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

A new Father’s Day tradition

It’s been a while since I’ve felt like writing without it feeling like a chore but I’ve snorted out loud so much this evening that I’m going to put it here.

It’s Father’s Day today and it occurred to me a few days ago that I won’t be sending a card or making a Father’s Day call. It’s the things that you no longer have to do that get to you the most. I could feel it lingering. That feeling that makes you exhale deeply before you go on to do the next thing. I miss my Dad, Mr Li which is nothing new and of course special occasions can feel bittersweet.

But I have #1, 2 and 3 who love their Daddy (except when they’re angry with him over the wrong shaped toast, not having socks ready in the mornings or just because they feel like it), and to show their affection, Father’s Day breakfast in our household is a Bacon and Sausages Big Fry Up whilst Daddy gets a lie in. That in itself is a Father’s Day gift.

I don’t think #1, 2 and 3 will have any issue with delegation in their adult life. They are pretty adept at it now. But I thought it’s actually time that they take some responsibility for this amazing Father’s Day treat. I’ve seen what an eight year old can cook on Masterchef Junior. This year we had washing of mushrooms, half opening a can of beans and doing the toast. Plus setting the table. Next year we might have cooking of eggs and bacon. Sausages will require a more mature level of ‘Is it edible yet’ judgement to be safe.

I thought this was a Father’s Day breakfast any Dad would be proud of.

Apparently not. The presence of asparagus has caused consternation. Well, what can I say. How am I suppose to know the proper components of an English Fry Up when my Dad, Mr Li would only eat this if there was rice on the plate. And I think that is what made me laugh the most.


From now on, I’m going to make it my new tradition to include a rogue Father’s Day breakfast item in the mix. So I end today feeling a whole lot better than I started it.

Happy Father’s Day to all those we call Dad and will always love.

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Remembering my Dad, Mr Li

Mid November and the Christmas market in our new home town is here again this weekend. Beginning the season bringing festive cheer. Stalls are bedecked with ideas for Christmas gifts and scrumptious gourmet foods to laden down any dining table. There are fairground rides for the children (and adults too if you squeeze in a touch) and the air is heavy with the smell of mulled wine and sizzling sausages as you move around the market. There’s something quite enchanting about a Christmas market with all the little wooden huts peddling their wares that gets you feeling a lot like Christmas.

Last year was our first family Christmas market outing in actual cold weather wrapped up in hats, scarves and coats. It’s never quite the same when it’s winter in the tropics no matter how beautifully festive the lights are.

And for me, the Christmas market will always be synonymous with the passing of my Dad, Mr Li.

One whole year. A hard year without question and not just for myself. I reflect on how we have managed to get through it and there are moments I wish were different. I know there have been times where grief had worn me out so much, I definitely wasn’t the parent I aspire to be. The one that is patient and reasonable instead of shouty and distracted. When children fight over the smallest of things in the face of your own great loss and you want to yell at them to stop being so petty, what would Gung Gung think. He would think they were his little stars. If ever I complained about their behaviour, he would say to me, ‘that’s what children do’. Can I also say, that if ever I had paid my Dad, Mr Li any of the lip service I’ve had from his grandchildren, I very much doubt I would have gotten away with him lightly brushing it off in the same way.

Very gradually, I can feel myself imagining what my Dad, Mr Li would say and do in particular scenarios. My favourite being the video I would have sent him of #2’s  requested Birthday treat at the climbing wall. The sheer panic he’d be feeling watching her as she scaled right to the top and then bouncing her way back down again. He’d be straight on the phone pointing out the dangers of such activity and I’d be blithely agreeing  because there’s no point interrupting him until he’s had his say. But I also know that he’d be watching that video several times more, marveling at her daring and telling his friends about it.

I love how the children ask for Rich Tea biscuits for school snacks because they know that’s what he enjoyed too. I guess this is how the memory of someone we love continues to live on.

And speaking of biscuits, in one of our kitchen cupboards on a high shelf, there’s a Breakaway I’ve put there. I found it in my Dad, Mr Li’s coat pocket when he went into hospital. So I took it home with me and now I don’t know what to do with it. I can’t throw it away and I can’t eat it. Although Husband almost did when he came upon it. He wasn’t to know why it was there, he wasn’t here at the time and I had put it there out of reach of the children. I said to him, imagine if you had eaten it. He said, I know. Quite relieved he escaped having to find out. Because whilst rationally I know it’s just a biscuit, at the time of discovery, it Meant Something. Whereas what it means quite simply, is that my Dad, Mr Li is a sensible man and liked to have snacks on him in case of emergencies. The things we need to cling onto when we are scared that memories are not enough.

And memories are everywhere. Hard to deal with at first. I went into a shop to buy toothpaste for the children and came out immediately, feeling overwhelmed and sobbing because I passed the aisle selling the hair conditioner my Dad, Mr Li used on recommendation from his friend. I saw it and I remembered him telling me about it and that was all that was needed to set me off. I was unprepared for it and felt slightly ridiculous at how easily the tears came. But thankfully, I wasn’t alone that day and had someone who could say to me that this was all perfectly normal. That you will spend however long it takes, going about your regular business, feeling fine one moment and in tears the next. It was all ok.

Even when you start crying when the plumber comes around to fix the heating. I feel so bad thinking about that poor man’s face having to face me with tears rolling down my cheeks as he’s telling me about what’s wrong with the heating and that awkward moment he stops and asks if I’m ok.

I can’t begin to say how truly thankful I am for all the times I was asked if I was ok. For the times spent with family and friends that gave me occasions to look forward to and things to do, especially when Husband was still away in Singapore. The friends who listened to everything without making judgement and giving me the counsel I needed even down to what meals I should cook that week because I’d lost creative thought. And I also wondered about that too. All the things that I did and no longer felt like doing. Going out for a run, reading a book, making something crafty. They too gradually came back to me and some more. I felt a need to see something new and appreciate something new every day. I’ve finally learnt how to knit, just bobble hats for now. But creating that something yourself is uplifting for the soul as I hand out slices of cake and bobble hats to those around me.

Yesterday was a terrible day. I thought it was the stress from anticipating today but what I think contributed to most of the terribleness was a week of illness running through the whole family which is always grotty and perhaps a touch too much sparkling fizz the night before on our School Mum’s night out. Mild hangovers make for grey days on a good day. So I do what I normally do. Getting outdoors and walking it off. The day was misty and atmospheric mirroring how I felt at the time. As I walked through the woods, I veered off the footpath deciding to take a different route following a bridle path. But instead of the robust stomp I thought I’d be taking, I was tentatively picking my way along the path hoping I wouldn’t go skidding in horse poo and mud and the thought once again, of what my Dad, Mr Li would have said about the state of my shoes and jeans made me laugh to myself.

So today, whilst incredibly sad, is a day for remembering how much we were all loved by my Dad, Mr Li. And to not have that today may feel hard and I will from time to time wish we had that extra day but at least we did have it for as long as we did.

My Dad, Mr Li. Much loved always. x

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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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Thank you for being here

This morning I spent a lovely two hours getting to know a new friend. It seems hard to imagine that I am only three months into being a new resident to the area. The one still introduced at the school gates as having just moved this summer from Singapore with three children and whose Husband is working abroad.

I was wondering whether it would be difficult breaking into established circles. Whether people would feel they already had enough in their networks and not need any more. The advice given is always just to get out there. And getting out there is something I’m plenty experienced in.

At first, getting out there was about helping the children feel settled. It has been a huge change for them. Lining up play dates with new friends in the park and at home has really helped them and it’s reassuring to see them make new friends so you know they’re not alone at school.

Who my new friends were going to be remained to be seen. It’s not as tragic as it sounds, trust me. But I have to say, I’ve been very lucky many times over at key stages in my life where I’ve been starting over. I think back to meeting E on the steps outside Maxwell Building during my first week at Uni. To meeting G at Harry’s, Dempsey Hill, Singapore just before becoming a new parent. To K reaching out over Facebook and inviting me to coffee on the first day of this new school year.

One simple Hello that defines a pivotal moment and shifts you towards a positive direction.

I’ve spent the mornings this week on my own. Again, not as tragic as it sounds. I just felt like it and because I figured I better tackle the clothing mountain blocking my way around the house. One is still functioning and feeding and keeping the children in clean clothing. This morning though, I enjoyed a really good laugh as we shared stories of our families and what brought us both to living in this town. We talked about her new business venture and I enjoyed the energy she gave off from the sheer enthusiasm she had for it. I left feeling lighter of heart following her warm and easy company.

Then I went on an impromptu two hour walk around The Stray. I’ve not been out running for over a month now, I don’t quite feel ready for that level of activity. Walking feels a more gentle way to move around for some fresh air and arrange my thoughts. And my thoughts invariably come back to the same point.

This morning I thought about all the many helping hands that have eased me through the past three weeks. And who will no doubt help me through many more weeks to come. I probably won’t even be able to articulate fully just how grateful I am for you. A simple Thank you doesn’t seem to do it justice. But it feels important to me that I try to say Thank you as best I can.

After I got home from my walk, I reread the bundle of cards I’d received. When the first one arrived I was almost surprised that it found its way to me at all. I’d just moved in not that long ago. Who knew my address? At the time reading the words inside were painful as it took me another step towards feeling the truth. But reading them all again today gave me a different perspective. Each message a gentle attempt to soothe some of the pain the sender knew I would be feeling. And physically taking the steps to send a card is so meaningful in an age when we all tend to text each other. Thank you for your thoughtfulness.

And thank you also for the kind gifts. Completely unexpected. Tissues to dry my tears whilst I feed the children the chocolate for dinner. Lotions and potions to beautify my swollen eyed, aged self. Flowers to mask the smell in case I don’t feel up to washing or cleaning the house. A lovely new recipe book to inspire me to cook properly for the children to override the guilt for feeding them chocolate for dinner. Whisky because my Dad would be horrified at my consumption of hard liquor. It’s a difficult time Dad!

What I really want to acknowledge is that you are helping and you have helped. And I know you feel my position and desperately want to make it better. When I have been the one offering my own condolences, all I wanted to try and do is to help the person who is hurting as much as possible. But how. Much of what I need to do can only be done by me, that part is true. However, every message, every call, every touch point, every time you listen, it all helps.

I cried when my good friend V said, ‘It’s to remind you that you are not alone in your grief, that I am thinking of you and your family’ and that is very comforting to know. Sometimes you do feel alone and suddenly someone pops up and says ‘I’ve been thinking of you’ and it’s like a speck of blue sky breaking through on a cold day.

And what would I have done without the offer of practical help. Coming from people I had known less than two months. Less than a month even. When we lived in Singapore with home help, there was always someone there to support the home. Not just so that I could go back to work easily or have lunch with the ladies. When my Dad was in hospital in April, I stayed on in the UK for a while longer. It was still hard, especially for my Husband but it was do able. Moving back to the UK to a new town made us wonder ‘how do people do it?’ How do you arrange everything whilst trying to work as well. It seemed so other worldly and complex. And they would say, it’s different when you don’t have home help. You build your networks, you pull together and you support each other. But how? I’ve just moved here. And this is where I realise people are inherently good and kind. And they will help whenever they can because I think that’s what people do. It has been a very humbling experience.

Several times I was late back from Newcastle whilst discussing arrangements for my Dad, the children were already in After School Club but when it looked likely I wasn’t going to make it back for the end of that, I was able to call upon two new friends K and K to help pick them up for me. I am amazed by this.

And then there were the times when I didn’t have to do any planning at all. When A tells me to just drop the children with them and come back again tomorrow. Who spends the day before the funeral with me and allows me to just be. And who will continue to plan regular touch points like that because she’s itching to declutter my house.

When E, thinking ahead for me before I could think for myself, arranging to take care of the children so I could go ahead and do whatever it is that I needed to do on the day for my Dad. How can I ever say an adequate Thank You to her too. E’s modest reply was ‘you’d do the same for me.’ No, I don’t think I would. She laughed. But I bet she’s now not so sure.

And on the day itself. A difficult day. But made bearable because of family standing by your side. I definitely wasn’t on my own that day. Not in grief, not in company. Each step, whilst painful, was taken in exactly the way we wanted it. The day is not yet a blur, perhaps some day it will be. But I won’t forget that I couldn’t have managed it without the support of all my family. Those who drove me there and back. Those whose grief mirrored my own. For propping me up with love and giving me the time to let go of the physical only when I was ready. For my Uncle, my Dad’s younger brother, who gives my phone two rings so I’ll call him back to check that I’m doing ok and is promising to cook all sorts of good things to eat.

In the days since, I’m thankful for the company of B who I emotionally blackmailed into making me a batch of caramel squares and who walked miles in the frost and stamped through frozen puddles just because I needed it. For entertaining my Brother so he thought you were trustworthy enough for us to go out for one small cup of gin whilst he and my Nephew unsuccessfully put the children to bed. But most of all, for saying it’s ok to stop doing stuff. To stop keeping busy and feel the grief even if it means watching Elf and crying until it’s time for school pick up. I haven’t done it yet but it’s good to know I could.

During this time, described as my time of need, I have been left overwhelmed by the kindness of you. I thought about this a lot as I walked around this morning. Reflecting on the words you’ve written or spoken. There is no right or wrong way to grieve and that can be confusing as your emotions battle with your rational mind. But it’s good to be told that everything you feel is valid and is not to be dismissed.

I also value the messages wishing strength and peace. Both vital at this time. I’m already strong but wishing me a bit more power from the ceiling just gives that little extra oomph to the day.

My Dad knew some of you from our younger years, referring to E, B and F as the girl from Wales/Guildford/Middlesbrough even though that may not be accurate twenty years on but a minor detail to him. And some of you who may have only met him on occasion have shared some really lovely memories. Some that I had forgotten about. They will no doubt come back in time when I think of my Dad with only good memories and not just wanting to cry. And I laughed hearing you repeat back some of my Dad’s wise teachings that I’ve talked about in the past. One bag of crisps a day only.

It’s still tough of course. I’m kept busy with Christmas upon us and with three young children to take care of. They help keep you moving forward. They too have been so amazing and kind and surprising. So surprising in their perception of things. They still fight and bicker like usual which sends me over the edge into parent meltdown mode but we’re doing ok.

As I reached home at the end of my walk. Thinking through all these thoughts. I thought about what my Dad would make of it all. I wonder what he’d make of all you lovely people he’s not met before. You’d be on your best behaviour of course. Addressing Mr Li, a minute elderly Chinese gentleman that you’d tower over. Talking at him about all sorts that he may or may not understand whilst he would nod politely, give a little laugh and say Thank You. And after you’d turn away, he’d say something completely unrelated about what you’d spoken about and you would be forever identified as the tall one from York. Or the running one from Singapore. Then he’d probably tell me to tell you not to run with headphones on. It’s too dangerous. Someone could come up behind you without you knowing.

I find it a relief when my children come home from school pleading for play dates with a whole host of names. Every parent worries about whether their child has friends. (Then they worry some more about whether they are the right sort of friends.)

I suppose I’m wanting to reassure you Mr Li, that through this difficult time, although I am without you I am not alone. I have my Husband, my children, my family, my humongous family whose daily antics crack me up and make me despair in equal measure.

Then there’s you. (That also includes the you who can be found in the friends/family intersection of a Venn diagram.) A global network of love, friendship and support. Thank you for making me feel many a touch better and just letting me know that you are there in so many different ways.

Mr Li would be very proud to know this, if he doesn’t already.

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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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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.


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.


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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