“Come here,” says Arddun sternly, staring up at me from the other end of the garage as I close the boot and the garage door, and make my way to her. “Come here.” She extends a tiny pointer finger (palm side up), and curls it for emphasis, beckoning me – her mother! – as if I were a dog.
“That’s not how you speak to Mummy, ” I reply, and uncurl the beckoning finger and place her arms by her side. “Try again, please.” I run back to the other side of the garage.
“Come here, Mummy.” stern toddler
“Come here, Mummy – please.” patient mother
“Come here, Mummy – please,” stern toddler
“Alright, now say it with a happy face. Please come here, Mummy!”
She beams back at me now, sweet as cherry pie and lollies and the smell of sunshine in freshly-dried laundry. “Please come here, my Mummy!” she entreats me. Beam.
I run over to her, and level my face with her grinning one. We gaze at each other, smiling eyeballs to smiling eyeballs. I can smell her baby breath.
Today’s my mum’s birthday. If she were still alive, she would have turned 56.
I was half dreading this day, because I knew I was going to feel quite mixed up about it. There’s an awful jumble of feelings that come from remembering a dead loved one’s birthday. There’s that sense of wrongness which builds up to the day, and chiefly comes from not doing the usual things. Not hunting down the perfect gift, not wrapping it. Not battling the queue at the post office to send it. Not finding the card. Not texting her in the morning. Not calling her on Skype at the day’s end to find out how she celebrated.
Not being able to jump on the plane and then sidle up to her pew on Sunday to surprise her.
Then there’s the wrongness that comes from remembering someone’s birthday when they’ve passed. She hasn’t turned 56; her body stopped at 55 years, 6 months and 17 days. So what naturally follows is that gut-wrenching, heartrending sense of loss and missing. The kind you’ve been working at mastering and suppressing for the last few months so you can function – and even be happy – without dissolving into a mooching mess.
There was a guy recorded in the bible who had been blind from birth, which means he had probably been reduced to begging because that’s what happens when you don’t have Disability Care in the days of Jesus. And the question naturally followed: why? Was he born blind because of his parents’ sin? What was the whole point of depriving a person of sight and a livelihood from the start? Or the middle, for that matter. What is the whole point of dragging a woman through a very tough childhood and marriage, only to strike her with cancer when she’s finally breathing easier? Why?
And Jesus basically said that the whole point was so that God could be given the glory. A person, blind until adulthood for the sole and magnificent purpose of Jesus walking pass to heal him. Except I sure wish He were here in the flesh today, and that he chose to heal my mother.
What was the point of giving her life, only to take it away at 55? Was it so that God may be glorified through her example in death? Or was it so that others like me could be brought more into repentance?
I remember reading someone’s blog, and the whole blog was about this family who has a daughter with a condition that would almost certainly guarantee her death by age 4. When you know you have that sort of timeline, you don’t mess about as a parent. The doctrines about sleep training, the guilt about breastfeeding vs formula, the philosophies about discipline, the race to each baby milestone completely melts away when you realise that Nothing Is That Important as making sure that child knows she is loved, and that you’re all making great memories together. That blogger’s house was a complete mess some days but as the child got sicker, all they did as a family sometimes was to eat takeaway and watch cartoons with her. It flew in the face of every good parenting handbook out there, and yet I think it was perfect and natural parenting for their sick daughter at the time.
I wish I had known about my mother’s timeline, because I wish I had understood which battles to fight and which battles to merrily concede defeat because they weren’t worth picking up the axe for in the first place. I wish I had not fussed at the fringes, but understood which were the more important things. I wish I had dropped everything and run to her sooner. Hindsight can be such a bitter thing.
There’s the alarm clock, chirping in the distance. Yet another reminder that time marches on. Oh how I miss you, my mother, my confidante, my home away from home.
We’ve been away for 15 days on a much-awaited holiday that surprised us when it finally rolled up after months of anticipation. It had been something we told ourselves we’d do once we got back from Singapore and the dust had settled a bit. The body had been feeling weary, the soul somewhat diminished after a year of emotional battering. So we took ourselves up to Brisbane to spend a week with Arddun’s Poppy and Nanna, and then to Fiji.
Here’s some holiday snaps. I do apologise for the quality; I’m not in love with the camera in my Android phone, and I’ve gotten out of the habit of taking photos of Arddun because the darling girl Cannot Keep Still Long Enough. (And also because this phone camera has the reaction time of a sloth with the flu.)
The three of us arrived at Tony’s parents’ place to find their house had been transformed into Toddler Wonderland. There’s a swing. And a sandpit. With sand in it! And building blocks… and new books… and a large toy garage with cars to slide up and down ramps… and the dolls have their own high chair and a nice wooden bed – with its own top sheet, blanket and quilt, of course – and their own pram… and there’s crayons, and playdoh, and strawberries to pick, and veggies to harvest, and…
Arddun was in love. I’m utterly convinced that at one point, she had looked at me as if to ask if she could live there for good. She had a grand time. And we got good rest. The moment her eyes opened in the morning, she’d ask for Poppy to take her out on the swing, and she’d look for “Nina” (Nanna) for cuddles and other treats yet undiscovered in the house. Brisbane life suits Arddun.
Fiji turned out to be a funny sort of holiday for us. Arddun felt miserable for the first three days; I suspect she had a bit of the flu, and after travelling and adjusting to yet another new environment, her usually good humour packed it in, and Tony and I had a rough time of it as we tried to soothe her, while gingerly picking through the minefield of illness-induced tempers and general Toddlerisms.
Then she emerged on Day 4 tonnes happier and raring to go. And that was when we got to see more of Fiji proper.
We poshed out this trip, and decided to stay at the Sheraton. Perched on the edge of the island, it boasted ridiculously postcard-perfect views of the waters, and made for very nice photography if one came better equipped than I did.
Staying at the villas worked well for us because we had a kitchenette, which we used at least once a day, and a washing machine with a dryer, that also got a reasonable workout. Most of all, we had the space to spread out and mooch when we didn’t feel like wandering the resort.
There isn’t anything in the way of attractions outside of the resort; Denarau, at least, seems content to lead their tourists from one resort to another, and the short cruise we took around some of the islands and islets showed us more of the same. Resorts all look and feel alike after a while, and by Day 5, we were starting to feel restless for some local culture and sightseeing. We took a couple of day trips to the town centre and walked around a bit. Totally reminded us of parts of Malaysia and, to a lesser extent because traffic wasn’t that insane, Hatyai. Our most reasonably-priced dinner was at a Chinese restaurant called Bohai, which really took me back to some of the Chinese family restaurants in Chinatown from when I was a kid.
Yes, we managed to meet up with Famiza twice during this trip! All a happy coincidence that they were also holidaying in Fiji at the same time. Other happy memories include our last and dearest meal at the fine dining restaurant at the Sheraton, called Ports O’Call. No children allowed, and the waiters would bunch up now and then and sing four-part harmony like a dream. We scored a farewell song because it was our last night in Fiji and at the resort. The food acrobatics (blue flames dancing down a Cointreau-drenched tangerine peel) suitably impressed, dinner was yum, and the dessert in particularly sent me to heaven and back.
Fiji, as a whole, has a gorgeous climate and a very warm people. And their singing is like melted butter with warm caramel. We were greeted with “Bula!” every 10 paces. Even Arddun got into the swing of things eventually. Once she got past the fact that Bula also meant Hello (so she stopped saying “Hello, Bula!” to those she chose to greet), she was quite happy to Bula anybody who happened to pass. But only in the evenings, around dinner time.
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