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

What happened to Birthday Eve? 

As Mrs Cake Pops pointed out eight days ago, I demonstrated little fanfare on Birthday Eve this year. 

How out of character you may think. Unless you saw my Facebook post at the start of August declaring that it was Birthday month. Indeed.

Truth is, I was just too busy to dedicate much time to Birthday Eve having just come back from a week away in Thailand. You sort of think that a two hour flight with #1, 2 and 3 should be a breeze these days and on the whole it is but the whole travelling thing is still quite exhausting. Especially as I’ve mentioned before that as the years roll by my exuberance for air travel wavers somewhat. The mere mention of turbulence has me in a silent panic. As the plane jolted around for a few minutes I could hear #1 and 2 whooping like we’re on a roller coaster as I grip the arm rests.

Birthday Eve is significant in that it marks the end of your own personal year. The last day of an age you’ll never be again. As far as being 41 goes, on the whole I can definitely leave that one behind as a year that ranked lower than some other years but also contained some good stuff too.
It was a year of huge change with the return to Gainful Employment and #1 and 2 starting Big School. There has been sadness as well but also joy with new family members to meet. World events also played a part. All these things combined is tiring. Exhausting even. 
As Birthday Eve and even Birthday passed, I looked over my shoulder and acknowledged some of the challenges that 41 came with and realised that whilst some of them were rather rubbish, they wouldn’t define the whole year. There were learnings definitely and to take something away from such experiences can only add to yourself and not detract. 

After all in a few more years what happened at 41 will become distant memory. Think back to all the years where it hasn’t felt so amazing and then suddenly it is amazing. Nothing truly lasts forever and in the great scheme of things, can you really expect every year to be amazing. You would never learn anything new. About yourself and others.

But already 42 (42!!) has started off pleasingly. I realised what needs to happen more often is quite simple. I need to spend more time with friends and family. I really do. Get back to doing things that I enjoy. Be it running, cooking, crafting, pottering around, laughing. 

It is as simple as that. 

So Birthday was spent trying out a bar I’d heard plenty about. It’s one of those ‘hidden bar, secret password’ places with drinks menus in font size not designed with the elderly in mind. Followed by dinner at a place that has a six week waiting list. But for once I ‘know’ people who can get you in within three weeks. I am what they call connected.

Birthday Plus One was spent with Twin 1 and Twin 2 who generously hosted belated birthday celebrations for anyone who happened to have had a birthday in the past 12 months. If you greet most people with a ‘it’s been too long since…’ then it’s time to change that. 

Good conversation and company makes for an enjoyable evening but lob in a good party game with highly covetable prizes to be had leaves you going home decidedly satisfied. 

On it’s own a solar powered inflatable light may not seem like much but if you know you’re taking it off someone who highly desires it, well then it becomes much more enjoyable to drink a jumbo tumbler of whiskey with your newly acquired jumbo ice cubes by solar powered inflatable light. 

The reflection of Birthday Eve this year is that I didn’t spend the time doing anywhere near as much as I should have done of things that make you say that was a good Birthday year.
And so for this year of 42 I’m going to tip the balance the other way. 
Do more of what you love the most too. 

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Regaining a bit of ‘We’ time

By regaining a bit of ‘We’ time, I don’t mean ‘wee’ time in that I can now go and do my business without an audience.  I cannot recall a time that involved sitting on a toilet behind a closed door in my own home. To the point that when you come and visit, you should probably remind me to do.
 

No, by regaining a bit of ‘We’ time, I mean the ‘We’ of Husband and I on our own. Without #1, 2 and 3 in tow. It’s not like it hasn’t happened before. That we haven’t been out on our ownsome or with other Responsible Grown Ups since becoming parents. It’s just those times have usually been after a full day with #1, 2 and 3 and then rushing to get out elsewhere. Having a shower but not enough time to do your hair. Those kinds of outings.

 

But a special occasion calls for a bit of proper ‘We’ time. Especially if you know that someone has spent much of the past few weeks getting up in the middle of the night tending to sick children whilst you sleep off your own illness. Husband has been quite the star doing all these things whilst I’ve been down with flu and sleeping in as much as I can in the mornings. So for Husband’s birthday this year, as a break from the norm, I booked us into a fancy pants place for lunch. Why not dinner you may say? Seeing as it’s a special occasion. I said regaining just a BIT of ‘We’ time. The other night when I went out for dinner with a friend, #3 sat by the front door and very softly said ‘Don’t go out Mummy, please stay at home.’ Whereas when you go out in daylight, it’s quite acceptable. Perhaps, I should try just going out for lunch and staying out. I know people who do that. Yes, you.

 

But anyways, going out for lunch is a start. Especially to a fancy pants restaurant where the cutlery isn’t one style fits all dishes and you get a knife. You’d be surprised how many restaurants in Singapore don’t have knives. Like, why would you need a knife to cut up your pork chop? What’s wrong with the fork and spoon combo? Admittedly, the fork and spoon combo is a rather efficient way of shoveling food in at speed. So fancy pants was this restaurant that for my starter, I was presented with chopsticks, knife and fork. Two ways to eat. Imagine that.

 Fancy pants restaurants no longer scare me. They once did in my twenties when Husband and I went to a fancy pants restaurant for the first time and we were the youngest by far. It felt almost like playing at Responsible Grown Ups. Everyone else was wearing black and I had on a sparkly silver top. Having just thought of this, I realise I was wearing black today. Oh no! I’ve mastered the art of blending in.

 

Husband and I arrive at the fancy pants restaurant towards the end of the lunch sitting and I could have gotten away with saying that I had hired the whole restaurant just for him on his Birthday. We sit at a neat table for two rather than the usual picnic bench for five. There’s a policy that no under 12’s are allowed in and for a moment we look around and imagine the terror and uproar #1, 2 and 3 would be causing at the moment. Do you know what a luxury it is to be able to sit still and not have to be retrieving a child from under the dinner table? Yesterday, #3 for reasons known only to herself, decided she would only eat her dinner if I pretended she was a stray dog we were taking home with us. I kid you not. And we did take her home and she woofed in appreciation.

 

As far as Birthdays have gone for Husband these past few years, he’s celebrated with a trip to the Bird Park, Universal Studios and a five year old’s Birthday party. I think this is the year to make him feel he’s not living the life of Tom Hanks in Big.

 

In previous years, I’ve talked about your own Birthday not being quite your own with small people around who seem to adopt it as an extension of celebrating something for themselves. Present opening, cake eating, special Birthday outing. Today though, there was an Assistant Director on the scene. #1 helped me to wrap the presents, he wrote on each present who it was from and then he hid them under a cover and got #2 and 3 to do a bit reveal in front of Husband who was naturally amazed and had no idea there was a pile of presents under a cloth in the middle of the room. He even wrote on an old wrapping paper tube a special Birthday message. Significant for several reasons that he had creativity, he did it all on his own and he wrote something without being prompted. #1 is not a fan of writing.

 

Husband could really see that #1 had put in the effort to make it special for him with these simple gestures. I hope it made #1 feel good to make someone else happy. I hope there are many more of these moments over the years.

 

#3 made us laugh as all Birthdays come with cake, presents,  party and games. When it came to bedtime, #3 said to Husband ‘but we haven’t played any games Daddy.’ So I invented a new game called Musical Sleep. When the music stops, you lie down and go to sleep.

 

Happy Birthday Husband, who declared that he is going to buy a Porsche and get the mid life crisis out of the way…

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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All Hallowed Out

I have felt frightful today. As bad as my Halloween look from last night. No need for the extra pale make up or faux dark shadows under the eyes, the zombie look is all natural today. I’ll come to how I got to that state later on.

I don’t know why or how but Halloween this year turned out to be a rather big affair. An almost 24 hour long celebration of all things spooky. I am not a big fan of all things spooky. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t like watching scary films and I used to sit on the ghost train with my eyes closed but pretending they weren’t. I jump at the slightest thing and have been known to scream in people’s faces if I happen to turn a corner and come face to face with someone I wasn’t expecting to be there.

But you know, Halloween with young children is a more friendly affair. Small people dressed up as pumpkins, spiders, witches and wizards and a random array of non-spooky related outfits. How can you resist a good dress up like that.

#3 loves a good dress up. Whilst it’s a whole month late, we held a belated Birthday Halloween party to celebrate #3 turning 3. She was only going to acknowledge it was no longer her Birthday when there’s been the big Birthday sing song around a big Birthday cake. Ah, the Birthday cake. I can’t tell you how amazing #3’s Birthday cake was as created by my exceptionally talented friend Cathy from My cakes by Catarina. I asked her just a couple of weeks ago if she had time to make #3’s cake and she asked what theme did I have in mind. I told her #3 wanted to have a Cinderella at the Ball party with the shoe but as it’s Halloween can you do something with a pumpkin. Clear brief? This is what she came up with. A cake of two halves. I knew it was going to be spectacular when I received a message from Cathy the day before saying ‘I love your cake sooooo much!’ and I know how much Cathy enjoys what she is clearly so talented at doing. Look at the detail. The care and attention that has gone into this cake. It seemed such a shame to have to cut into it but it tasted amazing too.

  
I remember when #2 turned 3, one of the biggest highlights of her party was having a friend there all of her very own. The friend she has made all by herself at school. Well this time it was #3’s turn to have a friend of her very own at the party. And for the first time I was referred to as #3’s Mummy. I’m sure it’s something I’ll hear a lot more of soon enough. For now, most of #3’s friends are an older crowd and they want to PARTY! They actually make their own entertainment. Running amok, chatting, shouting, eating handfuls of crisps. It’s quite funny how just two years ago #1 wasn’t that bothered about party games but he now loves them. He loves musical statues but still no one quite gets the whole statue bit so we did musical chairs instead and still no one quite gets that either. Some kids just sit on the chairs watching the others go round, others dip in and out of the game and the music stops and they are so small that two, sometimes three can fit neatly on one chair so that no one ends up out.

So that’s another party done. All Birthdays done for another year. But it was the first of three Halloween parties of yesterday. Halloween perhaps still isn’t as big an occasion in the UK as it is in some other countries. We did do Trick or Treating around the neighbourhood which is quite ironic that on this one occasion it’s ok to accept sweets from random strangers. Anyhow, last night we were invited to friends who live in a neighbourhood where every other house had gone to town with all things spooky. There were hoards of young people, small children and parents out together dressed up and enjoying a real community activity. Homes were decorated elaborately scary and buckets of sweets were waiting for the incoming visitors. I have never seen anything like it. #1, 2 and 3 enjoyed themselves and so did I. Now what to do with the enormous stash of sweets and chocolates they’ve brought back?

  
And finally after almost 12 hours of Halloween activity already and torn between wanting to go to bed to moving onto the final Halloween do for Grown Ups only. The good thing about Halloween fancy dress up is that you don’t need to do much to look bad. A layer of too pale foundation instantly ghouled me out and a bit of black eye shadow to enhance the dark circles that already exist permanently. Plus a bit of fake blood. And we’re done. Husband and I dressed up as zombie tourists. I think he secretly wanted an excuse to buy a selfie stick. Why would zombie tourists be scary? Because you may not be aware that I have an irrational fear of couples, families even, who wear matching clothing. Like the exact same top. There’s a Chinese saying that roughly translates to mean the ‘loving couple’ look. That a couple who wear the exact same top are more in love, in tune than those who don’t. If anyone dared to wear the exact same top as me, we would no longer be a couple. I feel distinctly uncomfortable when I see couples walking towards me in their exact same tops. I feel irrational rage and the impulse to ask them if they know they’ve left the house in the exact same top. It is my worst nightmare. As Husband knows all too well. Even being in the shop trying on our tops and catching first glance of ourselves in the mirror nearly made me violently ill.

And then I was violently ill. Felled by the Evil Twin 2 and her tray of catch up tequila shots and gin with a small dash of mixer. It has been quite some time since I’ve had those all day hangovers. The kind where you wake up and can’t move without feeling nauseous. Where you can’t look down. That is a sure sign that things are bad. And whilst Husband was up early and out to rugby training with #1, I was left with #2 and 3 with a 10am party to get to in a play gym. On a Sunday morning. Thankfully it’s been a haze free day so the indoor gyms were not as packed as they could be. But still, being anywhere but in bed when you can’t look down is not good. Over the course of the three hours there, I could feel myself slowly coming out of Hangover Hell a couple of steps only to fall back into the raging fires of it again. I’m still not quite out of it yet but at least it’s bedtime now. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll look a bit more human again.

  

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#3 is Three

A few days ago #3 turned Three. Though the day before that she would have you believe she was five turning six. As far as she is concerned, #3 has never been two. All through her Twos you could ask her ‘How old are you #3?’ and she would answer you back, ‘3’, ‘4’ or ‘5’. Sometimes even ‘6’.

I can totally understand why she would think that. I think small people suit being two for just a few months and then they ought to move onto the next year. That year between two and three is one of such immense change in their lives that being two just doesn’t seem to do enough justice to their achievements. Or change in temperament. I think it’s more the change in temperament that makes me say this. Ah, she was still so compliant at the turn of two. You could strap her in her car seat with no bother, put her to bed in her cot and walk out of the room safe in the knowledge she’d be asleep in a few minutes and there were no insistent demands that require a will of steel and ear plugs to deflect.

But then somehow the button that triggers a small person’s internal navigation system with destination INDEPENDENCE was hit. And that was the end of that. #3 found her voice and uses it frequently. She discovered volume control and cranked it up high. She learnt quickly from those two old timers #1 and 2 and now she’s like a mini hybrid version of them both when it comes to stubbornness and stamping her ground. And I guess that is the key point. Instead of figuring it out slowly for herself, she’s been given the Cliff Notes version of ‘How to bypass two’ just by absorbing what’s going on all around her. And that is what makes me wonder where did her Two year go because for a long, long time she has been just as vocal, demanding and independent but not quite so capable as #1 and 2.

It is quite true that your parenting outlook becomes more relaxed with each passing child. And whilst I would never describe myself as having thrown away the manual, it is noticeable that she has been granted more leeway than #1 and 2. This extends to what she can do, eat, play with and how much television she has had in comparison to # 1 and 2 by same age comparison figure. #2 had to patiently wait until she herself turned three before she was allowed her first ever pair of Big Girl dress up shoes. You can guess that #3 has been clomping around in them so much to have worn out the heel.

But what I think what really made the difference was her confidence that made you (and her) think she was beyond two. I love how being the #3, she gets to do everything with the security of #1 and 2 around her leading the way. The good and the bad I must say. And how much love there is around her. With older siblings mostly looking out for you. Being the #3 means you already have quite a lot of people who love and protect you right from the get go.

#3 suits being three. And so far she also agrees she’s three rather than four, five or six. Thank goodness she does because I am the one who laments the speed of these fast flowing months the most (and also Husband too). By now, I know how fleeting these years will be as I echo the sentiments of many parents before me. You never believe it when you have a tiny bundle of baby that you don’t quite know what to do with and someone helpfully tells you ‘Enjoy them whilst they’re little because they won’t stay little for long’ and you’re thinking but I just want to them to feed themselves and let me sleep!

Every stage never last longs. Hang on, did I really just say that? Even the current three siblings having an altercation at least four times a day stage? But I’m getting side tracked here. Every stage really never lasts long and I can feel that tug upon my heart strings thinking about my littlest young one growing up. She’s already getting so heavy that it’s not with one smooth movement I can lift her up. And when she sits on my knee at the table or for a story I need to contort in a way that doesn’t agree with my back to see past her. I have to be patience as she tells me she can do it herself and answer the myriad of questions that start and end with ‘Why?’

But she is still my littlest young one in the way she loves to be near you and hold your hand and sit right by your side. How she loves nothing more than to raid my bag daily and go through my lipsticks at an alarming rate. Casually sauntering out of the bedroom with lipstick smeared across her face and acting like nothing was amiss. How she loves Lellephant and can’t travel far without it. How she’s going to be a Princess when she’s grown up and thinks nothing of wearing fancy dress out for a stroll to the shops. How she loves all things animal and has made me overcome my own fear of approaching new dogs. How she likes to suddenly pretend she’s a cat called Toffee and slinks around miaowing and wanting you to stroke her curls. And those curls! It’s still very odd to see that she has inherited curls. She still hasn’t had her hair cut yet but I think it’s time because when asked what would she like to do for her Birthday treat, she answered with wanting to get her hair cut.

It takes an extra 20 minutes at least to get her to bed now that she’s no longer in a cot. She just barges in on #1 and 2 whilst we’re trying to read them their last story even after spending a good chunk of time getting her all nicely settled in. But I don’t really mind because inevitably without fail she’ll be in the middle of our bed for half the night. I know this is not best practice as advised in all the Generic Parenting Guides. It is perhaps not a great reflection on our parenting ability to admit that we have never been able to keep #1 and 2 in their beds at the same age either. I know what the ‘correct’ parenting technique is to address this and for a short while we tried but I figured it just wasn’t worth the upset when it was better that everyone got some sleep.

Perhaps we just weren’t strong willed enough. Perhaps. But I know this stage will also pass. We are no longer a family of five who could survive in a two bed flat because who needs the extra bedrooms when we all happen to end up in the one room every night anyways. I admit to wondering just before #3 was born whether #1 and 2 would ever sleep the whole night in their own bed ever again. But just as suddenly you find that they do. So now when #3 silently makes an appearance and claims the land in the middle of the bed, I really don’t mind. I like waking up and seeing her there and having her snuggle up to you first thing in the morning to start off your day on a warm and fuzzy note.

#3 is still only three. I guess that’s still very little. Of course it is. I know it is. But there’s something about your littlest young one. When you know you will never see this stage again that makes you want it to drift by very slowly so you can savour the good bits all the more for that bit longer. Collect all the cuddles and kisses and holding of hands. The squishing of cheeks and the feel of their little selves right up close and their demands of your attention and answering of their questions. Make these moments last the longest and their tantrums the shortest please.

Happy Birthday #3. With so much love and laughter.

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A day of two parties 

It is not uncommon for me to attend two parties in one day. There have been occasions where I have even been to three. That is how rock and roll I am.

Except before you feel envious, most parties I go to are for small people. Between #1, 2 and 3, I am merely the Keeper of their social diary and the wheels of their transportation. I don’t recall as many Birthday parties going on around me whilst I was growing up. As much as Birthdays were celebrated in some form with cake, presents and special Birthday dinner, a party was still a ‘party’ with just your family around.

For each of #1, 2 and 3, every Birthday has been celebrated with a multitude of friends in Singapore. Each year a different group of friends as people come and go. With living this Expat Life and in the absence of close family around, the close friends we have become the people the children look forward to celebrating their Birthday with.

And every Birthday is special but Turning 5 is something else which I’ve already talked about for #1 in When a child is born and recently for #2 in You’ll always be my baby. And for every Birthday, I like #1, 2 and 3 to have some involvement with the decision making process before adapting it to my own capabilities. For the moment, they haven’t realised the amount of effort that goes into party planning. No matter how simple you think it’s going to be; a cake, party bags and venue; it never is.

And so #2 at the fine age of five, made up her mind some months ago, as far back as Easter, that for her Birthday she would like a ‘Thomas’ party. As in Thomas the Tank Engine. I thought our Thomas days were over soon after #1 turned two. This was quite a surprise as #2 has not been known for her love of steam engines. Last year was the whole Princess Elsa and fake snow that took us 2 hours to clean up party! And considering how fickle a child’s loyalty can be, I thought she would change her mind before long. I didn’t encourage her to change it, after all we should be encouraging freedom to choose whatever you want to be and do. So I said to #2, “If you can name me five Thomas trains then you can have your Thomas party.” She gets as far as “Thomas…..” then whispers to #1 “Who else?” to which he reels off a list of names having never forgotten them from when he was 18 months old.

Several months later and we (read I) need to start party planning and she’s still quite sure it’s going to be a ‘Thomas party’. I like it. I like how she can have a supposed boys themed party just because she can. The joys of being five and five year olds unperturbed by general ideas of how things should be. I like how she can wear a fuschia pink dress at the same time and jump around on a trampoline and dig up dirt in the sand pit whilst insisting on My Little Ponies in the party bags.

I like how she is uninhibited by what others may think. When does this change? And what can we do to change this? In times where there is much discussion on girls under increasing pressure to act and behave a certain way influenced by their peers, celebrity culture and overexposure of what everyone is doing on social media. Do you think of how we can keep this free thinking of both genders the way it is at the age of five?

Moving on from these thoughts; how did she enjoy herself? Well the cake maketh the party and #2 asked for Thomas with the Fat Controller. And that is exactly what she got. After organising 12 Birthday parties, I have long since let go of the ‘Must Do Everything Myself’ when I know so many much more talented people who can do a far better job. My friend Cathy who is never short of cake orders did a fabulous job again and she can be found at https://www.facebook.com/pages/My-cakes-by-Catarina/165934673561576?fref=ts but Hurry! She’s already completely booked up for September. So who will make #3’s cake?

  

#2 loved her Birthday cake. So much so that when it was time to hand out party bags when people were leaving, she turns to me smiling and says, “I just need to go wash my hands!”. Not only are her hands black but her teeth and mouth and face stained black like she’s transitioning into a pirate with poor dental hygiene. Whilst she’s off washing her hands, I notice the Fat Controller has lost his head. When she comes back I ask her “Did you eat the Fat Controller’s head?”, “I did Mummy” she happily replies.

And if you looking for a venue with the right blend of indoor and outdoor space then I couldn’t recommend Tanderra more highly. When you have almost 30 five and six year olds in one space, it is best to let them loose outdoors. Many of us living in Singapore have the luxury of a pool downstairs but few of us have the freedom of a garden that children can potter around in. This venue is like the back garden #1, 2 and 3 would love to have with a huge sandpit, trampoline and regular green grass.

  
And what Husband and I still haven’t learnt is the perils of the pinata! Five is a good age for  a pinata, anyone below five are just wasting their time. A gentle tap by most under fives is only going to make the pinata last the whole duration of the party but you and other parents will soon tire of it.  At five they’re strong enough to do some serious damage so make sure you are well out of the way. At five they have a strong competitive streak and you spend most of the time yelling ‘Move back, move back!’ as they want to get as close to the sweet cascade as possible. At five they are also not beyond tears because five is a bit young to be battling it out on the brutal sweet grabbing field.

I like watching small people have fun at parties. Running riot with their mates and gorging on sugar items washed down by juice and more sugar items. And I like how the guests can then be returned to their rightful parents to deal with the aftermath of the sugar products and the high of extreme sporting activities like the pinata.

And that same evening, Husband and I joined good friends at the NZ Aotearoa Ball, our only connection being we know people who are genuinely from New Zealand and can sing both versions of the national anthem. Switch the sugar items washed down by juice and more sugar items to red wine, white wine and more red wine and you’ve basically got a re-enactment of a group of Grown Up five year olds running riot with their mates. Except the hangovers the next day most likely lasted a lot longer than the sugar crashes ever did.

And with all good nights out, the next day there’s nothing you can particularly say that could fully describe what made it such a great event. There was a lot of laughter, dancing and conversation I can’t recall. But I do recall the company was great and it makes you look forward to seeing them again.

It was a day of two parties indeed. And who doesn’t love a party be you five or fifty five. 

A very good day.

  

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You’ll always be my baby

I think I’ve been in denial about the significance of a child turning the Big Five.

#2 turned the Big Five today and I know she’s been looking forward to this day ever since her best friends started turning the Big Five as far back as last year. She has joined the ranks of being a Big Girl now. A role she will wholeheartedly embrace no doubt.

#2 has a knack of speaking things with absolute authority so that it sounds like it’s set in stone. There have been many occasions this past year where I have had friends ask me things that I’m meant to be doing which has been complete news to me. It has reached the point where I have just had to say, ‘Please do not believe a word she says’. Otherwise people would believe there’s a #4 on the way, we’re moving to Australia and getting a dog and that on our last holiday we too were going on holiday to Sri Lanka and would be meeting up with some friends there. I know this is typical behaviour of a child of this age but she is a very good storyteller and has an imagination worthy of their own storybooks.

If I thought that this last year has flown by for me, then the same can be said of how fast it has gone by since #2 was just turning four years old. In some ways this is no bad thing as there have been some moments I’m glad to have seen the back of. Mostly seen the back of.

What felt like months of full on tantrums that sprung from nowhere. Almost as if someone had suddenly turned up the volume to maximum with no warning and somehow the volume control got stuck there. No amount of cajoling, threatening, withholding of anything could snap #2 out of these depths of despair. Nothing. I didn’t like those moments very much. It was hard to overlook and ignore this behaviour because it was so intense and extreme that it had a profound effect on myself and #1 and 3. When one starts it will invariably set off the others. Quite often I can have hours of tag team meltdowns just because they can. It is exhausting and does not make parenting a joy. Yes I know there will be rough days like these but I can say from September to December last year, there were a lot of them.

Though more often than not, you don’t realise when the rough days are no longer rough days because we just enjoy the good days and only complain about the bad. These emotional outbursts became less so and the flow of family life leveled out to just the occasional spike of emotional meltdown that can be fairly attributed to a very tired #2. It seems #2 is not good when you wake her up after she’s fallen asleep in the car. It usually takes about 20 minutes for her to recover from being rudely awoken. I’m not surprised actually as I too am not keen on being woken up like so. Not keen at all.

It’s interesting how I’ve been told that #2 is very much the ‘Middle Child’. I had never even heard of ‘Middle Child Syndrome’ until the incubation of #3 was announced. Then suddenly there were predictions on the profound effect this would have on #2’s character. It becomes less of their natural character and more the character of birth ranking. It has been rather fascinating to consider. In some respects though, being made to be aware of this does make you more conscious of doing what you can to avoid some of the pitfalls highlighted to me. I can see how attention can be so easily drawn away from #2 because #1 has always led proceedings and #3 either needs more care or just uses her two year old ways to be heard. I have seen her unsure of how to get our attention and swaying between mimicking #3’s young ways to the full on meltdowns. Neither approach getting the results she would like.

But since Christmas I have seen a really big change in #2. There’s a real sense of self assurance about her. Like she knows her place and is becoming more confident in herself. She neither has to be like #1 or #3. She is happy being herself. As a parent this is so good to see. That even though there are three of you, you will always be you and you will be loved by us for it.

And I know that my #2 is one that needs a bit of reassurance from myself or Husband in new situations. And that is ok. I see that it’s ok if she doesn’t want to join in this time and that next time she will. Unlike #1 where I often will push him towards taking part because I know he will enjoy himself and he can often just be idle about getting involved, #2 is much more……..obstinate shall we say. Actually I think all three are. Must be the parents.

Equally, #2 has really surprised me with her maturity over big changes that I thought would have more of an effect on her than #1 and #3. She took the change completely in her stride and I was so not expecting it. She is very much like me when it comes to having a fear of all things free roaming animal. On our trip to the UK she practically climbed onto the top of my head to get away from a relative’s dogs. On the one hand I’m trying to reassure her the dog isn’t going to eat her but I know in the back of my head I’m only saying so because it’s my role to show no fear but secretly I am wondering if the dog is going to eat us.

For years #2 showed no interest in arts and crafts but this year she loves nothing more than to grab a sheet of paper, some pencils and colours and sit and draw from memory elaborate scenes with a story to tell. She has an aptitude for languages and has shown a keenness to learn Mandarin and at the same time speaks with an accent that would suggest she had grown up in the south of England. Lately one of the big things that #1 and 2 have found hilarious is the way I pronounce certain words. #2 has taken it upon herself to be official translator.

#1:  What’s a boooooaaaaat Mummy?

#2:  She means boat Olly.

Speaking of boats, a true rite of passage has been the fact she is now tall enough for the 106cm and above boat ride at the Singapore River Safari. That was an outing of great excitement after having been denied the experience for some 18 months. And now that’s she over the 106cm minimum height requirement, there is no stopping her. She is the perfect companion for Nana Moon to seek out high thrills and rides that go round and round, for I am no good at these.

When #2 laughs, she cackles and she is quite the joker with the comical faces she pulls all the time. As her relationship with #3 moves along, helped a whole lot by Frozen and the power of sisters, I can see a strong sisterly bond forming there. It’s funny watching them potter around role playing and pretending to be this and that and dressing up. And then there’s the reading and writing, both of which have come on in leaps and bounds in the last six months. She is so proud of being able to achieve these things herself now after watching #1 take the lead. She’s not competing but she’s just aware that she can do this herself.

At her last Parent Teacher Meeting at school, I was very happy to hear how much she loves learning and taking part in all activities. She has overcome her fear of school performances and all these Grown Ups staring at them singing and dancing and I loved hearing her practise the songs in the car everyday.

Can you see why I think I’ve been in denial about #2 turning the Big Five? Look at how much she’s grown this past year. I’m very proud of her. So proud. But the rate at which she’s learning and becoming independent can be a bittersweet moment too. She’s growing up and that is a wonderful thing. We will do all we can to guide her to be a strong, confident and compassionate young person.

But again, perhaps in the same vein like when #1 turned the Big Five and I was getting unexpectedly emotional about it, I feel that today I will give in to the emotions. 
Last night as we whooped and got ourselves in party mood for #2 turning the Big Five today, I asked her how old was she going to be tomorrow and she said ‘Five’ in a burst of excitement.

Then she adds “But I’ll always be your baby”.

That you will #2. You always will.

Happy 5th Birthday. xx

  

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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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It’s a Very Special Day!

I know it sounds like I’m overexcited because today is General Election Day. That in itself is very exciting. If you are in the UK, please go and exercise your right to vote. Even if you think what’s the point when all Politicians are a dishonest, hypocritical and useless bunch of crooks who couldn’t run the country better than you could yourself. At least put in your vote for who you think could do a second best job other than yourself. And only after you have voted are you able to join in giving said democratically voted in Party a hard time for the next five years.

But today isn’t about General Election Day. Tomorrow will be. For today is all about getting you to vote and tomorrow will be all about The People of the UK Have Spoken. Tomorrow will be a day of nerves and exhilaration as the votes are counted and announced. This is one of the few postives of having a seven hour time difference between Singapore and the UK. I get to sleep and then spend the whole day talking to myself about which Constituency has fallen where and which friends to keep or not.

Today is all about Our Jenn and the fact that her Big Birthday will not be hijacked by General Election Day.

Last year I wrote a post about Me and Our Jenn and I was so sure that I would be back in the UK to celebrate it with her too. Disappointingly I’m not. But if celebrating your next Big Birthday is anything like how I celebrated Embracing 40 then there’s always time to party when I’m next back in the UK.

However, I’m not sure just how long the party will last for. I like how having a drink with Our Jenn is a Malibu and coke please. That a couple of them will probably have her dancing on the tables to Duran Duran and then one more will send her off to sleep in a heap in the corner before it’s even 9pm. Yet on a regular day, you’ll find her still up at two or three in the morning and often I see her post something on Facebook and I’m telling her from halfway around the world to go to bed. I thought I only had to do that with #1, 2 and 3!

But it’s good to be able to have those mini conversations in the window of time after you’ve just woken up and they’re about to go to bed. Somehow it makes the hours and distance between us seem less. But also harder too when you think about if you were in the same time zone at least how much more often you’d be able to have these conversations. And how it makes you think you really must make more effort to have more of them.

For some Life Begins at Forty. For others Life is Much Better at Fifty. Will she mind that I’ve mentioned she’s Fifty? No, she won’t mind but I know who will! When I was back in the UK last year, we had this discussion with another family member who will not be identified, who has her own Big Massive Birthday this year. She doesn’t want people to know the number involved and so as a result, the rest of us have to keep quiet about our own age so no one can vaguely guess how old she is. I don’t know how she thinks this is going to work unless she would rather people thought she had her own kids at a very, very young age. But if she wants me to tell you all that my Embracing 40 was all just a hoax and really I merely doffed my cap to 30 then I can do that.

This has reminded me of a Newcastle to London train journey some years ago, I wish I could tell you all about it but as I was sworn to secrecy, I only told Our Jenn. Who will know all about which story as I bring it up whenever I am back in Newcastle and it still cracks me up some ten years later. If laughter really does keep you young then spend some time with Our Jenn. I still haven’t met anyone who laughs as much as she does. I am very funny of course but it’s about laughing together.

As I sit and ponder Embracing 40 and how I imagined 40 to feel and as I look around me at all those who have joined me here, 40 doesn’t seem to be that huge life changing, lost is our youth cut off point that we’re often led to believe. So if 40 isn’t it, then is 50 it?

If I ever began to think that 50 is the number to fear then I just need to look at Our Jenn. There is no better example of how looking outwards rather than inwards is the best way to be. That we are all strong, capable people who can carve our own pathways. Not just once or twice but more if need be.

I hope this next decade brings Our Jenn even more happiness, love and contentment with people who really make her laugh and value her the way she ought to be valued.

I hope I get to spend more of it with her than I have done this past decade.

And I definitely will be having a belated Birthday Celebration with just us two so I can tell her again that story about the Newcastle to London train journey that I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone about.

Happy Birthday Jenn! I already know it’s started off a good one.

With much love now and always, if you didn’t know that already. xx

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A fabulous time to be six!

So finally, more than three weeks after #1 turned six years old, we celebrated his Birthday with a party with all his friends.

In six years, this is party number 12 I’ve organised for small children. I feel like I know the format pretty well.

1. Set the date.
2. Book the function room.
3. Invite guests.
4. Write lists.
5. Ignore lists.
6. Bake cake, outsource the creative bits. This is such a great idea to get someone else more talented to do the hard parts. My fabulous friend of My cakes by Catarina has reduced party planning time by days since she does all the cake toppers for me now. Look her up on Facebook. I highly recommend her.
7. Make party bags, decorations, games to play two days before party date.
8. Get party done, relax and drink beer.

#1 has no interest in the creative, planning or doing part of getting his party organised. Besides stipulating he would like a Disney Planes cake, which friends to invite and the fact he doesn’t want Pass the Parcel because, and I quote him, ‘Your Pass the Parcel is boring because only one person gets to win and that’s not fair’. It’s all about fairness right now with #1. And it’s only fair if it goes in his favour.

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He did say that he would like Musical Statues which is a huge step up from two years ago when he refused outright to take part in the game. But I’ve discovered it’s impossible to play the game the way we used to back in my day some 30 odd years ago when those who were not ‘Statues’ when the music stopped were out of the game. These days they barely listen to you and certainly wouldn’t accept they were out of the game and even if they did move out of the game, it would be only temporarily and sooner or later they’d be back in it. I do suppose it would mean that you could just play this one game for the whole hour.

We also played the Egg and Spoon Race which EVERYONE knows the rules of. No, apparently not. As I lined up the children behind the start line, eggs on spoons at the ready, first person who doesn’t drop their egg off spoon wins. Small people are eager to get going. Ready, Get Set, Go! Three of the four contestants grab the egg off their spoon and leg it across to the finish line. Indeed it was an Egg with Spoon Race after all.

One final game we tried out was the good old fashioned Sack Race. One year School Sports Day, I actually couldn’t get into the sack to take part in the race and so missed the whole thing. Anyways, I was sort of a bit nervous about this one. The flooring is highly polished parquet and there are small people bouncing around in sacks and I had visions of them falling flat and knocking themselves out. So I had to ask some parents to act as human shields to break any potential hazardous falls. After all, we haven’t taken out the Personal Injury Insurance Policy for Small People at Birthday Parties Inebriated on High Sugar Products. Neither had I stuck a disclaimer on the wall purporting that ‘The Party Hosts accept no responsibility for the amount of high sugar products consumed at this event nor for the resulting high sugar related behaviour you may take home with you’.

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As far as #1 is concerned, he had FUN. There was cake, crisps, sweets, juice, chocolate dipped marshmallows (which #1, 2 and 3 all helped to make and resulted in hundreds and thousands rolling all over our marble tiled living room floor), sausages and his friends.

Most importantly his friends. How children interact with their friends and form bonds is a beautiful sight to behold. I love their passion and how easily they can fall in and out with each other.

Did he notice the handmade paper decorations in hues of Dusty Crophopper hanging from the ceiling and all around the walls? Did he notice the individually crafted party bags personalised with each party guest’s name? Did he notice the fondant was drooping around the back of the cake like Nora Batty’s tights? Thankfully not. Most likely distracted by the fabulous fondant Dusty Crophopper on top of it created by My cakes by Catarina.

I wasn’t fretting about the details of the party. A lot of the detail I do because I like to and it’s become a hobby. What I have realised is just how little is actually required for a party that will make a six year old child happy.

There could have been no games, no music and no decorations so long as there is ample room for them to charge around in. Charge. Not run. Running is not for five or six year olds. Neither is normal sound levels. They would have been worthy extras in The Battle of the Five Armies. Apparently they are only going to get louder, I have it on good authority from Mr Cupping who has a seven year old.

So long as there are crisps, sweets, juice and cake. They create their own entertainment. They create their own noise. They create their own fun. I know when it comes down to it, I would still add on all the details. Just because I like to. But it has made me even more aware of how much is actually required to make a small child happy. Especially in Singapore where the budget for a one year old’s Birthday party can exceed the cost of my own 40th do. They’re not going to even remember you know. However, of course there are huge benefits to outsourcing party entertainment and not having to get involved in rounding them up to play the games is one of them.

If anything was to tell you how frighteningly quickly times passes, it can be seen in the raucousness of their birthday party. I still remember clearly #1’s First Birthday party. It consisted of a few toys and a birthday cake. As the small people shuffled here and there, we Grown Ups could even have a plastic beaker of wine and a chat.

Those days are long gone and yet the need for a plastic beaker of wine is ever more appreciated. It’s probably time to start doing the whole party drop off and save each other from enduring two hours of high level sugar induced energy from a bunch of rambunctious small people. We are also surplus to requirements in their pursuit of FUN. If anything, we probably hinder it. They are Big Boys and Girls after all.

#1 had a great time yesterday. There is no doubt about it that now is a fabulous time to be six.

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