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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Love is……..all the little things

This year I have definitely taken a tumble from my usual high horse with regards to St. Valentine’s Day. I haven’t once raised a cynical brow to all the displays of red roses, chocolates, champagne and a few non related items to love and romance that have somehow been related to love and romance. No, I just haven’t had the heart for it.

It is always the way isn’t it, that you only appreciate something when it is no longer just at your finger tips. I suppose I always felt that gestures of love and romance should happen at any time and not always be on a grand scale shop bought. I guess I want love and romance to be presented with thoughtfulness.

For exactly six and a half months now, Husband and I have been living in different time zones of sometimes seven or eight hours apart. It’s not ideal of course and it has been a true test of everything that we are or hope to be. At some point, I will look upon this time and marvel at how we did it. It is not just the distance between us that we have endured but an avalanche of events that have unexpectedly passed our way in that time.

It is quite true that we as individuals are stronger than we believe. When something hits you hard and you wonder how you’re going to face up to it and inside your heart your first thought is ‘but how?’, you just do. We seem to have unknown pockets of reserve somewhere inside of us that just keep bubbling to the surface when we need it. But I find that whilst we can be strong because we have to be, it is hard work to keep digging up those pockets of reserve. There are days where you just want to say, ‘can someone else do today please?’ and needing someone else to say, ‘you can do this again.’ I may know that I can but isn’t it lovely when someone you love and who loves you right back just gives you that little extra boost. With renewed vigour, you say, ‘I can get through today because you believe I can.’

For me, I find losing one’s parent is, among many things, a humbling experience. Humbling because you have lost someone’s unconditional love for you. Not only have you lost someone but it feels like you have lost their love too. I imagine that doesn’t make much sense. When that person is gone, all the things that they did because they loved you go too. The phone calls, the concern, the unwanted parenting advice. All the little things that one day have turned out to be the big things.

These many months apart from Husband has also made me see all the little things that he does that make up the big things. I’ve been having to make my own bedtime drink would you believe, when in the past I’d just bellow  from the sofa ‘hot drink’ like instructing one of those Amazon gadgets to play music or something. All these small every day gestures that make up your relationship and what makes you both unique to each other. Of course I can make my own bedtime drink. But it’s the act of being looked after and looking after someone that warms you up from the inside.

In this same time, I’ve been doing some intense single parenting to small people who just assume you are there to serve them, which of course I am. It’s an age full of demands and wants and unfairness times three lots. But this morning, I got woken up with these three wanting to be my Valentine and handmade Lego heart because as #1 knows how much I do love Lego.

I hope someone showed you some red hearts and love today.

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Love is……a delivery of fried chicken

Soooo….it’s THAT day again. Love, romance, roses, balloons and heart shaped potato wedges.
But I bet none of you got a romantic delivery of fried chicken for St Valentine’s Day!

I am not kidding you! I really did get a delivery of fried chicken to my place of Gainful Employment today. Is that weird? Or is it love?

Either way, the gesture was such a surprise that it sparked a lot of joy. One of the most unexpected gifts I’ve ever received on St Valentine’s Day.

Not the only one today either. When I picked up #3 from school, she presented me with this wonderful heart shaped decoration she made. Sparked a lot of joy too. I love they way #1, 2 and 3 freely express their love. How easy it is to say I love you and to accept they are loved in return. I don’t want this to ever change for them. May the future people who are the focus of this affection appreciate it and treat it with the respect it deserves. Or I will hunt you down…

Love in its many varied forms is a wonderful thing don’t you think? Romantic love, friend love, family love. Expressed spontaneously through our actions. 

In my place of Gainful Employment there were questions of how will you spend St Valentine’s Day? What did you buy each other? Are you going out for dinner tonight? 

The young lad who is in a fairly new relationship that he doesn’t seem to particularly want to be in looked pained as he answered he had booked a restaurant some place and possibly was agonising inside over whether it’s romantic enough, whether he has made sufficient effort to show his feelings of love.  The pain of it all but I am now wise enough not to express any outward emotion on that front.

But my delivery of fried chicken from a dear friend today gave me that warm fuzzy feeling. I really appreciate the gesture and to think someone was thinking of you enough to bother. 

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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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. 

Indeed.

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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The highs and lows of a long distance Hello

Do you remember the opening scenes of ‘Love Actually’? And don’t pretend you haven’t watched the film before. The part where Hugh Grant says whenever he’s feeling gloomy about the state of the world, he thinks about the Arrivals gate of Heathrow airport.

 

If you, like me, have ever waited with barely contained excitement at the Arrivals gate of any airport then you’ll know exactly what he means. The joy of waiting to greet someone long anticipated is perhaps rivaled only by small people waiting for Christmas Day.

 

The Arrivals Hall at Singapore Changi airport allows you to catch the earliest glimpse of your long awaited visitors as they emerge from passport control on their way to baggage reclaim. I’ve done this trip so many times in the almost eight years I’ve been away from the UK. Sometimes on my own but increasingly so with #1, 2 and 3 in tow as they get older and feel connected to people they had previously only heard us talk about. After a few visits here and there to put faces to names, they  love the excitement of welcoming them to our home.

 

Especially when it comes to picking up Grandma and Grandpa from the airport. I don’t think it is possible for children to feel more loved than when they are in the company of their grandparents.  I’ve seen my Mum and my Dad Mr Li transform into completely different people in their company and I couldn’t ask for more love to be bestowed upon these lucky three than what they receive from Mum and Dad In Law.

 

They are very lucky children and so am I.  For who would argue against there being more people than yourself who love and cherish your children. Who take an interest in what they do, who listen to your favourite anecdotes about them and who never really tell them to wait a moment when they have something important they need to do or tell you.

 

When Husband and I first made this move to the other side of the globe, we knew it would be hard missing family and friends. Of course it would be. Unless you really couldn’t care less about those you left behind. At the same time, life experiences have been enriched beyond what I could have imagined with this unplanned change. People I’ve met who have become like family. Places I’ve been to I know I never would have had the chance to see otherwise. Experiences of culture and a much bigger world than I had lived in before have all been amazing and life enhancing.

 

But I still miss family and friends just as much as I did the day I left the UK. Though it also doesn’t feel like I’m not seeing you if you know what I mean. With social media and all sorts of Apps, it’s quite easy to stay in touch. Even my Dad, Mr Li has an App I can send him photos on which has helped us a lot and I can tell just how much it means to him to be able to see how #1, 2 and 3 are growing, it reassures him that I’m doing ok with his grandchildren. It also means he can give out even more sound parenting advice on the spot. Like the time I sent him photos of #1, 2 and 3 running along the boardwalk beside a pond. Immediately my phone started ringing and instantly I knew what the call was going to be about. Are you watching #1, 2 and 3 properly? Why are they running? Do you know they could trip and fall into the water?  Do you know how dangerous that is?

 

But that is the role of a grandparent. To care and watch out for your children. Which is why no matter how great this time is for us as a family, I will always carry the guilt of not being some place else. That some place else meaning being with family who would dearly love to see more of #1, 2 and 3. I’m sure they wouldn’t mind seeing Husband and I as well but who are we kidding here. Whenever I’ve voiced this out loud, people have kindly said it’s not like you would be able to see each other every weekend like in the olden days when families lived more or less within the same town from each other. That’s true. If we were in the UK, we’d be a good five hours drive away so how often would you really be able to make that trip up north? It’s just the same as spending a good chunk of time together in one go than several weekends throughout the year.

 

You can tell yourself that but it doesn’t work like that.

 

Previously, I only had to fight down my own tears and sadness every time I was leaving here or there or you were leaving here. But it seems that I’m not the only one to feel it and that has hit me hard. Doubling the guilt.

 

With the high of the joy and excitement at the Arrivals gate, there is the equal low of sadness and tears at the Departure gate. I have done this part so many times too now. I don’t find it any easier but I am not very stoical as you know.

 

Imagine though, when you see the tears and sadness of your own children saying Goodbye at the end of holidays that will never be long enough. On one hand, you’re glad that they love you so much they can’t bear to see you go. On the other, it hurts my heart to see them sad because it feels like I am the cause of it. Cries of ‘why do they have to go?’, ‘I want to go with them’, ‘I hope they miss their plane and have to stay’.  For them to miss someone so much they cry at odd intervals over the next few days until normal routine resumes.

 

I will never forget what #1 said to me when he was upset the day after Grandma and Grandpa left and I told him to think of all the great things you did together. He answered, ‘but that just makes it worse.’

 

You see, I also know that feeling well too. The year I was eight years old and had spent three weeks in Hong Kong with my dad Mr Li, Lil Bro and our Por Por plus so many family members I never even knew about. It’s so long ago now but I remember crying hysterically at the airport and not wanting to leave. It seems, I haven’t changed much since then.

 

You may be thinking, so why not just move back to the UK? Eventually I’m sure we will. But that wouldn’t really be solving everything to be honest, we will always be missing someone somewhere.

 

At the same time, I also feel that I value much more in all my relationships and I also realise important things too that perhaps I took for granted or as given before. Things like, true friendships really do last through time and over distance. I may not always be in touch but when I do see you it’s like it were yesterday since we last did. I’m pretty sure I can still call upon those same people whenever I need help and the best part is that they still do make me laugh the most.

 

So as you go on your summer holidays this year and dread coming back through the Arrivals gate, think of it another way because it really is one of the best places to be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Love is……..a bag of M&S Square Crisps

That’s right! I’m embracing St. Valentine’s Day in all its glory. Forget I ever thought being showered with gifts today was all a load of commercial coercion. I totally didn’t feel a modicum of cynicism walking past the florists with their huge bouquet of beautiful roses priced over $200. Thinking of what else you could buy instead of something with a shelf life of five days max in this humidity. Then feeling a twinge of guilt as I clocked the lady sat in the corner on a hard plastic stool hunched over, carefully arranging one rose next to another and interspersing them with some baby breathe and fine greenery. Gosh no, not me.

   

I LOVE VALENTINE’S DAY!

 

Like I love Christmas, Easter, Chinese New Year, Mid-Autumn Festival, my Birthday, your Birthday and any occasion that you choose to celebrate. Or in this case any occasion that #1, 2 and 3 choose to celebrate.

 

If I’m going to attempt to bring up #1, 2 and 3 fully in touch with their emotions and be able to express them freely and recognise that love should be given and received openly and equally then I can’t exactly start them off on the path of declaring Valentine’s Day is just a money grabbing corporate conspiracy. They’ll come to that conclusion themselves when they pay taxes and have a mortgage. Until then though, I hope they enjoy all the anticipation of Secret Admirers and cards in envelopes that are S.W.A.L.K.

 

Before they set their eye on that lucky someone, some other lucky someone gets to be the centre of all that love and attention. I wonder who though? Exactly right. Me! More me and just a little bit Husband I have to say. I received three cards, flowers and a bag of M&S Square Crisps today. I’ll let you guess which gift was from #1, 2 and 3 and which was from Husband. What is there not to love about Valentine’s Day. What have I been thinking all these years!

 

My Dad, Mr Li always calls without fail every Sunday. Not really to talk to me, well a little bit to me but mostly to #1, 2 and 3 and I could hear #2 wishing Gung Gung ‘Happy Valentine’s Day, did you get any cards?’ and that made me smile. Love is many a splendid thing and the love of small people has no other rival.

  

 
Just to show that I really am embracing today, as well as a home cooked dinner ready on the table complete with apple crumble, I bought Husband these strawberries. Note the shaped container it came in. I could have bought the ones in the regular square container but I went all out for the heart shaped ones. You must be rather proud of me too? I’m sure my former colleague who may still be doing heart shaped potato wedges for today’s dinner as a Valentine’s Day tradition most certainly would be. She was right and I was so totally wrong.

 

However you may acknowledge today, may it be simple and meaningful.

 

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

 

 

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