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

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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