A little development

I am a full-time working mother with two littles and I am currently working on my part-time Masters degree.

I say this not because I want you to heap accolades on me on being a super mum (because I am not, I am just an ordinary mum) but to let you know that these are the hats that I am juggling. And yes, these are also the choices that I made consciously and deliberately.

The notion of pursuing my Masters came last year. I will leave the origins of this thought for another post on another day but as the seed of the idea grew and grew, I decided that it had to be done. It took a while to materialise because I was plagued by so many doubts and considerations.

How would I juggle everything?
Am I going to kill myself, especially when the man is away on yet another long business trip?
Am I clever enough to do the Masters?
Will I be able to spend enough quality time with my boys?
Will this compromise my health?
How will I be able to run the household efficiently?

Truth is, I still don’t have the answers. But I realised that the more I weighed the pros and cons, the less likely I am to act. And so I jumped in, fully-clothed, and mooted the idea to my husband and my superiors at work.

I would have said that luckily for me, my boss pushed for this opportunity to happen. But to attribute it solely to luck would be to negate my own efforts. I have worked very hard over the past five years and my performance has been a key factor in this coming to life. Plus, I knew what I wanted and I asked for exactly what I wanted. (That, and a fantastic boss, as well, which I am lucky to have.)

One month in and I can honestly tell you that it’s tough. I don’t have it all. I am constantly exhausted from sleeping at 1am every night. Most days, I forget to read my boys’ comm books from school and they have had to go to school without a photo or a leaf for their class activities. I sometimes forgo putting them to bed because I have to work on assignments or attend my virtual classes. My readings are usually done in bursts and spurts because I have to attend to somebody or I fall asleep. I get relief from my helper, who ensures that the chores are done and my house is neat and clean. My mother pops by occasionally to make dinner for us.

I don’t do it all by myself. I am not a super mum. And I willingly admit to having help because I don’t believe that makes me a lesser woman or a lesser mum.

But it’s also been great in so many ways. I got to travel to Europe to attend classes. Being an unsociable and awkward introvert, I stepped out of my comfort zone and met new people from all over the world. It’s been so, so intellectually stimulating to be driven by the pursuit of academic (and professional) knowledge again.

This opportunity has allowed my husband to step up his game and be well and truly an equal partner in parenting. Not that he wasn’t pulling his weight previously, but I think he now feels a stronger sense of responsibility to ensure that I am not overly taxed (I am still his soft spot after all these years, heh heh!).

More importantly, I have started prioritising me. We have had a spate of poor health over the past year and I know that to run this marathon, I have to be in good shape. So I have started exercising regularly again (at least three times a week, I hope!), just to ensure that the engines are well oiled and running efficiently. My life is a little more structured than before.

Prioritising me also meant that I could squeeze in a little trip to Paris after my week of lessons was done. I had absolutely zero qualms in leaving my children to the care of their father – ZERO. Part of it is because I know that they would all be fine without me and he is more than capable to be a solo parent (he’s their father, he ought to be capable). The other part, of course, is that I have been solo-parenting quite a bit so it’s time mama has a break!

So talk to me about how well I juggle everything in a year’s time. Meanwhile, I will be quietly slogging away, typing those assignments late into the night. Wish me luck!

Paris

A hug will make things right

I had a really rough day at work yesterday. The day was mostly spent trying to contain the wildfire that spread with a mistake that I had made, as well as cleaning up the mess made by others. On top of that, the unpredictable weather caused my allergic rhinitis to flare up and I was having problems breathing.

Hah. So much for taking a deep breath and calming down when you can’t even breathe. *snort*

Anyway, by the time I picked up my littles, I was in a terrible mood. I was ready to be a Monster Mum and yell terrible things at them if they hadn’t cooperated. When Zac refused to leave the school because he wanted to watch his friends dance (!!!), I was all ready to blow my top. I grabbed him, swiped his bag and shoes from the floor (while holding on to that little bugger, yes!) and was all ready to Y.E.L.L.

But, I didn’t. Because I was too exhausted and also because I thought, I have missed them so much and is this how I want to start my evening with them?

Instead, I talked. I am very good at talking. So I did. I said, look guys, I had a really bad day at work and I am very tired. Mummy has been working very hard today because I made a mistake, can you please help me?

Immediately, Aidan hugged me and said he would go home and draw a present for me. Zac leaned his head on my shoulder and said, “Sorry mummy. Don’t be sad, okay? I kiss you!” And then he proceeded to give me a huge kiss on my lips. And then he did it again.

When we got home, I had to make several phone calls for work. As I was talking, Aidan ran in and gestured to a piece of paper in his hand. The boy had really drawn me a picture! He produced it with a flourish, wordlessly, and ran out when I smiled. And when Zac came into the room, he shushed his little brother and told him to be quiet because mummy was on the phone.

And that’s when I knew that being honest with my boys, as little as they are, is a good thing. I have always wanted to shield them from my weary adult world, wanted them to steer clear from the problems that I face. I don’t usually talk about work to them.

In reality, I have been doing it all wrong. I should be sharing more about my day with them, telling them about my joys and my lows. They may not necessarily understand the context but it helps to build their sense of empathy. It also helps them to see that life isn’t pretty all the time, and that we face problems all the time. Hopefully, if I involve them in the process, I am showing them that the most important thing about problems is in how we approach and solve them (this is honestly a WIP for me even at 36! I react so quickly and so emotionally, it takes a while before I start seeing the logical steps to reaching a (re)solution).

Thank you, my littles. Thank you for teaching mama a lesson and for making me feel so much better about myself.

Bringing up bébé – the Singaporean way

I don’t know about you but the arrival of my first child was a huge shock to my system.

After that long struggle with infertility, after the many treatments and procedures, we were all ready for our baby boy to join us. Well, we were as ready as one could be – afterall, I don’t really think that anyone can say that they are well and truly prepared to be parents.

And so, the shock. There was resentment, sadness, stress, frustration. There were many, many moments when I burst into tears and sank to the floor of my baby’s room.

Part of it was the lack of sleep, for sure. Exclusively breastfeeding my child meant that I had to sleep in three-hourly chunks. My entire life was broken down into three-hourly chunks. Add to the fact that anxiety over being a first-time mother – am I producing milk? Is he latching properly? Did he drink enough? Are there enough wet diapers? – made me sleep poorly. Nap when baby naps? Hah! (He didn’t nap much.)

Then, there was the sudden realisation that this mewling, helpless, tiny being was entirely dependent on me for survival. What if I didn’t know what I was doing? If he wasn’t sleeping (my first-born hated sleep with a vengeance – even as a newborn!), was his development ruined? Why was he crying? How can I make him stop?

In the days and the months of his life early on, it was just me and him alone in the house. I had no help, my mother was preoccupied with my nephew and we hadn’t had a helper yet. And so, I had to take on the roles of mother and wife and housekeeper all by myself.

That made me miserable. I was struggling to get used to caring for an infant and trying to get everything else done at the same time. Perhaps it was postpartum depression, I wouldn’t know. I had no idea, nobody ever told me that I would feel this way. I had assumed that once the baby was here, I would be glowing with maternal love and motherhood would come naturally to me.

It took me more than 10 weeks before I emerged from the cobwebs.

Thankfully, that gave me enough time to enjoy my newborn before I went back to work. And in that respect, I was really grateful that I had 16 weeks of maternity leave. Those 16 weeks were not only to help me recover from the physical aspect of the birth, they were necessary for my mental and emotional health. I simply cannot fathom how I would have been like if I had to go back to work a month or two or even three after the birth. My anxiety levels would have been through the roof, and don’t even get me started on the mum guilt.

Is 16 weeks enough? To be perfectly honest, I think six months would have been ideal. At four months, my babies were still itty bitty and dependent solely on my breast milk for sustenance so I felt so stressed at work, trying to find time (and space) to express. But then again, even the USA does not even mandate paid maternity leave – 16 weeks is great compared to that.

When I went back to work, I was lucky enough to have both sides of the family pitch in to help with caregiving. And when my son turned 28 months – and had a baby brother by then – we enrolled him in the childcare centre at my workplace. We chose to do so because, honestly, we decided that it was better than having our littles stay home with grandma and do nothing. They can pick up social, verbal and academic skills by being in school – and we have not had an ounce of regret since then.

It was a no-brainer: the school’s proximity ensured convenience in dropping him off and picking him up, and the costs were really reasonable. In addition to the basic $300 childcare subsidy that we receive from the government, we were also eligible for an employee subsidy.

This meant that we weren’t working just to earn enough to pay childcare fees! Plus – and that is a big PLUS – we were able to top up our boys’ Child Development Accounts after we had received the Baby Bonus ($6,000 during our time, it’s apparently $8,000 these days!) so the government matched it dollar for dollar. That sum of money has been used to pay off their childcare centre fees.

I know that when the Baby Bonus was first launched, many Singaporeans complained that the government was trying to bribe us to have children. There were grumbles of how $6,000 is not enough to bring up a child. I was probably one of them, heh.
But I will eat my words here and say that as a sandwiched middle-income group, the $6,000 and subsequent dollar-for-dollar matching programme has come in very useful. Will I have kids just for that $6,000? Nope. But as somebody who’s always wanted to have kids? Yes, that money helps, more than I could possibly have imagined.

Looking back on our five-year parenting journey, I sometimes wonder aloud to my husband if we would have kids all over again, given what we know now. Honestly? I would. It’s tough, exhausting, humbling, frustrating. But it is also amazing and joyful.

I wouldn’t change a single minute of it.

Missing in action

Hello! Yes it’s me. I am still alive, evidently. The blog, on the other hand, isn’t looking too great.

Well, it’s been a while and what can I say, life gets in the way. There’s always work to be done, littles to be cuddled, wine to be drunk and life to be lived. I used to think that writing was cathartic but these days, it sure doesn’t feel that way. So I took a break. Didn’t pressure myself to write.

The husband is off on one of his trips again and I have been playing the roles of both papa and mummy. It’s hard, but really not that hard because I am so used to it by now. There are days when the boys are absolute assholes and I have to channel my inner OHM to keep from exploding. Some days, I am successful. Other days, well.

Today was one of those days when I was not quite as good at keeping it together. Mr 5 was building a house using the PicassoTiles that we got him for his birthday (PS they are awesome and if you want a review, let me know!), and the house was filled with Duplo people. Inexplicably, Mr 2 (and Impossibly Cute) decided to do a Godzilla on him and stomped all over the house.

Poor Mr 5. He burst into tears and I had to wrestle the little Godzilla away. Gave him a pep talk, cuddled him a bit (just in case it was due to his love tank being empty) but it didn’t take him more than 60 seconds before he was at it again.

In short: Mr 2 was being a total asshat and destroying his big brother. Yes, that happens.

The third time they clashed, I lost it. Completely. Hauled the littlest into my bedroom and gave him a very stern talking to, accentuated with some finger wagging. I warned, I threatened, and then I forced him into his high chair to eat his dinner. He whined about not wanting dinner until I decided to let him have his fruit and main meal at the same time.

By then, Mr 5 was done with his meal and we sat at the piano together to practise, leaving Mr 2 at the table by himself. What do you know, that did the trick. The littlest calmed down and fed himself dinner while A and I tinkered at the piano. After the practice, we all sat down at the dining table to have our usual after-dinner yogurt.

“Hey Zac,” I said casually. “Is there something you need to say to gor gor?”

He nodded. “Sorry Aidan.”

“What are you sorry for?”

Without a break, he said: “Sorry for breaking your toy.”

“Aidan, didi has apologised.”

Aidan didn’t bat an eyelid as he replied, “It’s okay.”

In one evening, my little people taught me two things. Never be afraid to apologise for something you did wrong and never hold on to grudges.

I am getting better at saying sorry as the years go by (getting older and mellower and all that haha) but I have a hard time letting go. Not deliberately but sometimes I have a tendency to relive certain moments and conversations. I replay them over and over again, wondering if I could have done or said things differently.

But look at my five-year-old. He forgives so easily. In the next moment, they are the best of playmates again. He doesn’t forget – he sometimes stuns us with his memory – but he doesn’t hold it against people. He moves on with his life and he continues loving with his heart.

So yes, my kids teach me about life and living every day. While there are days that are harder than others, I still thank my lucky stars that I have them.

The end of the tether

I was eating my dinner after work when my two-year-old flopped down at my feet, all of a sudden. I didn’t pay much attention to it, he was bouncing around just mere moments ago. Perhaps he was resting.

Until he continued rolling there and whimpering, mummy, mummy. That was all he said. Mummy, mummy. I knew something was wrong.

I jumped down from my seat and cradled him. He laid in my arms, limp and listless, his lips turning purplish. To make matters worse, he was cold and clammy to the touch. I called to my helper to bring me the thermometer, its caustic beep telling me that Zac’s temperature was 35.4 degrees.

“Zac, are you okay? Any pain?” I asked as I hugged him. He didn’t move. Mummy, mummy, he whispered. That was all he could say.

Should I rush him to the hospital? Is it pneumonia from his cough and cold? Or is it the same bacterial infection that caused him to be hospitalised when he was an infant? Who could I call to help look after Aidan? What do I do?

I had no answers. I was alone, my husband on a business trip 13,000 miles and 15 hours away.

I changed both the boys and rushed all three of us to the GP near our flat. Along the way, Zac seemed to recover a little. Once at the clinic, he seemed almost back to normal, except his temperature still hovered around 35.5 degrees. The doctor examined him and said his stomach was churning badly, which had led to his body temperature dipping suddenly.

In short, it was nothing serious. Stomach bug.

As I walked slowly back home with the littles, I suddenly felt heavy. It’s been one plus week of solo parenting and I have dealt with gastroenteritis and lingering coughs and a viral infection. Plus, the boys have been taking turns to wake up and call for mummy every single night. I was tired. I wanted to cry, at the sheer weight of it all, but I realised that I was way past tears. I couldn’t cry. I was probably too exhausted to cry.

Once home, I tried to finish up my already-cold dinner. The boys were playing when Aidan discovered a pack of snacks – goodie bag from a birthday celebration in school – in Zac’s bag. With them being ill, I took the snacks away from him and told him they were not allowed to have any of these until they were well again.

The four-year-old went into complete meltdown mode. The screaming and crying went on and on, and as I hugged him to me, my mind started detaching from the scene in front of me.

If patience was a cliff, I thought, then I was just one tiptoe away from throwing myself off the edge.

But I couldn’t. Not with two small children hanging trustingly on to me and the security and love I offer. I had to rein myself in.

And so I held the screaming child in my arms and talked to him. Explained again and again why he couldn’t have the snacks. Told him I understood why he was sad and disappointed. But the screaming didn’t stop. And finally, I told him I would leave him to let it all out while I went for a shower, and he could talk to me when he was ready.

I carried him to his room and went out to settle the other little. By the time I went back to the room, Aidan was calm and reading his books.

Could we go and have a shower? I asked. He nodded. I picked him up, hugged him close and went to the bathroom. As we bathed, I explained to him again why I wasn’t letting him have the snacks. His eyes welled with tears, and he was on the verge of starting his meltdown again, and I found myself wanting to let go and dive down that cliff again.

Once again, I stopped. I simply couldn’t.

So I talked. I talked and I talked and he listened. I told him that mummy was tired because papa was away. I told him that I knew he really wanted to eat the biscuits and the sweets but he couldn’t because he was ill. I told him that it was the only way to get well. I told him that it made mummy sad to hear him cough. I told him that I understood his frustration but I had to get him well again.

And he calmed down again.

I put the boys to bed, hugging them close as I did. I breathed in their scents, and kissed their cheeks again and again.

Maybe I am writing this to talk about the importance of empathy, blah blah blah. Maybe. I don’t know. I don’t know how I feel. Or what I should feel. Thankful? Certainly.

Maybe what I really want to tell you, and myself, is that there will be times so, so, so bad that you feel you cannot breathe. That you will feel so stretched in all directions that you cannot think. That the exhaustion will weigh down on your shoulders heavily. That thinking about all the work that is still undone will cause your heart to palpitate. That the need your children have for you can be so overwhelming at times.

It’s so hard.

But you have the strength and the will. You have the mental power to push past this hurdle. You will conquer and the bad times will pass.

You just have to believe.
I just have to believe.

It’s been a long, long while

Hi. I’m sorry, we haven’t been around much.

Truth is, wow, where do I begin. In early September, my husband went off for a 3.5-week business trip and I was busy solo parenting. Towards the end of that stint, I developed a serious eye condition. That was tough. I mean, I rank it up there with the pain I had from infertility. And once that was under control, I came down with a viral infection.

And then the husband flew off again, for another 3.5 weeks. Which sucks. And right now, what I have are two little people with gastroenteritis and me with another viral infection – while the man is away.

I’m exhausted: from changing sheets, doing the laundry, mopping the floor, disinfecting the house and washing the boys. Who also need extra cuddling because, poor sick babies. And when they are finally asleep and not needing me (yet), when the household is quiet, all I want to do is to savour the silence.

So I sit and do nothing. I’m sure you must have done the same on those nights when you are glad the kids are finally asleep. Sit on the sofa or on your bed and do absolutely nothing. Relish the quiet of the night.

The thing is, when you are a kid and you are sick, there is someone who will take care of you. Ensure that you have something nourishing to eat, something to drink and lots of hugs and kisses. But when you are a mother, there isn’t that someone anymore. You just have to rely on your own.

In the past few months, I have certainly relied on my own – a hell lot, with the husband’s crazy hours at work (when he is in Singapore, it’s as good as him being overseas, frankly). I know I can handle it. But sometimes, just sometimes, I guess I wish I could have a little break where someone takes all that burden away from me and allow me to just be, even if it’s for a little while.

Talk to you soon, hopefully when this episode of gastroenteritis goes away. In the meantime, please take care, what with the onslaught of gastro and Zika and HFMD and the likes battling against our health.

%d bloggers like this: