I don’t write about you much. I think about you every day. You’re never really far, anyway. You shadow every waking thought, lace every decision I make like a fragrance I’ll never want to forget, except I’ve already forgotten your smell.
They say it’s always the first thing that goes.
All I know is that you smelled like Comfort. And Home. And Unconditional Love. Big, fierce, protective, passionate, ain’t-nothing-that-can-tear-me-away-from-you-except-death love.
I don’t write about you because tears prickle the eyes easily. Still. It’s been 8 years. You’d think I’d be used to your long trip away from me by now.
Some of my earliest memories of you include walking into a crowded auditorium for a gospel rally. Of begging you to let me play with the white pet rabbit at the YMCA. Of running through tunnels there until you tell me it’s time to leave.
And then taking the bus home, walking up two long flights of stairs on short, spindly legs, ordering my favourite mee pok da (the one with the 炸云吞 you never let me get precisely because it’s deep-fried) and walking home together, hand in hand.
I remember bus rides to Orchard Road, falling asleep on your lap, your maroon patent leather handbag my hard and bumpy pillow. Sometimes, I’d actually fall asleep amidst the roar of the engine in the 64, the wind blowing overhead and teasing your hair, my legs already too long to tuck underneath my chin without jabbing across the narrow aisle.
I miss our talks long into the night, where I’d tell you almost everything about the boys I loved but knew I wouldn’t marry.
I miss, I miss, I miss sharing with you. Curled up on your narrow single bed in the dead of night.
To this day, it fills me with extraordinary pride that my friends liked you. Even loved you enough to happily lunch and dinner with you on their own. I never needed to play chaperone.
I loved that they saw you as a person and a friend, and not just as my mother. It’s totally #parentinggoalz to be that mother for my own children’s friends one day, but I suspect we are quite different people and you were way cooler.
The generosity of your spirit and your heart for others… They weren’t just turned towards the people you love like me and Shawn & Andrea and Ah-yee.
I wish I know for certain that you know how well things turned out for the many, many, many children you educated and helped and befriended. Who are now grown and married and seem well-adjusted enough. I bet you’d have known how they were doing. Your stash of greeting cards are still in my stationery sideboard.
I love that you kept a Filofax of greeting cards you’d bought a year in advance to send to people you liked and love. Like, carefully curated greeting cards filed by month for births and marriages and birthdays and anniversaries and I-love-you-just-because.
I love and ache over how people still remember you fondly and with deep sadness about your passing. How they would have liked to grow old with you.
I wear your clothes now. I’m now at the age you were when you wore what you still had hanging in your cupboard when you died. It doesn’t necessarily bring you closer to me when I wear your clothes because I look so different in them. It’s hardly like looking in the mirror and seeing you. But there are times when I realise that when you were my age and wearing what I’m wearing, I was already 20. I’d stare at myself in your clothes and the enormity of what you accomplished comes at me wave after shuddering wave.
You were a rockstar.
We had so little and yet we were pretty content, all things considered. I now live in an insanely large house compared to what we had. And just like back then, my life today is enough and also NOT enough.
I miss you like a tree without most of its roots. I’m still growing (sideways now.. fatter… you would have said something about that, I’m sure).
Between the passing of Lee Kuan Yew on Monday and the anniversary of my mother’s death today, I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about who my heroes are.
Lee Kuan Yew was the man who made a great nation rise like a phoenix from the ashes of separation from Malaysia, and the kthxbai desertion from the Brits. My mother was the woman who rose far, far above her circumstances. And made it her life’s work to build us a deeply loving home.
And while I’m thankful to LKY, I’m indebted to my mother most of all. Because what good are four walls and a roof over one’s head, if there is no love therein?
Very disjointed thoughts, filled with themes that collide on occasion. I thought a little about what I wanted to blog about her today. I thought a lot about what I want my children to know about her. What I want them to remember before I forget.
Like the way her eyes crinkled when she smiled. And how perfect her teeth were. She never wore braces — wouldn’t have been able to afford them even if she had needed them, which she didn’t. I remember visiting a dentist at the National University Hospital and how the dean of the University’s dental faculty – also a brother in Christ – was so impressed by the fact that my mother, about my current age then, didn’t have any fillings in her teeth. He ended up getting photos done of her teeth to frame up, or use as teaching aids. I can’t quite remember. But she had perfect teeth, and a beautiful smile that she gave away generously.
I loved that smile. I yearned for her approval. No matter how hard I rebelled on and off, I know how much I always craved her approval. Even despite my best efforts.
Mothers and daughters.
My mother was still in her twenties when she faced the reality of living the rest of her life as a young, divorced mother. Singapore still isn’t a welfare state, and back then there was definitely nothing in place like Centrelink for young, struggling mothers. So it took a special kind of courage to decide to go it alone. I remember going to the old church building during the weekdays and playing with Pac Man on an Apple computer with the green screen while I waited dutifully. We were there, because my mother was seeking counsel. It was a decision that took years in the making, even while my parents stayed separate. Ultimately, I think she made the decision because it was obvious my father wasn’t serious about his vows, and my safety and security were paramount to her.
It’s why I feel particularly protective of her whenever I hear a sermon or a bible study about divorce. Sometimes, she would wonder aloud if she had made the righteous decision. It was the right decision, perhaps… but was it righteous in the sight of God? That tormented her sometimes. I wish it didn’t. My father walked away from his responsibilities, and then brought trouble back — repeatedly. She protected us. To this day, it makes me furious when I hear anything that could have made her feel guilty about her divorce because it was one of the most heroic actions she took for us.
I know she would have loved to meet Atticus. She would have made him laugh so hard, just as she did with Arddun that age. She just had that way with Arddun. I look at Atticus as I soak in his babyness, and I miss my mother because she can’t. Not in the flesh anyway.
I was just saying to Tony last night how I still can’t believe that my mother was cremated. There is something just so final about burning a body – even more so than burying it, perhaps. And yet, I remember holding her bones and letting them go in the sea. It remains the most painful thing I’ve ever had to do. The heart physically squeezing as it breaks. The finality of it.
I still shop and mentally pick out things she would’ve liked. Bought a bag yesterday that she would have adored, and I would have probably given to her as a present. It was pure leather and had blue in it, of course it did. My children, your Grandma Singapore was almost obsessed with the colour blue. It’s why when she finally renovated her kitchen, it was like walking into Sea World. Blue upon blue. We called it the fishtank and laughed gently at her. But she loved her little kitchen. And then she stuck sea animals on the blue glass cabinet, because she loved us for laughing.
Blue never used to be my favourite colour. But I love it now, because when I carry a bit of blue, I take with me a bit of your grandmother.
It’s been two years. And I still wish fervently that I’d round a corner, only to find you standing there. Arms outstretched for a hug. Grinning.
Thought about you quite a bit today, in bits and bobs. Second thing in the morning, close to last thing tonight. Flashes of memories technicolour and sepia-toned… like your dancer’s gait, your sulk, and your laugh. Your wild, wild hair, thick and forever your bane.
(I hope God’s given you sleek, manageable hair now.)
Sitting with you deep into the night in your backyard, just listening while you chain-smoked and rationalised and tried to explain, and tried not to care.
Shopping with you, meeting you after school. The fact that you always had a library book in your bag, and a glare on the ready. The fact that you were always smarter and brighter and funnier and wittier, and grouchier and moodier, and infinitely more loyal.
The fact that we always fought and forgave and fought and forgave because we were blood, if not quite sisters.
Your allergy to Maggie Noodles and how you hated piano lessons.
Introducing me to Ingham’s marinated turkey – which, by the way, they no longer bring into Canberra. I know, right?
Telling you about Canberra, telling you about Tony, growing apart for a little while.
I wonder what you think of my life now, and I wonder if you miss yours in this world. Even just a tiny bit.
I wonder what you think of Arddun. Would she be the only child you would’ve grudgingly grown to love, if only because she is mine?
I miss your spark, your drama, your loyalty, your listening ear. Your brilliance, your sunshine, your aspiration, your strength.
Since I last wrote 147 days ago, our family has gone through stuff – some big, some small, but all significant in their own way. I realise that the longer I put off writing it all down, the further away the reality of catching up will seem, and then Arddun will grow up one day, learn about this blog, and wonder why I stopped bothering to chronicle our lives when we all know how shocking my memory has become.
So in no particular order, here are the salient points.
My mother’s first death anniversary
I think the anticipation of it being a big hairy emotional day became bigger than the actual event. Our family here in Australia took it real slow. I had Arddun for the day, and we did things together – went to an indoor playground, pottered around the neighbourhood, did some grocery shopping.
I spent a lot of time thinking about the everyday things I remember doing with my mum when I was a kid – the travelling to and from her students’ homes, wheeling the TV into my parents’ room to watch Cinderalla and half of Snow White while she was teaching at home, a LOT of window shopping, that time in the elevator when my mother unconsciously put on an Italian accent to explain directions to a couple of tourists…
Part of me still wonders if I should have made more of an effort memorialising the first anniversary, except I still haven’t shaken off the feeling that we are parted only for a little while and that she is just a Skype call away. That is, until I actually log on to Skype and realise that she’s not there.
As long as she is in my everyday, she stays immortal. Beloved.
Got Tupperwared out
Bizarrely, February and March became really successful Tupperware months for me – to the extent that I got second-level Star Demonstrator for both months. (Which just means I got a shiny gold two-star pin, because I sold a crazy lot of quality plastic.) Could have gotten Star demonstrator in April too, except I had an equally bizarre spate of party cancellations in the last week, which stuffed up my targets and rewards. But that is how the cookie crumbles.
Went to a Tupperware conference at the Four Seasons in Sydney, got to cross stage to receive lots of goodies for hitting targets, and ended up forgetting one of my reward bags when I returned to Canberra so I’m rather miffed with myself for that. The conference itself felt like a rock concert that went on for 7 hours. Lots of pom-poms, lots of piccies, lost my voice.
More than anything, it was just lovely to dine out with a gaggle of women sans child, and to dust off my high-heels again.
Got surprise part-time contract
Not much would get me out of the bliss of mothering full-time during the day, so when a particular job with an international Christian NPO floated into view, I sent in my résumé thinking nothing of it but half hoping, and got tickled pink when the national director called to have a chat.
Long story short, I’m now doing a web project until August, and work twice a week with a couple of hours snatched in between my full work days. And even though I had been doing some freelance editing work since Arddun was a year old, this part-time job has really awoken me to the fact that women who work part-time are insanely organised. Or schizophrenic. Probably both.
Before Child (BC), I worked full-time – and I worked long hours. I’m not averse to hard work. But until I started doing, effectively, THREE jobs (all-day mother and housewife 5 days a week, part-time web project manager, Tupperware evenings and weekends), I hadn’t realised how much discipline I had lacked as a full-time worker.
It’s one thing to be completely immersed in the one job and do plenty of overtime. It’s quite another to not have that luxury of one job leaking into all other areas of your life.
Because every time I’m at any particular task, I now have to be completely present – heart, body, mind. Because that’s all the time I am allowed to dedicate to that task. Miss that window, and I have no pockets of time left to make up for it because another job is owed my time. I speak for myself, of course, but my work ethic BC involved sacrificing my personal time (and sometimes, time with the husband) to finish work in the office. I can – and will – no longer do that.
Do you know how blinking hard it is to switch from one completely different job to another? That is probably the most exhausting part of my current work-life balance, but I’m also loving it. I have three completely different jobs that require very different soft and hard skills from me, and I’m loving the challenge. I also like to think I’m growing from it.
Got job change
Tony also had a job change a couple months ago – a real God’s timing moment, because things are very tight in the public service. For a little while there, it meant that on my work days, Arddun, Tony and I would be in different suburbs but in another great chess move, Tony got additional duties which meant he could be back in the same business park as Arddun’s childcare, on the days he needs to do the school drop off.
Tony’s mum came down for a visit, and got to spend some quality time with all of us – especially Arddun. Always a blessing to have her around; it just brings such a deep-sigh-aaaahhhh comfort to be with family, where it’s all about the companionship and the catching up, and you can lean on one another.
Adrian, Audrey and Sophie just came and left too… my family in spirit, if not in blood. Again, just deeply satisfying to be with them. The joy and glee of being in the same continent again – and this time in my home – was already something I had been looking forward to for months.
So… when are the rest of you coming over to my turf, hmm?
Got knocked up
A hundred and sixty-three of you stopped by one of my Facebook posts to scream about the fact that I’m now with child again. Second Bub is 17 weeks old today, and this pregnancy has sailed by. I forget a lot of the time that I’m pregnant – until I have to find something big and warm enough to wear.
All that they say about second pregnancies are true. My body had inflated in 2.5 seconds flat, like a pop-up tent. The baby, my phone app tells me, is now the size of a turnip but I look like I swallowed a rock melon whole. This baby is also a savoury baby – Tom Yum Soup is probably the one thing that strikes all the happy notes because it’s sweet, sour, salty, hot. Sounlike Arddun, who made me down tubs of mango yoghurt and who now eats cheddar cheese in 1cm-thick slabs just like her father.
We’re happy that our family is expanding along with my waistline, but the timing is rather tricky because
We’re building a house
Or rather, we’ve been planning to since September last year and we’ve only managed to sign everything that actually says we are this week.
So think about it: we have to de-clutter the current house we’re living in to prepare it for sale (hah!), possibly pack and move to another place before our new house is finished (hah hah!), and then move into the new house after Second Bub greets the world (sob.)
Yes, there is a lot to do. But after the logistics of 2013, I’m all “Bring It On!” Might just be the second trimester talking. I suspect I’ll be less enamoured by it all come September, when I approach Waddle Station and have to face the prospect of packing or unpacking boxes.
Arddun turned three
On the 15th, we celebrated Arddun’s third birthday with a low-key backyard BBQ and a Peppa Pig cake. And then we celebrated some more by spending the actual day bouncing around at Flip Out with her friends, and having the yummiest ham and brioche toastie in homemade bread at Dream Cuisine with her BFF Leila.
Pictures to come. Have not synced technology appendages to the Mothership in a while.
Our little girl can now officially play with toys that have small pieces. Actually, our little girl can already do that – and so much more. I want to dedicate a completely separate post to the individual she has become, so I’ll leave you with some photos that befits the title of this post. Being all poetic and all.
One year ago, I woke up to find a text from my mother, telling me that she had to cancel her flight to Canberra because she was experiencing acute pains around her diaphragm.
Unknown to both of us then, it was the beginning of the death setting in.
I’ve been dreaming about her a lot this week. She’s always alive, healthy, strong. Sometimes, she had already gone through the death and we sit and talk about present things and present times, and I’m filling her in about what we’re doing about her house, and what’s been happening since we last caught up. In my dream last night, she had just gotten out of the communal shower at a church camp while I was waiting for her in our room, so I could get my turn. She was telling someone I know about how she had survived her cancer, and how she had never experienced such pain as she did until it reached her hips and legs. In that dream, I had the foreknowledge that she was about to get her second round, and she was going to die from it – but she didn’t know that yet.
I miss her from the deepest core of my being.
I'm open to making contact, getting feedback, reviewing your product, and even writing for cash or stardom. Just so you know.
Interested? PM me at:
yummy.mummy.train [at] gmail [dot] com