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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The gift of memories

The children have had a wonderful weekend. They’ve spent it with friends (the parents included) who are not just good friends but who are their best friends and this came from my eldest. If I’m not jumping too far ahead, in years to come I hope these are the friends they’ll be talking about as having known all their lives.

Among the sadness and challenges of this past month, my three children have rolled with it all. In fact they’ve been rolling amazingly well for the past six months with all the changes that have upheaved them from home, school and away from their Daddy. Finding themselves in a new country and starting over again. In my heart, I worried about them. But oh my goodness, haven’t they been bold and brave getting out there and I am so proud of them.

Many people assured me that they would be fine because children are resilient and they adapt so much easier than us grown ups. This is true and as parents we ensure that we do all we can to support them with love, strength and encouragement. We try to protect them as much as we can but there are some realities that we just can’t deny.

As early as the age of four, all three of them went through a phase of questioning the concept that things do not live forever. A curious preschooler’s mind can obsess about the notion of death and talk about it incessantly. Sometimes with fear and upset and seeking reassurances that it wasn’t something that would happen imminently to anyone or anything they knew. The fear and questions subsided over time and death became a semi accepted fact of life.

Not one that is yet fully understood but what they do know now is that death brings great sadness.

Many people also advised that children shouldn’t be shielded from the grief that I am feeling. It’s ok for them to see that I am sad. In an age where there is more encouragement for everyone to express themselves and talk about emotions for better mental health well being. We are actively advised to share with children that we all have a range of emotions and to help them articulate and process the confusing and unknown new feelings. Luckily, the school the children attend have on site counsellors and a drop in room where children can stop by and talk to someone about anything that is bothering them. They are encouraged to say what they are feeling in class with their class friends and most importantly their feelings are valid.

Among all that has happened this past month and longer, I want to acknowledge just how brilliant and surprising they have been. I have lost a parent but they have lost a Grandparent too. Maybe some day they will read this post and I imagine much of what I would like to say to them now, they will have forgotten about by then.

As time goes by, my children’s memory of my Dad, their Gung Gung will fade. But whilst their memories and their stories are still vivid, I just want to capture them as they recall him.

That morning, I had no real plan on how to tell the children that their Gung Gung had passed away. But there was nothing I could do to delay breaking the news to them. As it happened, the opportunity presented itself quite naturally. The older two woke up first and clambered into our bed, one on either side of me. They were chattering about plans for the day before I then made the decision to tell them something that would shatter some part of their hearts too. With my arms around them, I said I had something to tell them. My eldest instantly knew what it was. He had already asked me the week before whether Gung Gung would die and I broke his big heart by saying that if I didn’t tell him the truth then he probably wouldn’t believe me again if I said he wasn’t and then he did quite soon later. He already told me that he loved Gung Gung so much and wished he could live with us forever. I knew exactly how he felt. There was nothing I could say to take away his pain except for how much Gung Gung loved him and loved us all.

So when I said I had something to tell them, he knew and asked me not to say it but I had to. Tears followed from all of us. My eldest Daughter cried and declared how unfair it was that this should happen when she was only seven. Indeed it was my darling. A short while later, my youngest enters into the fray and with all the upset knows something not good has happened. But being still only just five, it’s enough for her to know that we won’t be able to see Gung Gung in person but he will always be with us in our hearts and we will always have the memories of the times we spent together.

It is something to hold onto that, even though it was brief, we have new memories recently created. Like how he just took the girls off into town for ice cream by himself. I imagine he loved that. Just pottering into town with my granddaughters. My eldest was busy playing Pokemon Go with his Aunt J before I called my Dad to see where he was with the girls.

“Where are you Dad?”

“I’ve taken the girls for ice cream”

“But where are you?”

“In the shopping centre. Just past the watch shop.”

I had to ask my eldest Daughter to name the shops she could see to work out where they were. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that ice cream shop now. My eldest and I went after them and they were allowed any flavour ice cream they wanted. Followed by coins for those machines you see around that give out little toys. Small gifts, simple gestures.

And just a month later, we went out for dim sum lunch to celebrate my youngest’s Birthday. My Dad looked so happy to be surrounded by 11 people who all known him as Gung Gung. Some grown up with children of their own. These memories are all the more precious because we have so few of them.

It seems unfair that we only just arrived back to have more of these outings. I think a lot of my sorrow stems from not having enough. Not enough time together. Not enough memories. Not enough for the children to hold onto. I may be wrong on this point. The older two have excellent memories. When they choose. They seem to forget every morning the getting ready for school routine. My youngest was worried over how she was very forgetful. When we talk about remembering my Dad in our hearts, she worried she would forget too soon. When I asked her what does she remember right now, she replied, “Gung Gung always gets my elephant and pretend to hide it from me”. I think that’s a pretty good one because elephant is her most precious belonging of all.

And during this time, what I will remember is how these three children looked after me too. Not just because they keep me busy with the daily stuff. That carries on regardless of everything else. No. Children have huge capacity for love, kindness and empathy. They talk about him and how they wish he was still alive. They give me hugs and tell jokes to make me laugh. They give me a share of their advent chocolate.

There’s no hiding the fact that at times there is a visible air of sadness around me. Just at times an overpowering wave of emotion floors me. Like when the children and I were looking at their school portraits and how smart they looked. I could feel the tears flow from nowhere and suddenly two arms are around me. “It’s ok Mummy.” I explained why this was making me sad. How proud Gung Gung would be to see these photos. I can picture his face. “It’s ok Mummy, we can still give them to our Por Pors.”

These tiny arms and gentle voices that coax you back to the present. Their grand ideas of where they think their Gung Gung has gone. My eldest is convinced he’s living it up in a 5 star hotel. No make that a 7 star hotel Mummy! In other words, he’s in a good place having fun.

My eldest daughter put pen to paper and crafted a book of memories that she worked on for over a week to send him off with. She took the book to school, stood in front of the whole class and shared her memories out loud. My youngest made Christmas decorations to give him and my eldest chose socks that said ‘The greatest Dad in the galaxy”, I thought you’d like these for Gung Gung, Mummy. A bundle of notes from the children were given to my Dad.

“I loved you and I still do.”

“You will be in my heart every day and all the time.”

“I will miss you.”

“I will always remember you.”

I couldn’t have worded it better myself.

The other day we were talking about the state of the world. How did they feel about living in the UK? What did they miss about Singapore? Are they enjoying themselves at school?

They all answered they were happy to live in the UK as there is so much more to do. Though they missed some friends in Singapore but were glad their best family were living close by. They were excited to see more of their family. I can see that they are happy.

Then we talked about their Gung Gung for a while. Here’s where they surprised me again. My Dad and I would speak on a weekly basis. He would insist on calling me back as he had an international phone card that practically made the calls free so he would say. As well as the usual parenting advice, the not to worry about hims, he would ask about the children and have a brief chat with them. Not at all the time did the children feel up to chatting but most of the time they were. He would ask them about what they’d been doing and they would ask him if he’d been out or had a cup of tea. But there were also times he would call and I wouldn’t be home from work yet. The children told me he would call any day he felt like and not just on a weekend.

“We spoke to Gung Gung a lot Mummy. You weren’t always there.”

It turns out they had their own shared moments too.

I haven’t quite been able to look at my huge library of photos yet. To seek out the ones of my Dad with the children. But I have looked back at the photos I sent to my Dad. My nephew getting my Dad a smartphone brought my Dad up to speed on his grandchildren. All the photos I would send him of them celebrating special occasions to the everyday normal. I know he would look at them often. I know this because he wasn’t that tech savvy and would accidentally call in the middle of the night!

I have felt a lot of sadness over the children being so young and my Dad passing away before they got to know him. But my children think the opposite. “We did know him Mummy.” All the conversations they had. The times I spoke about him. They knew the things he liked to eat. Photos of the children with my Dad. They’ve all helped to build a picture in their mind of him. I’m sure over time I’ll add to this picture.

But most of all, it was something my Dad did all by himself. The feeling he gave them that he loved them, he was interested in them and that he was kind.

I can’t think of any better reasons to be remembered for than these.

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With a fizz, pop and a whizz bang

I can hear the last few crackle and pops fading away. It’s been a decade since those familiar sounds signalled the start of shorter days and colder nights. Since the clocks went back an hour last weekend, there has been an unfamiliar drop in temperature outside. Oh my gosh! So much for acclimatasing gradually into a traditional northern English winter. 

I’ve gone from embracing this cooler weather to sporadically yelling ‘I’m bloody freezing!’ We’ve been going to the local park every day after school. In the early autumn days that was lovely. Sitting in the late afternoon sunshine, chatting to other parents over a coffee, only calling out home time when it was time for dinner. 

Now, now you’ll be lucky if I can manage 20 minutes of non body movement on a cold wooden bench whilst my ability to chat to other parents diminishes by the second as my face freezes up. I mean it’s possibly just me. I have seen some people still in shorts. And it is no use saying to me ‘But you’re from Newcastle!’ Do you know how many years, nay decades it has been since my proper north east of England days? I’ve just moved back from the tropics for goodness sake!


And I am not the only one in this household who thinks the same. #2 was in tears last night after just two hours outdoors. Trussed up in multiple layers and a big thick winter coat, hat, scarf and gloves. I don’t know what else she can wear for when winter sets in proper. We had all been admiring the fireworks when suddenly, painful yelps could be heard from #2. Baffled as to what could have happened #2 woefully declares her fingers are not working and her toes have disappeared. 

And she was right. I couldn’t feel my toes on the walk home either. Nor was my mouth formulating the shapes to speak. But #2’s distress was too funny as you see unfurl before you the idealistic notions of playing in the snow to the reality of living in conditions for snow to happen. I’m sure in time, they will all acclimatise. Maybe I will too but until then it’s tempting to see sense in #2’s declaration that she was catching the next flight back to Singapore.

Bonfire Night. Guy Fawkes Night. Fireworks Night. It’s a brand new occasion for #1, 2 and 3. Who is this Guy Fawkes? Why do we burn him on a fire? Why was he naughty? These are quite terrifying concepts for young children. As we gloss over the story on our way to said Bonfire Night the local church are handing out free sugared doughnuts as a timely distraction. This will mark all that is good about Bonfire Night forever for #1, 2 and 3. 

Fireworks are one of my all time favourite things. The explosion of sound and colour against a clear night sky just makes me happy. In Singapore we were truly spoilt for magnificent fireworks displays. But I feel there is something more authentic just standing watching a frenzy of fizzing, popping, crackling fireworks going off in the freezing cold.  

There’s a proper massive bonfire, the likes of which I haven’t seen since I was a teenager on a beach in Sunderland. And actually a house just down the road and around the corner from ours had their own mini bonfire going on in their front garden which concerned #1 no end. He was pleased to see just the embers were smouldering when we passed it again on our way home.

The other thing I did today was boil a lot of sugar. A lot of sugar. And syrup. For cinder toffee and toffee apples. I honestly don’t know why I felt the need to make my own. I mean when cooking for small people, homecooked from scratch is usually the better, healthier option. But sugar is just sugar. I could have just bought them from the shops. 

But then again, there is something soothing to be indoors on a FREEZING cold afternoon measuring sugar and syrup with #1. And I have to say, it is not so easy to make your own toffee apples. I’m not even sure the cinder toffee is right either but #1, 2 and 3 were more than happy.

And that is enough for me. For these occasions will come to mean something to #1, 2 and 3 as we add it to the other calendar of events. Creating new traditions as we embrace this new life and add some warmth in our hearts to defrost those fingers and toes so we will brave the cold outdoors again. 

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A proper cold Halloween

“I can’t wait for Halloween”, says #1.

“It’s today!”, replies #2.

“I know”, answers back #1.

I wasn’t sure whether we’d be out Trick or Treating tonight. Not just because I’m scared of all things spooky. I even couldn’t cope with #3 randomly “woo oohing” around the house this past week in a Casper the friendly ghost fashion. 

No, it’s more to do with being without a ready made condo community on our doorstep. It’s a bit tricky figuring out what’s the norm when you’re trying to create a whole new normal for yourself. This time last year, #1, 2 and 3 had wrapped up three Halloween events already. Which looking back now seems a bit excessive for Halloween but a lot of fun. So much fun for #1, 2 and 3. 

Without the security of a ready made condo community, Trick or Treating seems to hold many people in conflict about going knocking on the doors of (mostly) strangers to basically ask them for sweets. Of course we all get where the concern comes from. So what do you do in these different times to that of our childhood. Though I’m not sure it was considered that acceptable even back then when sweets were actually a proper treat. 

So I’m of sort giving up on the idea when a very kindly teacher sends a note home with every child, inviting them to come Trick or Treating at her house. Well at least there’s one house to visit and perhaps there’ll be a few more on the way. 

As it happens, there were whole streets festooned with cobwebs and pumpkins. The scary and the sweet were out in dedicated sugar harvesting mode. Cries of all 200 bags of sweets have gone could be heard from several doorways but by then #1, 2 and 3 plus their three friends have reached sugar saturation point. It’s so dark at 6pm that you can’t see the amount of sweets that have bypassed the Halloween bag! 

And it’s funny how when Trick or Treating there are no cries of “How much further do we have to walk?”, “I’m coooold!”, “Can we go home now?”. In fact I’m the one yelling how cold it is and I’ve got three layers on! With a long cloak not just for Halloween effect but in a bid to keep extra warm! I found myself admiring and nodding in approval at those wearing full on fleecy onesies as my next year’s Halloween outfit of choice. Makes a change from sweating it out in the tropics wearing 100% polyester.

As much as #1, 2 and 3 were keen on the haul, they were equally excited about giving out the treats too but we were out ourselves during prime time. Would we get any Trick or Treaters ourselves? They enthusiatically looked up and down the street. Practically wanting to open the front door and shout out to passersby to come knock on our door. And their yells of excitement when they heard the doorbell ring and proudly held out their cauldron of treats made me very happy for them. 

So that’s our first Halloween in our new town done. All that’s left is to remind myself I still have my Halloween face on before I head off to get ready for bed and scream at myself in the bathroom mirror. 

Happy Halloween!

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And just like that

As bright as three shiny new pound coins, #1, 2 and 3 left the house, bounced down the road and around the corner, off to explore new places and be amazed by great things. 

It has been a long summer holiday for these three. A lot of change. A lot of moving around. A lot of waiting. But finally, a step towards normality. 

Filled with a good mix of nerves and excitement, #1 and 2 started their new Big School just a couple of days ago. Thrown right in at the deep end having never seen the inside of their new school before. What an adventure. And such bravery from them. For what else can be more nervewracking at that age than being the New Kid. The one that doesn’t know what is expected of them. 

  • What do I wear.
  • What’s my teacher called.
  • What do I put in my bag. (Actually this is more for me)
  • Where are the toilets.
  • What if I get scared.

Two years ago I was sending #1 and 2 off to Big School for the first time. They were fine. Two years later, I was sending them off again. They were fine. As I knew they would be. I took them to meet their new teachers, who were waiting to welcome them in class with big friendly smiles. I could feel their hesitation. A few more moments of delay. A few quiet words of nerves. ‘Mummy, I’m scared.’ I know sweetheart but you will have a brilliant day. And I will be waiting at the gates for you.

And of course they did. Brimming full of excitement and hardly believing their good fortune that for school lunch there was ice cream! Ice cream inside some kind of cake. Wow, that sounds exotic. Artic roll? 

The relief is palpable as I hear them excitedly chatter about their day. And the hug. That hug you get when they see you immediately after school. I’m so glad for the chance to get these hugs again. Those arms wrapped around you, filling you with warmth. Then it dissipates like steam and normality resumes. “I’m hungry Mummy.” “Can we go to the park? Whhhhy noooot!”

So you see, I’ve been through this before. I’ve done the whole starting school thing several times. I should be a Pro at this. I should be writing my Get Up and Go List with all three in Big School. Six hours a day of quiet time. Isn’t this what all parents have been waiting for? The countdown to the end of summer holidays and back to school. 

Yes that is quite true. When I was in Gainful   Employment, school marked a sigh of relief that their time was going to be properly occupied and I no longer had to wonder what to do with them outside of the annual leave Husband and I could take.

Equally, since giving up Gainful Employment I have enjoyed seeing their faces everyday. And not just for the last hour, half hour of the day. Some days have been looooong. Some moments of some days could be better but overall, I wouldn’t be without these days. Especially when I think about how fleeting every stage of their childhood can be.

Perhaps it’s because I know how fleeting it is, preparing #3 for Big School has been the hardest. Apparently it always is for the youngest one. Your last baby all grown up. The one you don’t mind crawling into your bed space in the middle of the night, long after the older ones slept all night in their bed. You don’t mind because you know one day it will stop, this little squidgey person snuggling up to you. And one day you want it to stop because they are taking up too much bed space. 

I always enjoyed shopping for school uniform. I think it’s because it was the only time you got so many new things at once! New clothes, new shoes, new bag and new stationery. It seems it’s just as much fun for #1, 2 and 3. (Less so on our pockets though. Three lots of uniform, school bags, PE kit, welly boots.) #2 and 3 have been wearing their new school shoes indoors for days! They are so proud to be wearing their new uniforms and they look so smart in them too.

It’s funny this whole Big School thing. Now that it’s the end of the day, I can laugh about it to myself. How this morning I could barely hug #3 closely and wish her a brilliant day before I could feel the tears threatening to fall. She had no doubt it was going to be ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT. Yesterday we talked about how she felt about starting Big School, she was ready. Then she said “you’re going to cry Mummy.” Really? Why! “Because you’ll miss me.”

Ah. She got me there. 

The walk was barely long enough. The Goodbyes in the school yard all too brief. I help her place her bag on her peg and walk her into her new little world. It’s colourful, warm, fun and exciting. This is where #3 belongs. She’s waited patiently for today. For the uniform, the shoes, the friends, the learning. The learning. Constantly telling me that she doesn’t know how to read the words yet. I’m sure it won’t be long. 

I watch her through the window. Overhearing other parents talking about the Parent Syndrome. I have Parent Syndrome too. I wonder if #3 will look up and see me for one more wave. But of course she doesn’t. She’s looking around with a curious happy smile on her face in her smart new uniform and shiny shoes. Full of confidence. She’s looking happy. And then she moves out of sight and it’s time for me to move on. 

But before I do, the Teaching Assistant has already clocked another one with Parent Syndrome. She comes over and asks if  I’m ok, offering words of comfort and encouragement.  I feel even more ridiculous admitting #3 is #3 but she reassures me it’s all quite regular. 

There are days you cry out for ‘ME’ time. A quiet moment to sit down and have a hot cuppa tea uninterrupted. None of the multiple echoes of “Mummy, Mummy”, being able to get jobs done within half the time it takes with three in tow. Sort out boring admin jobs. Clean and tidy. Go out running. Have coffee. Find new cohorts. Regain Gainful Employment. Read a book. Do something new! 

Six hours seemed to pass by quite quickly before I’m back in the school yard. There’s #1 and #2. We go and collect #3 together. She’s all smiles and dishevelled curls. A sign of a brilliant day. 

Later on, we all ask her how she felt. She thinks about it. 

“I almost cried but then I was having too much fun.”
And that is why she’s ready to join in with the big kids.


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This Happy Father’s Day 

We all want special occasion days to be, well special. Birthdays, holidays, weddings, Christmas, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, school events and so on. 

With small people in tow, ‘special’ in my imagination usually means good, kind, helpful behaviour. No bickering, fighting, shouting, answering back, whining, crying and so on.  In other words, no such behaviour that requires parental intervention to keep the peace and maintain balance to one’s well being. I wish for this every day to be fair but on special occasion days, please can we?

Of course we can’t. I waste my breathe asking for it and yet some small glimmer of hope is there at the start of every special occasion day only to flicker weakly and fizz out before the special occasion day has even warmed up. I mean the day wouldn’t be the same without them being just as they are with us and with each other. It’s no reflection on how much we are loved by them, we know that already from the little things they say and do every day that make you happy like specks of dappled sunlight. 
I read in one card Husband received today the reason why Daddy is special and the answer is ‘because he loves me’. Yes he does. 

We have been parents for a relatively short space of time but it feels like the days and weeks are galloping by so fast. We seem to be working in fast forward mode, especially so since #1 and 2 started Big School and the year is broken down into three chunks of frantic activity and three more chunks of frantic activity. Blink and you’ll miss it is what people say who are many parenting years ahead. You kind of fail to appreciate these wise words in the early years but I totally get it now. 

This Father’s Day, I can only describe myself as thankful. Thankful for Husband and the love and care he puts into our family. I’m also thankful that earlier today I was able to call my Dad, Mr Li to wish him a Happy Father’s Day. A few months ago, I was faced with the stark reality of one of life’s only certainties and I felt the ground beneath me open up. During those days of waiting and waiting and progress moving so slowly, you have a lot of time to think. Mostly to think about the things you didn’t do enough, didn’t say enough, didn’t spend time together enough. The panic in your heart over whether there is time to do more. Even when people say there is, do you dare to believe it though you want to believe it so badly. 

As I recall this now, those deep feelings of grief but not quite are still quite fresh.  Though it seems, I am very lucky. My Dad, Mr Li says it is he who is lucky to recover from this spell of illness. But I know it is me. 

Time spent together is time spent well. Not always do you need to spend this time doing something momentous. Often it’s quite enough just to be sat there, talking to each other.

But I can still imagine that special occasions will at some point elicit special occasion behaviour from #1, 2 and 3.

Happy Father’s Day.  

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#1’s first sleepover

Bedtime is a smooth running affair in our household. Sometimes.

Most times it’s fraught with dawdlers unwilling just to go to sleep when quite clearly the anger levels suggests they (or I) need to just go to bed. GO TO BEEEEEED! 

I have never quite understood that relationship between small people and sleep. The tipping point between coping quite well with the day to the sudden must-be-in-bed-screaming-like-the-whole-world-has-done-them-wrong can happen in a matter of seconds.

Invariably at least one of #1, 2 and 3 can be in this state once every few days. And at least one of them will feel the impulse, the need to drag bedtime out just that bit longer by hiding a favourite bedtime friend say, or disagreeing on bedtime story of choice and insisting on ‘their own’ bedtime story of choice. Then there’s demands for ‘one more story pleeease, that was so short’. It was short for a reason kids. 

By this stage, I just want them all to go to bed. JUST GO TO BED!! Goodnight kisses are hastily issued. Lights off. Door closed on disgruntledness. Then hopefully within five minutes all is quiet and good. Hopefully. I don’t know when bedtime because such a rushed affair that can take a two person approach. 

Tonight though there is one less in the bedtime mix but it still doesn’t seem to have made much difference to bedanger as I can hear that tone coming from #2 who is quite sure SHE IS NOT TIRED. Quite.

But bedanger is not today’s topic. Tonight #1 is away on his first ever proper sleepover. It’s not the first time he’s slept away from home without Husband or I being around but I guess being 19 months old doesn’t really count. Neither does sleeping over with family feel quite the same as a proper sleepover on your own all night. It’s in turn exciting and a little scary I imagine. 

 #1, 2 and even 3 have often asked for a sleepover but we’ve never gotten round to it just yet. As much as there’s a lot of talk about it, when it comes down to it, I don’t think they’ve been ready. They haven’t? Or I haven’t? Well I know for definite that #2 can’t have a sleepover until she can go to a drop off party for two hours without getting upset. But it is nice to be missed as her school friend’s Mum kindly put it, ‘she misses you a lot’. Indeed.

I wonder whether at 10.41pm. #1 is alseep yet. I very much doubt it but I’m sure he’s having a great time. What an adventure to be on to have your first sleepover with all your schoolfriends at school. This will be the first of many and it is another step of the journey towards independence. A necessary step of course but one that seems to come around far too quickly. I think back to when I had my first sleepover as such. I was 14 and it was a school residental trip to the Lake District. Completely exhilarating to have that freedom for a whole five days. Comparing the residential trips of then to now, it feels like seven or eight years old seems quite young but I forgot that when I was 10 years old there were already skiing trips away to France and weekend trips to Amsterdam which seemed a bit too adventurous for my Dad, Mr Li to allow me to go on. But I guess that’s exactly why #1 and eventually #2 will benefit from going on sleepovers, to build that confidence and reassurance that they can be away from home for one night, perhaps even two, and we will all be ok.

It’s an odd feeling without #1 at home. The things that I know he would do in the mornings. Such as being the first one up and alerting you to the fact by the bedroom suddenly bursting open and being woken up with whatever question is on his mind and ready to be asked with no consideration for the fact you are still sleeping and then getting impatient because you’ve not given an answer to said question immediately. And it won’t be just Husband and I missing his presence but #2 and 3 are also asking when is he coming back home which is a good sign considering I often wonder whether they even like each other the way they bicker and fight. 

There are times, many of them, when you say out loud how lovely it would be to have a night away from small people and all the crazy late night stuff you’d do. How you would love for someone else to do the bedtime routine. For one night maybes yes. So the next time I get a sleepover offer and off go #1, 2 and 3, I’ll make sure I have a long list of all the crazy late night things I’d go off and do. 

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Christmas dinner is best served cold

I’ve had more cold Christmas dinners than hot. This is mostly due to the fact that after several hours in a hot sweaty kitchen, by the time all the spoils of my labour are laid bare on the table, I’m suddenly no longer hungry. It is also because I (and this year the Butcher) overestimate just how much Christmas dinner #1, 2 and 3 can and will eat. 

Out of the following food items on this year’s Christmas menu:

  • Roast turkey breast (expecting one small size but get 3kg worth of breast)
  • Roast beef (supposedly small piece for 3/4 persons but in get 1.5kg)
  • Roast potatoes and parsnips
  • Brussel Sprouts and chestnuts
  • Carrots, brocolli and corn (one vegetable of choice for each of #1, 2 and 3)
  • Yorkshire puddings
  • Stuffing 
  • Bread sauce
  • Cranberry sauce
  • Gravy
  • Ketchup

#1, 2 and 3 between them ate a combination of five of the above food items between them. With two of them going off menu and requesting rice. You can tell these children have been brought up in Asia. So with the Butcher grossly overestimating how much of a carnivore a family of three adults and three young children, barely a dent was made in today’s fayre. 

On the plus side, I can now estimate how much food is required to feed 6/7 people. And we now don’t need to cook for at least the next four days. And I really don’t want to cook. But nothing beats preparing all the trimmings. I like Brussel sprouts, I really do. Mini cabbages. Who doesn’t love mini food.

I don’t know what constitutes as a successful  Christmas. With or without small children, Christmas is a day of celebration. With small children though, there are hidden gems to the day. Whilst I was busy preparing a meal that they were barely interested in, I tried to keep an ear on what was going on beyond the kitchen. Opening presents in itself is full of excitement, let alone for small children who have thought carefully what this very special gift should be. Usually Father Christmas delivers the one BIG GIFT but this year, he very generously dropped off two. Not because behaviour has been exemplary this year, though #1 thinks it’s probably because he so generously helped #2 and 3 win carnival prizes the other day.

But still, the joy in his voice as he came out into the living room to find not one but two gifts from Father Christmas this year. Plus the fact that Father Christmas had polished off three of the almond tarts he made and all eight reindeers got their fair share of carrots. 

Gratitude and appreciation is on my mind this festive season. As I’m sure many of us are feeling the need to reflect upon this year. But how does one create that same level of awareness in small people. I don’t know. But I do know that whilst there are gifts and lots of good things to eat, I cannot have #1, 2 and 3 plough through everything without even taking a good look at what they just unwrapped. Anticipation is always the most fun part of almost everything and stretching out the wait is no bad thing I feel. 

Given all other days, there is always something that I deny #1, 2 and 3, today we have a complete Yes day. Well about 98% Yes. “What would you like for breakfast?” I asked #1, 2 and 3, “You can have anything you would like.” “Anything!” they answered. Anything indeed. So #1 had a squeezy fruit yoghurt, chocolate and apple juice. #2 had a Babybel and KitKat. #3 had whatever #1 got her which involved chocolate. On any other day, the choice of having whatever you would like for breakfast falls within the range of regular breakfast items. But anything at all? Well that is something else completely. These are the memories I will carry with me, the picture of all three sat at the dining table with their luxury breakfasts.

The other memory I will carry from today is #3 opening a $5 stocking filler and the awe in her voice as she unwrapped it. #2 finally getting the glow in the dark pyjamas she once saw a picture of over a year ago. And #1, sharing with me just how great his new Lego set is and would I like to build. However, that may not be completely altrustic as I think he has his eye on building my new Lego Tie Striker.

As we wrap up another Christmas, I am already promising myself that I will not spend next year’s sleep deprived having spent the early hours still wrapping and sorting everything out. The day, like the rest of the year goes by so quickly but there’s still tomorrow yet to come and I’m looking forward to spending a more relaxed day with my family.

I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas. 

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A lot of Treats and no Tricks

Halloween is a huge deal Singapore. Hence the fact we have been to three Halloween events with a final one I totally forgot about happening on Friday at school. Though I feel satisfied with the value for money gained from their $20 costumes.

Any occasion to get #1, 2 and 3 dressed up is fine by me. #2 and 3 love a good dress up and can often be found on a regular day with some form of fancy dress outfit about their person. #1 can be slightly more reserved but in pursuit of treats knew when to go with the flow.

Now, Halloween with small people is a round of cute pumpkins, cuddly witches and less than threatening pirates. I mean it’s just a big fancy dress day with all sorts of costumes allowed which I don’t quite get but there you go. Over the years, I had forgotten that Halloween is really a make you pee in your pants as you jump in the air scary sort of event.  

I don’t do scary as I keep saying. Even when I know something is about to happen, I will still jump in the air and pee myself a little. True fact. Even at my place of Gainful Employment I’ve yelped in people’s faces because I’ve opened a door and come face to face with someone I know in daylight. It’s a terrible affliction. 

So I’m probably not the best parent to lead the way on a Trick or Treating mission. Not even around our own condo. Husband stayed home dressed head to toe in breathable polyester armed with at least 100 packs of sweets, waiting for the troops of angels to come by. Whilst I braved the outdoors tropical heat with #1,2 and 3 and a map to the homes providing treats. 

Front doors were bedecked with pumpkins and cobwebs, separated limbs and tombstones. One family even geniusly taped over the landing light so that an eerie red glow emanated around the hallway. It was a lot of spookiness. And it seems many get a lot of enjoyment spooking people out and go to great effort with a generous amount of facepaint. Towards the end of our rounds, we call upon a home who must have done the routine at least 60 times that night and yet still was not bored of it. First the buzzer was greeted by a ghoulish ‘mwah ha ha ha ha’ as we made our way to their floor, I had a sneaky suspicion it wasn’t just going to be a kindly face with a basket of sweets. #2 and 3 knocked softly on the door. There’s no answer. I’m sort of hanging around the corner like I know something wicked this way comes. Then suddenly, the door is flung open and a demon jumps out with a loud ‘raaaah’. #2 and 3 jump and scream loudly which is not doubt the desired effect. I’m just glad I had the foresight to hide because no doubt I would have screamed the loudest.

I have no idea how many sweets #1, 2 and 3 have eaten this weekend. In the back of my head, I’m thinking about how carefully we try to ration the sweets and chocolate intake so perhaps it does seem strange that this one of time of year, it is positively encouraged to go and fill your bucket with them. But like most occasions, it’s the joy of collecting than the eating of gathered goods that is the most fun part. Though I think #1 would dispute this. 

So what to do with all these sweets? It’s a waste to throw them away. I can’t possibly eat them all myself. I can’t possibly let #1, 2 and 3 eat them all either. So isn’t it best to regift them? I often hand out small treats at Christmas, Easter and Halloween in fancy little boxes that I enjoy making. Not many, just three or four sweets and I never thought it wasn’t ok. Until that is a good friend and successful parent blogger recently wrote a piece on his wrath at other thoughtless parents handing out sweets for birthdays and all other such occasions. I thought, I am one of those parents! Should I stop? What if parents of #1, 2 and 3 feel the same way?

I contemplated today not to bother with sharing Halloween treats amongst school friends. But then I changed my mind. I often feel that #1, 2 and 3 are very used to receiving a lot of things. Treats for all sorts of occasions so that it doesn’t seem ‘special’ anymore. Not like when treats were for special occasions when I was a child (I know.) So ever since they started nursery and for celebrations, there’s been a bit of sharing going on and more often than not the sharing involves a sweet treat. 

I agree, as a parent you should be able to say what treats and when they are given to your child. I mean there have been times when I’ve been annoyed when #1, 2 and 3 have been given loaded with food items that I perhaps wouldn’t have given them but then again it’s all part of the experience. Like the days when they’d go over to Pancakes for Dinner and thought it was the most decadent experience to have pancakes for dinner. It’s left a lasting impression. 

But perhaps it would upset us less if we notified each other when the sweet treats are coming. So I did. And never do cheap sweets. Or chocolate. I think parents fear glow in the dark treats more than anything. 

Happy Halloween!

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I can still do this

You’ve lost your touch. 

That’s what Brilliant New Adventure said when I showed her the spoils of my hard baking labour. 

Maybe she was right.
I’ve followed this recipe many times. Never has it done this before. Like, tip it out and turn around and suddenly it’s like this. 

Mocking me with its Peace sign. At 9.15pm. The night before DOUBLE PARTY DAY! 

Posting this photo on other social media platforms, I was given some very helpful advice. Cover it up with lots of buttercream. Reshape and mould it into a 3D shape. 


It seemed far easier to sit down with a beer. Go bake another batch. And eat the surplus sponge myself. For quality control.

The Birthday Cake is always a big thing. A challenge I had previously taken on with some relish and trepidation. Until I thought why not let someone who can do it far better take over. But then faced with having to take the challenge back myself was somewhat daunting. #1, 2 and 3 have far higher expectations of The Birthday Cake having been used to the creative skills of my good friend Singapore Bake Off. 

But then children can be surprising. #2 asked me why was I not making the cake. It seems it’s still important that you do. 
So there I am. 11pm the night before DOUBLE PARTY DAY. Beer in hand. Cake in oven. Buttercream ready to go. Fondant mixed in the right colours. Ready to do cake battle. But surprisingly, once I got started into the early hours, it was therapeutic to create something from scratch. 

The next morning as I put the finishing touches to the cake and asking what #1, 2 and 3 thought of it and getting their approval, it felt good. I had forgotten how much fun it was. Wondering whether the cake is going to turn out ok. Whether you have enough fondant to cover it. Whether it’s going to go baggy on the bottom like Nora Batty’s tights. 

And what happens to it anyways? It gets demolished as soon as the Birthday Sing Song is over. 

Cake is cake as far as the small people are concerned. Sugar and chocolate is a winning combination. 

At the tender age of 6, #2 already has many different groups of friends. From long time friends to new friends from school and where we live. It’s a lot of different social circles that many of us only have to navigate when it comes to our Hen Do. Oh yes, #2 was 6 some two months ago and we’ve only just go around to putting on the party. I’m late for nearly everything but this has got to be my best effort yet! Most of her new schools friends are celebrating their 7th Birthday.

But again I don’t think it really mattered. Who doesn’t love a good party! It makes me especially happy to hear that party guests are looking forward to the party. That they’ve been bouncing off the walls waiting for the party to start. 

Friends are lovely things to have and equally important to be too. I watched as the differenct groups of friends chased and played together. Even #3 is coming into her own with her own little posse doing what 4 year olds do. Which seems to be following each other around and to tell each other to follow each other around. 

If there’s anything I really want #1, 2 and 3 to remember about the Birthday Party. It’s the friends who came to share it with them. And that whilst the Birthday Party is all about you, it’s good to give something special back too. And who doesn’t love a goodie bag.

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