don’t mind as I want this trip to be functional and out as soon as we can. There has only been one time in my whole life when we went to IKEA and came out with only the items on the preordained shopping list. Guess who was in charge that day? 

Except #1, 2 and 3 have discovered the ‘playground’ in the Children’s Furnishings section. Along with every other family in IKEA. It’s sort of treated like a free indoor playground.

As my will to live slowly seeps away into the surrounding plastic storage boxes, we finally manage to coax #1, 2 and 3 away before having to navigate the obstacles of the Marketplace downstairs. I don’t even want to stop and browse when I clock all the opportunities for ‘once broken considered sold’ mishaps. I urgently try and guide #1, 2 and 3 away from all the precariously stacked glassware whilst pinning the windmilling arms of #2 firmly to her sides. 

I persuade #1 he doesn’t need a cutlery drainer to use as a fishing utensil. What a reversal of roles! And I do like how #1 can readily see the usefulness of IKEA gadgets. 

But we retreat with all the things we came for. Plus a few more useful gadgets.

And hotdogs. 

And for once I’m so glad to see the EXIT sign. 

But I know I’ll be back. Like we always are after every move. 

* ( I say this as I recall a time when Elbear, Mr G and I would go to the 24 hour Asda JUST FOR FUN at 11pm, it had loads of interesting things to look at!)


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