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

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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Just this one Mother’s Day Gift please

Although chocolates, flowers and trinkets are very lovely gifts to receive on any occasion let alone Mother’s Day, yesterday I put in a special request for something that I really, really wanted.

 

Now of course I know it’s rude to ask for something when all gifts should be a surprise but sometimes you just have to try your luck. I brazenly asked #1, 2 and 3 if for Mother’s Day they could for the whole day not bicker,  fight, tell tales on each other, scream or shout.

 

Too big an ask? Really? Yes really. But if we had such a day, it would be just one of the best gifts you could give me. It’s not like they are really at each other all the time but even the slightest winding up of each other, whine and retaliation can just accelerate your tolerance levels from zero to minus 10.

 

I have no answer for when I walk through the door and the first thing any one of the three tells me is “#1/#2/#3 (delete as appriopriate) pushed me/was mean to me/hit me on the head (delete as appropriate.)” The tragic thing is that once Husband walks through the door, the first thing I say to him is “#1/#2/#3 (delete as appropriate) pushed/was mean to/hit #1/#2/#3 (delete as appropriate.)” I mean what do I expect Husband to do? We both were not around at the time and it’s just one’s word against the other! But in a show of solidarity I need Husband to share this perplexing daily state of affairs.

 

On the whole #1, 2 and 3 have been very good so not much to report on that. Unlike yesterday. For the amount of bickering going on, I made #1 and 2 hold hands until they stopped irritating each other. The more they protested the longer they had to hold hands for. I actually saw someone post a photo of their own kids doing this and at first glance it looks like two siblings who get along amazingly well and never have a cross word for each other. Until I read the Mother’s explanation that whenever they fall out, they have to sit on a step holding hands until they stop it. I’m not really sure if it helps but it does look cute and makes me stop being annoyed by whatever petty squabbling is going on.

 

Oh actually did I say they’ve been on the whole very good today. I’ve just remembered at one point during afternoon tea that Husband suggested next year, the best gift would be to give me $100 to go off and enjoy afternoon tea by myself! All the best goodies were fast gobbled up by #1, 2 and 3 whilst spinning around on their chairs making me dizzy. But then we lost them for some peaceful minutes as they went off to explore the vast hotel space.

 

Then to really tired them out, we took an early evening walk along the promenade overlooking Marina Bay Sands, one of my favourite places to be in Singapore where they proceeded to climb columns and cling on like koalas.

 

I’m very happy to have these three running amok around me. As much as I am getting to know them and their changing and differing personalities, I also see that they are getting to know parts of me too.

 

I love how #1’s Mother’s Day card was filled with Tie-fighters, snow speeders and X wings with tic tacs, presents and Go WWF Go!

 

 

I love how #2’s Mother’s Day card is filled with hearts, flowers and a sweet message that’s she’s been working on for a couple of days.

 

 

I love how #3’s Mother’s Day card has hearts and a snake on it which I won’t spend too long on with interpreting the subliminal messaging going on there.

 

 

And as soon as they’ve gone to bed, I look forward to sitting down quietly and calling my Mum to wish her Happy Mother’s Day. It’s a bit later than usual that I call and she’s already out and about. I’m about to say that I’ll call her another day but she quickly says “No, no, I can talk now.”

 

 

And that’s what Mums do. They give you their right nows.

 

 

I know I could be a whole lot better at giving #1, 2 and 3 more of my right nows.

 

 

A timely reminder from my Mum.

 

Happy Mother’s Day to all Mums near and far and to all sons and daughters who make today special.

 

  

  

 

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For all Mums on all days

It is Mothering Sunday or Mother’s Day today in the UK. The benefits of celebrating this occasion in Singapore when everyone else will be celebrating in May, is that you can go out for lunch without places being fully booked. Luckily for Husband, there are shops savvy enough to realise they can make good use of their stock of Mother’s Day cards twice a year.

Overall today is a Sunday like any other. #1 still has rugby practice first thing in the morning, #2 and 3 have eggs for breakfast without #1 around complaining about the smell (and yet he finds smelly farts hilarious). They all have endless appetites outside of mealtimes, require entertainment and meltdowns can happen at any time.

But they do try and remember that today is a ‘special day’. However if that special day doesn’t involve presents and surprises for them then the good behaviour can be short lived. But I do love the enthusiasm and excitement that small children adore when they are involved in a conspiracy. Even if they don’t quite understand the full meaning of that conspiracy as Husband is still leading Operation Mother’s Day Appreciation Plan.

They love the surprise presentation of cards and gifts with a flourish that elicits exclamations of joy and gratitude. The knowledge that they have made you happy. This doesn’t just extend to me on Mother’s Day but on all occasions where they share something with someone that makes the other person happy. And who doesn’t feel good when they’ve made someone else feel good. It’s part of who we are. I have a purple painting of me done by #2 as my special gift. #1 and 3 went for a more abstract take on things.

But this year, a lot more than previous years on Mother’s Day, I really miss my Mum. There’s still an eight hour time difference between us and I couldn’t wait to give her a call and hear her voice and wish her Happy Mother’s Day.

Perhaps it’s because my last trip to the UK my Mum did a lot of home cooking for us that reminded me of my youth. For what can be more comforting than your Mum’s (or Dad’s) cooking. I try to cook the same way my Mum does but it never will be as good. And whilst I have eaten in some really fabulous places and tasted food that can only be described as exquisite, nothing can really compare to dinner at my Mum’s with my Mum.

I find one of the most challenging aspects of living an expat life is the absence of family. Especially with having a family of my own without my Mum being around to guide me through the days when I didn’t know what was going on. Still don’t to be honest. Perhaps living near or around London would also mean I wouldn’t see my Mum as often as what my ‘if I wasn’t living an expat life’ imagination leads me to believe. But I would be able to call her more often without having to calculate the seven or eight hours behind. Sometimes you just want to be able to call now and not have to wait until later. As much as we have amazing stay in touch technology that has helped keep many of my relationships going without missing a beat, there’s something quite special about talking on the telephone that feels much more personal.

All I know is that I miss my Mum and now, more than ever as I get older, do I appreciate just how much she is. Just how much comfort she gives me in something so ordinary like the meals she still cooks in the same way she has done all my life. That level of consistency. Just like my Mum.

Happy Mother’s Day to all Mum’s near and far. But especially to my Mum for many reasons that keep coming to me every day.



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I hope I see you next year

Yesterday was my Dad, Mr Li’s Birthday.

He’s 78. Or is he 79? Are we going English or Chinese years. Doesn’t matter really when you get to his age he says. It’s enough just to be here.

I don’t often re-read past posts I’ve written but I had forgotten what I had said about my Dad, Mr Li last year on his Birthday and I wanted to remind myself.

So at long last this October, after almost three years, I got to see my Dad, Mr Li again. I had missed him very much. I still do miss him. The nine days I spent in Newcastle Upon Tyne are full of great memories and plenty of photos of being with my family.

The most important ones of all are those of #1, 2 and 3 with my Dad, Mr Li and with my Mum.

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I was quite worried how #1, 2 and 3 would take to being around their Gung Gung and Por Por. It’s not like they’ve had time to get to know one another over the years and build a relationship up. We bring them back to the UK and meet all these people who are special to us and expect them to feel the same way too. It took some explaining to piece together who every family member is that they met but they were very accepting.

Of course over the years we talk about everyone we know in the UK, names and relationships are not entirely unfamiliar. But they are still too young to understand and remember.

I just don’t think it’s ever been explained to them that we too have Mums and Dads. And that we too would like to spend time with our Mums and Dads. Though I rather suspect my Dad, Mr Li would prefer to spend more time in the company of his grandchildren than mine.

Everything they did was hilarious. He is so proud of them. It’s very touching to see. It’s not the way of his generation nor really of Chinese culture, to be able to say much by way of praise for his own children but with grandchildren it’s different. Thank goodness it is.

What made me laugh a lot on our first day back is how he was showing #1, 2 and 3 photos of themselves that I had sent him. And they thought this was brilliant, for they love nothing better than seeing photos and videos of themselves.

Naturally he gave me lots of helpful parenting advice.

We were taking a walk along the Quayside one brisk, slightly windy afternoon. Not so windy the children were ever at risk of being blown off their feet into the River Tyne. All the same Mr Dad, Mr Li helpfully pointed out the risk just in case.

Other helpful advice; make sure they are full but not so full they will be sick. And always this thing about wrapping up against the cold. Need I refer you to the ALS/Motor Neurone Disease Ice Bucket Challenge episode again. Thankfully he seemed to have gotten over his angst about that by the time I got back to the UK.

These three grandchildren of his are Tropical Children, there is no way they won’t wrap up against the cold of their own accord. As #2 says, ‘Mummy, why is it always cold in England everywhere’, and this was during the days when everyone was telling me just how warm and balmy it was still.

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And yet, left to his own devices looking after #2 and 3 for a couple of hours whilst I spent some time with #1 was a whole different story. I was a bit concerned how they would all cope, neither speaks the other’s language very well, or at all. Plus you know, they’re just getting to know one another and when I left them all #2 and 3 had just woken up from a nap and were a bit confused. So I call up my Dad, Mr Li some 10 minutes later to see how they’re all settling and I can hear no tears. That’s good.

Me: How is everything Dad?
My Dad, Mr Li: They’re very happy now that I’ve given them some ice-cream.

Ok….if that’s what will help then so be it.

But I can definitely tell you that when I was their age, there was no handing out of ice cream willy nilly. And shouldn’t ice cream be too cold? Shouldn’t he be feeding them bowls of hot soup instead? Actually no, that one is reserved just for me. There’s always hot soup when I’m back to cure all ills. Hot soup and rice. How can you survive without either as part of your daily diet is what my Dad, Mr Li will ask you.

So I call another hour later as #1 and I are eating doughnuts and coffee.

Me: Is everything alright Dad?
My Dad, Mr Li: Yes, everything is very good. I’m just steaming some char siu buns for them to eat.
Me: But Dad, they’re having their dinner in 45 minutes time. They won’t want to eat their dinner if you give them buns now.
My Dad, Mr Li: I can’t talk to you right now, I’m very busy.

Thus the phone line cuts off.

I think when you need your parents to help you out a bit, sometimes you’ve just got to let them roll with it.

So, I was in a mad dash hurry to go out last night just at the time when it’s good to call him up and wish him a Happy Birthday. What ensued was a loud, chaotic few minutes of us all shouting ‘Happy Birthday Gung Gung’ down the phone at him.

I hope he liked it. I’m sure he did. I’m sure he didn’t even know it was his own Birthday so what a good way to be reminded of it.

When I was young, I was a part of his whole world. I know that. I know that his worries and concerns centred a lot on my well being. I know that he gradually relaxed over the years when I grew up to find gainful employment, got married and had a family of my own. He really felt like he could sit back and trust me to behave like a responsible Grown Up. Until That Ice Bucket incident that is. He has often said to me that his greatest fear was him not being around before I was a Grown Up. Now, you could say this fear stems from his own childhood experience. I get that but the thought never crossed my mind until I became a parent myself and now I understand.

Today, he sees his family expanding with his grandchildren and I know he misses them. How could you not miss these new, young people full of life, laughter and mischief.

He would never ask us when are we going to consider moving back to the UK but I know he’s waiting. And whilst he never would say to me outright, ‘Are you coming back to visit next year?’, he would mostly say the opposite as do all Chinese parents of that generation, ‘Don’t waste money coming back to visit, it’s so expensive/cold/far away’. Delete as appropriate. And it’s annoying when they do that. It really is. But they don’t mean it. It’s a cultural thing. Why can’t you just say what you mean? It’s so confusing and I end up doing the opposite of what you say just in case and then I’m not really sure that’s the right thing to do anyways.

By the way, because of this, I always say what I mean. I haven’t got the capacity to second guess anyone else with trying to second guess my own family all the time.

So, we headed up to Newcastle for lunch at my Mum’s for a last Goodbye for now with my family. I overhear my Dad, Mr Li talking to #1, 2 and 3 and he says, ‘I hope I see you next year’.

That stopped me in my tracks and broke me in two. Perhaps it’s the guilt of being an Expat that you feel you’re denying your parents the joy of their grandchildren.

He wasn’t saying it in a morbid he thinks he’s not going to be here sort of way but in a ‘I hope I see you next year’ sort of way because he’s my Dad, Mr Li but he’s also their Gung Gung, Mr Li and he’s got a very special job going on there he needs to carry on doing.

Happy Birthday to my Dad, Mr Li.

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Just when you think you’re a Grown Up

I think sufficient time has passed for all parties concerned for me to be able to talk about this now.

Just when you think you’re a Grown Up with having paid taxes for almost two decades, owned property, travelled independently and not to mention the raising of small people of your own. Out of the blue, you get one of THOSE telephone calls from your Parents that throw you right back to the time of when you were the size of, well, to the size of the small people you are raising again.

It seems you’re never too old for your Parents to call you up and haul you over hot coals for supposedly stupid and irresponsible behaviour.

That’s what I discovered a couple of weeks ago. My Dad, Mr Li was most upset. He was upset with me and he was upset with Big Brother Li. Big Brother Li thought this a gross miscarriage of justice.

What caused this fit of apoplectic rage from the perennially mild mannered man that is my Dad, Mr Li?

The Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), known as Motor Neurone Disease in the UK, Ice Bucket Challenge.

This in itself brought divided opinion from the population with some who merrily took on the ‘Challenge’ after being nominated to those who dismissed it out of hand as self promotion, pointless and a waste of water. And in some respects I wouldn’t argue with the viewpoint of the latter group having seen many a video where there is no mention of donating money to any charitable cause and the person is scantily clad. I also would say that tipping a bucket of ice water over your head is barely the definition of a ‘Challenge’.

But for all the criticism and as a Fundraising Professional when in gainful employment, I stand by that this craze when approached in the way it was intended, did raise much needed awareness of ALS and Motor Neurone Disease and funds for these organisations as well as awareness and funds for other worthy causes.

For in a world saturated with charities to help every conceivable need, something that will raise the profile of your cause above the parapet into the public’s awareness is always welcome.

Inevitably, I would be nominated for this by my friend Mr Cadbury’s Eclairs (you want a contender for man’s biggest gob to house multiple Cadbury eclairs competition then let me know) and I always had every intention of fulfilling the nomination. But at the time I had a bad cold and was also conscious of the wastage of clean drinking water. So I waited until I was over the cold and used the iced water from the cool box following #2’s Birthday party. For the record, my donations have gone to the Alzheimer’s Society and the Motor Neurone Disease Association in the UK.

Job done. All good. Or so I thought.

Until THAT phonecall.

My Dad, Mr Li is of that generation that still remembers a time before central heating. He has always impressed upon us the need to stay dry and warm. Such was his devotion to remaining in this state of being that he would always make sure he picked me up from school on all rainy days.

So, you can imagine his total lack of comprehension as to why anyone would WILLINGLY dump a bucket of water, let alone iced water on themselves.

The conversation went something along the lines of:

My Dad, Mr Li: WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT? Why would you tip a bucket of cold water over yourself. What were you thinking? Do you know how irresponsible that is? Especially when you are unwell? (True, I haven’t been able to fully shake off a cough for eights weeks now)

Me: How do you know about that? (Sounding very much like #1 and 2)

My Dad, Mr Li: How do I know about that? How do I know about that? I know about everything that you do. (Sounding very much like me now to #1 and 2)

My Dad, Mr Li was very careful not to reveal his source but I have my suspicions. Never Friend relatives of a certain generation on Facebook.

Me: But it was for a good cause!

My Dad, Mr Li: I don’t care what it was for. You are a Mother of three children and you do this? What if this makes you even more ill? What then? And as for your Brother! Doing exactly the same thing and encouraging you his sister to do it too? I despair.

I don’t think there was much point in trying to explain that Big Brother Li wasn’t the one to nominate me and that he really ought to be hunting down Mr Cadbury’s Eclairs. And so like the Grown Up I am, my line of defence was ‘But everyone’s doing it!’. Strictly not true for the reasons mentioned above yet what else could I say when interrogated by my Dad, Mr Li like that.

Yes, you could say that my Dad, Mr Li was a degree or two melodramatic about it all but let’s not tell him that because I don’t want to get another one of THOSE phone calls. Though I’m sure he’ll know about it by now.

You see, my Dad, Mr Li is always going to be the Parent that worries and frets and if in his opinion you behave like a child then like a child he will speak to you and suffer his wrath you must. To be fair, on a scale of 1 to 10, his rage is always towards the lower end.

It’s never good to upset your Parents as I’m sure you know, so I am sorry to my Dad, Mr Li for causing him angst. I can count on one hand the number of times he’s been the shouty sort of Parent.

But I’m also slightly bemused that at the age of Forty, I am not beyond getting wrong off my Dad, Mr Li! Nor that doing something like tipping water over my head would be worthy of feeding back to him. When do you ever give full disclosure to your Parents? Can you imagine what he’d say to the downing of shots at my recent Birthday celebrations? Shit, now he knows.

What makes me laugh the most though, is just how indignant Big Brother Li was at the pure injustice of being held responsible at the age of 48, for the actions of his 40 year old sister.

To the point where he was scared to call him up and asking me if I’d spoken to our Dad, Mr Li recently to get the lay of the land. And I being the younger sibling, full of bravado just telling him to get on with it and call him knowing full well that should our Dad, Mr Li have any further words to express on the matter then it will be Big Brother Li who yet again would suffer the consequences.

I’ve just been told that Big Brother Li has bought our Dad, Mr Li his very own tracking device in the form of the alien technology that is a Smartphone. He’s currently figuring out What’sapp and I’m sure it won’t be long before someone sets him up with his own Facebook Account.

When that happens, I will tell you now that I can categorically say I will definitely not be Friending him.

Why give full disclosure now after all these years without?

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