One of the main things I am hugely thankful for in the midst of this pandemic is technology — specifically our ability to afford it, understand it, and be in community with others who enjoy such privilege and access.
This afternoon, I got to catch up with Audrey — one of my sisters from another mother. Audrey’s family and mine are linked in many ways — primarily through church but also through proximity in terms of distance, life stage, and opportunity. My mother had tutored all three kids in that family, and they, in turn, had been my babysitters twice or three times a week at one stage, when my mother had to work late evenings tutoring other kids. I’d eaten their dinners, learned all their hiding places, played in their playground, watched their TV, read their books, practised on their piano (badly), and loved each of them as I still do.
Audrey is the friend who is closer than a sister, and easily one of the kindest people I know. Her Christian faith is deep with far-reaching roots so I find comfort in knowing she’s still here — running the long race, face tilted towards the Son. Her faith is child-like but hardly naive — the best kind of child-like there is — while I find myself constantly questioning and doubting and uneasy. I really treasure this woman, even though we can hardly find the time to chat between the children, the time difference, and our jobs.
Until today. It’s her birthday, and thanks in part to this pandemic, we managed to have a long and luxurious chat — she in her kitchen, me amongst the books. She’s one of those lifelong friends with whom I can easily oscillate between the superficial and the sacred, the shallows and the deep. So much shared history that there’s such an easy shorthand. So much silliness that we can dissolve into the kind of laughter that hurts.
As for that kitchen she was sitting in, it’s where I experienced that crazy unconditional love — her stripping and cleaning my stroller when Arddun (still not quite 2 years old then) had taken suddenly and violently ill while out at the zoo. That was a seriously gross endeavour and Audrey had been amazing. Honestly, I wouldn’t have taken it well if someone else’s kid had made such a mess and I helped clean it up. I can barely stand my own kids’ mess, much less someone else’s.
Happy Birthday, sis. You know I love ya and miss ya. xx
I grew up without a father for most of my life, but I’ve always had several father figures. There were many to be found within the church I grew up with in Singapore, and God has this wonderful way of providing different ones at each stage of my life.
My children are deeply loved by their daddy, but they are also very blessed to grow up around other men of character. On Sunday, anticipating a mini milestone, I took my camera along so I could introduce you to some of the men in Atticus’s life.
Arddun, for reasons only her young heart knows, refers to Liz as Aunty Liz but to Raymond as Mr. Ray. Even as a baby, Arddun has never been afraid of his big bushy beard and loud, hearty laugh. I still have fond memories of Arddun reaching out tentatively to pat his bristly chin like it were a curiosity. He may look a very little bit like Gimli from LOTR (or a garden gnome, depending on beard length) and in many ways, he can be just as courageous in fighting for what is right. Always generous, always opinionated, deeply in love with God, Raymond is a teddy bear.
And Atticus adores him.
Before children, I was never one of those at church who would scan the room for cuddly babies. And on looking back, I wish I had been because at the very least, I could have provided something that many mothers of young babies are always thankful for – a bit of reprieve from baby, just so they can sit down for 5 minutes with a hot cup of tea for a change.
Peter is another gentle man in Atticus’s life. He just loves children, and Atticus has been a great and ever-willing beneficiary of his cuddles and walks around the room during our Sunday morning teas. I love watching someone else light up when they see a child of mine.
Mark has three children of his own, two of whom Arddun loves playing with on Sundays. Miles (the youngest), I’m eyeing off as a playmate for Atticus in the years to come.
Being a father of two boys has also called on some resourcefulness when it comes to haircuts. Thanks to YouTube, Mark has learnt to cut his own boys’ hair. And with Atticus’s own wispy baby strands now falling over his eyes, I’d called on Mark to exercise some YouTube hair-cutting wizardry.
It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about what I’m thankful for. I used to take a breather every day at 3.00pm and again at 11:15pm to take stock of how my day is going over a hot cup of tea. One of the things I used to do at both those stops was to reflect on the big and little things I was grateful for. Free parking, for instance. New job. That sort of big and little. If I paid enough attention to what was going on, I could even mark the moment with a photo.
That habit had, sadly, shrivelled up in the wake of our new and more hectic home routine, what with Arddun’s preschool and Atticus as the newest kid on the block. Now that we have more of a routine going, I’m hoping to put some Mindfulness stops back in my day.
Like a muscle that’s fallen into disuse (see Velle’s Abs for further reference), identifying and celebrating things to be grateful for takes practice and doesn’t come as easily as one would think. So in coming back to this Thursday meditation, I struggled a teeny bit before the following came to me.
1. I’m thankful Arddun and Atticus have each other.
We had Mandarin playgroup again today, and the three of us had rocked up extra early. The playgroup is held in a children’s gym at the community health centre, so Atticus soon found himself in a cheerful corner of the room surrounded by age-appropriate toys. He was rapt enough that I could sneak over to the kitchenette on the other side of the room to grab a tea and bikkie.
And then I heard it. Volley after volley of that unmistakable belly-laugh.
Lately, Arddun has made it her mission to make her brother laugh. The moment she leaves her bedroom in the morning, she makes a beeline for her brother. She does everything from fart sounds (already a hit with the boy) and tickles, to bray-laughing like a donkey and general slapstick. I didn’t have to look up from my tea to guess what was going on back at Atticus’s playmat. His big sister had settled herself down beside him and was jiggling the levers and bells on the toy in front of him to get a reaction. Another mother who attends the playgroup sidled up next to me and marvelled at how wonderfully they play together.
Giving Arddun a sibling was a big part of why we had Atticus. But making a loving, gentle and kind big sister out of Arddun has turned out to be a wonderful blessing for Atticus.
2. I’m glad banks understand Mummy Brain
Atticus and I went to the Canberra Centre yesterday to catch up with some of my old colleagues for coffee, and to get some errands done. About two minutes before said coffee-date, however, I realised that I had left my wallet at home.
I wasn’t too panicked – the ATM machines lately have this feature where you can retrieve cash without using your card. I was also going to try and get some cash at the bank, although it wasn’t until one of my colleagues pointed out that I would need my ATM card for that, that I blanched. Oh dear. I had parked my car within the Centre, and there was no way to pay to get it out. I still needed to do my errands. What now?
Turns out, banks understand. In fact, it seems to be such a common occurrence that the teller could finish all my sentences.
“Hi, this is a little awkward, but I just found out I left my wallet at home…”
(Eyes the gurgling baby in the pram squeezing out every ounce of cuteness from his chubby cheeks and shiny eyes.)
“How much do you need?”
Less than two minutes later, I was out of there with enough cash to pay for parking AND get what I needed from Officeworks.
3. We have a slab!
After a lot of drama and rain and waiting and more rain and banks and then finally losing our tempers, our house has both slabs. It feels like we’ve gotten over a hump in the project. It hasn’t been a straightforward process, and it’s also turned out to be a complicated build… but at least we have a nice view.
Which is a happy coincidence, because Thursdays are also when I blog about what I’m thankful for. And while I usually try to keep it to three main things, I haven’t been able to stop at that magical number lately.
I’m thankful for a beautiful girl with a beautiful temperament
Arddun walked a lot today. She spent pretty much the whole afternoon in a mall, shadowing her Nanna and I as we went about trying to get last-minute supplies. Presentable Pajamas for my hospital stay, for instance. A swimming top so if I were to end up in a bath tub during labour with the shower head beating warm water down my sore back, I have swimmers that finally fit me in my beached-whale state. I went to the post office. We went to Babies R Us. And everything took four times the length of the time it usually takes, because I’m getting slower and slower…
It’s boring stuff for 3-year-old girls. And she didn’t complain, not once in that mall. She did ask very politely whether she could go to the little indoor playground a couple of times, and then waited very patiently when we explained the sequence of events that were to unfold. (Lunch, shopping at Target, then playground.)
I jumped onto Facebook this afternoon, and someone had posted this challenge:
And you know what? This little girl, from the second hour since her day began, didn’t complain a single time. I was so proud of her.
These kind of days happen more often than I give her credit for, but perhaps I sat up and noticed this time because we had her Nanna’s company. And as much as I know that part of it is Arddun’s natural temperament and part of it is consistent messaging from Tony and I… I’m just so thankful she has a teachable heart.
I’m thankful for hand-me-downs
I have received so many boy clothes that Boy Blob’s entire wardrobe is settled for 2015. This, of course, has not stopped me buying the occasional to-die-for outfit for my little man – but the fact remains that the entire half of Tony’s tallboy reserved for Boy Blob’s things is now almost full.
Sarah V came by tonight to hand-deliver my Norwex things… and she has been carting around boxes of boy clothes from size 000 for a while, so when I get the space and chance to go through them, I can. And now she’s offered to wash them for me. Seriously!
And it’s not just clothes. If I were to just whimper in passing about perhaps needing something, someone invariably rushes back with an answer. It’s probably why I’ve been less organised with baby prep this time around. Help seems available every which way I turn. I’m so thankful for this community.
I’m thankful for caring strangers
Have I ever mentioned how Canberra, for the most part, loves young families? Until I started carting Arddun around when she was a baby, I never got so much as a cursory glance. No one would ever think to strike up a conversation with me randomly. Once I started carrying a baby that was obviously mine? BAM – passing smiles, offers to grab things from shelves, people unpacking my shopping trolley at the conveyor belt while I’m queueing, passing me compliments and encouragement, the works. I was no longer invisible. I now had status – I am a Mother.
Last Friday was freakishly hot for Spring – a scorching, dusty and windy 35°C, real skin-cancer inducing weather. And while waddling around Garema place and Canberra Centre, I had total strangers coming up to me and asking if I was alright, and if I was keeping myself hydrated. I mean, it’s no secret that pregnant women have an inbuilt radiator behind their belly buttons, but that level of sympathy or empathy blew me away, frankly.
I’m thankful for professionals who truly try to help
Last week, I alluded to the frustration that we had been facing for the better part of our month. Emotional and financial interests spread across two continents can be hard, hard work. Throw in the complications of a home build and a newborn Coming Soon to a Bassinet Beside our Bed, and it’s enough to get a little angsty about life — a reaction we were working hard to avoid because we are grateful overall… but it made us feel anxious now and then.
For a good chunk of time, it looked like our options were getting narrower and more awkward. It seemed like the only road ahead was for me to travel back to Singapore very soon. Try figuring that in your schedule when you have a brand new baby to look forward to. When Arddun was born, she had arsenic hour from 4pm to 1am for upward of EIGHT. WEEKS. And then there were vaccinations and Boy Blob’s immunity to consider, the need to establish my milk supply, passports…
The alternative was for me to travel alone. And that was an even more difficult option for me to swallow.
Meanwhile, two professionals on two different continents were beavering away in the background to find a solution that other institutions weren’t interested or able to pursue. And this evening, I was finally given the word that I would NOT have to make this crazy dash, perhaps with newborn in tow. And that, my friends, is something that we are very thankful for.
So for those of you who have been praying… thank you.
Winter, and even large parts of Spring, can prove unpleasant weather for little ones to venture out for play. It’s obvious why in Winter, but my idea of a perfect Spring day is the sun, the cool, and no crazy wind. Crazy winds in Canberra Springs usually mean wind chills, and some serious hayfever un-fun. You can practically see fluff flying past your window as you drive some days – like snow, except it ain’t melting and it ain’t a lot of fun up your sinuses.
On Tuesday, after a routine check up with the obstetrician (no gestational diabetes! hurrah!), Arddun and I took a short drive to John Knight park and had the loveliest picnic together.
I’m desperately savouring these alone times with her now, for soon we will no longer be just three, but four. And she will no longer be our only one. It’s the ending of a gorgeous era, and I feel I will miss it as much as she will when it finally dawns on her what my swollen belly means.
2. Friends who welcome new babies
Two friends (different families) welcomed babies this week – one day apart! It’s so heartening to hear of safe and empowering natural deliveries, and I love watching my macho male friends fall ever more in love publicly with their burgeoning family – and especially with their wives. Also heard thrilling news about another one on the way after a special wait… It’s Spring time. It’s wonderful. (I am also chockful of mummy hormones at the moment, and I do realise I’m gushing quite a bit in this post. Sorry.)
3. Arddun’s best friend
Arddun is learning the concept of best friends, at the moment… except I think she struggles with choosing just the one. This week, she has pronounced (on separate occasions) first Tony, then me as her Best Friend, to which we both replied that she is our best friend too… just “after Mummy/Daddy”.
But when it comes to her peer group, there is one who remains peerless.
The fabulous part is that their mummies get along great, too!
I’m so glad Arddun has made a close friendship so early in life. It’s a delight to see how excited both girls get at the prospect of seeing one another. They both have different personalities, but there is such mutual affection, and giving and taking (most of the time). Just learnt today, for instance, how protective Arddun can be of Leila (a boy had apparently trod on her friend, and she pronounced that a no-no because “That’s MY Leila!”) And Leila’s prone to stopping in the middle of nowhere to give “Huggies” to Arddun. (They are bear hugs, not diapers. And Arddun isn’t into hugs the way Leila is, but will stand there and take it most of the time because it’s Leila.)
Both Fam and I hope this friendship continues for them well into their growing years. It’s a special thing to witness, indeed.
(Again, a very late one… but at least not forgotten!)
It’s taken me a little longer to think of my list this week – possibly because I’ve been privately logging my gratitudes daily for almost a month now and feel a little repetitious, and partly because I feel like I need to pick Three Huge Events from the week just passed.
It’s been a lovely week. My quest to cut down on consumerism has yielded a mixed bag of results – I now steer clear of most shops, that’s true. But I’ve also ended up visiting more friends or inviting them over, and therefore buying a lot more food. I’ve decided it’s a net gain, overall. Spending the time to connect with others over nom-noms trumps wandering into malls out of habit… and I’ve learnt to eat more simply during my lunches.
Anyhoo… here’s three things I’ve decided to be thankful for.
1. Clear drinking water
We had Mark’s parents over for morning tea on Thursday last week, which wandered into lunch, and then again into afternoon tea. Spent a lovely day with them at Gold Creek. They’ve just very recently “migrated” from Perth, and so the comparisons between short visitations and actually settling in Canberra naturally came up.
The topic of water came up, and I know it sounds like one of those I’ve-run-out-of-things-to-be-thankful-for moments when I say that I’m grateful for Canberra’s water quality. But it’s true. I’ve drunk water from the tap in many cities and in many countries when it’s deemed safe to drink water from, and Canberra’s water is probably one of the nicest-tasting and cleanest. It was one of those epiphanies I didn’t get until I was reminded of Adelaide’s water – which tastes vile. I mean, it’s considered safe for drinking but it just tastes artificial and wrong. And their water alone is the reason I would never want to move to Adelaide. Seriously.
2. Family coming down
Plans are finally falling into place for this year-end! Tony’s parents will be staying with us in the last 2 weeks of November (hedging their bets that Boy Blob, like Arddun, will make an early entrance), and my family and their significant others will be making their way down over the course of the first two weeks in December! Nothing like a full house to welcome a new baby. It will be a bit nuts, I suspect – but good nuts.
3. Arddun’s habit of checking first
Something else I’ve grown very thankful for lately is how Arddun thinks to ask Tony or me for permission before she helps herself to food – whether it’s a biscuit for afternoon tea, or an extra slice of cheese with her meal. It’s something we’ve reminded her gently to do over time, and we haven’t always been successful. There was that one recent time she got caught polishing off a bag of lollies she received from a school friend’s birthday party… she had to learn a lesson from that. But lately, she seems to understand that she needs to ask for permission before helping herself to food. And it’s a relief, frankly, especially since she is still reacting to popular “child-friendly” foods like sultanas and other fruits and vegetables.
Probably jinxed it now, and maybe she’ll sneak off something at the next Mother’s Group luncheon… But for now, it’s something I’ve observed that she’s grown good at. And it’s such a win for all of us.
To be fair, I did start writing this on Thursday… Greenland time.
Better late than never, etc etc…
I don’t know whether it was the lack of sleep, my current gooey pregnancy hormones or the fact that I have the day off today, but I woke up this morning feeling a whole lot of Thankful. There’s a calm in me, wholesome and warm like freshly baked bread, and just as nourishing and welcome on this cool winter’s afternoon. I don’t usually gush about the good things in life, but there’s just something about today that makes my soul hum.
We’ve had Andrea and Ben over this last week from Singapore. Between blogging the hours away and immersing myself in their cheer and company, I chose the latter the way one savours a good meal and is loathe to let any morsel go to waste. They got on the coach this morning and even as I type, are on their way to Sydney to eat their weight in fresh seafood and work it off after with long walks around this hilly, bustling metropolis. I’m going to miss them, but I’m sure they have, in no small way, contributed to my sunny sense of wellness this day.
So here goes.
1) Going live, baby
After telling myself that I’d like to get out of web project management and try something else, I landed a part-time contract in April with a Christian organisation that I just could not refuse. It turned out to be an intense project full of twists and turns that required constant creative thinking and firefighting, and pushed me outside of my comfort zone. It’s not finished yet, but the first part of the product launched on our deadline despite crazy, crazy odds and yet another last-minute curve ball. Awed, inspired and grateful for the many hands on deck, but most of all touched by the graciousness I constantly encounter from others in this business.
It also meant I could enjoy the rest of the week with Andrea and Ben without this project hanging over my head and heart. Bliss!
2) Being at home with my homies
I remember one bible class lesson with Willie where she described how, decades into her marriage, she still feels about hanging out with her family of origin. That sense of sinking into that deep sigh of familiarity and knowing, “This, THIS is my family”. Don’t get me wrong – Tony, Arddun, Boy Blob and I are a family. They are my family. And of course home is wherever they are. And I love Tony’s family too – his family of origin. The source code that explains his uniqueness.
But being with your own family of origin means dipping your whole being into the aaah-just-right waters of your genetic pool. It means never having to explain the history, because they were a part of it. It means saying a word to recall a lifetime, and to watch this sage-like recognition of where you’re coming from when you talk about a time and place.
I don’t think Ben, Andrea and I slept very much over the week, mostly because we were chatting so late into the nights, and then starting the day early-ish so we could spend more time with each other still. It didn’t take very long for Arddun to pick up where she left off with them in June last year. The second moment she got home from school on Friday – 9 hours after they’d departed for Sydney – she looked around the house before quietly asking, “Where’s Aunty Andy? And Uncle Ben?” And I know she misses them still.
(Sorry for funny colours. Was playing with filters.)
3) Seeing the world I’ve grown to love through appreciative eyes
I get a little teasing, mainly from Singaporeans, for choosing to live in Canberra. Partly because most of them have only heard about how quiet it is, but mostly because Canberra is about as different a city from Singapore as you can get. It’s 350,000 inhabitants “squished” in land area bigger than Singapore (including the latter’s islands and numerous land reclamation projects). It isn’t about shopping and food. It has four seasons including a real winter, a struggling public transportation system, and a lot of natural parkland and reserves. It’s quiet. Oh lord, it’s quiet. You can hear your thoughts here. You have room to breathe the freshest air blowing through from surrounding hills and ridgeland, and your sinuses and skin clear up because it’s dry and clean. You can see sheep and kangaroos grazing (though not together). You can build houses here. You can work hard here, you can slow down here, you can grow alongside your children and soak up their childhood. And because there aren’t so many people around, you can find yourself here – distinct, apart from the crowd, clear, lucid. Apprised of, but relatively sheltered from fads and trends and popular opinion. You can get clarity here. You can dream.
As with any home, you know its faults most of all – but you’d defend it to the ground if someone on the outside were to attack it. And until a few years ago, I guess I’d secretly regarded Canberra as a looooong staycation. But it’s been eleven years since I moved from Singapore, and I’m more content now than I’ve ever been in over a decade.
It’s a lifestyle – and a life choice – that is hard to explain, and even harder to embrace if you’re not looking for it. Tranquility can often be mistaken for boredom, and it took me a while – especially coming out of my twenties – to wind down the adrenaline junkie in me. I still pack too much in a day, and I still burn the candle on both ends to embrace all my interests. But I’m beginning to understand that a life without constant hyperventilative event and drama can be deeply satisfying.
(HUGE caveat: I’m not saying my Singaporean friends and loved ones are all dark and twisty adrenaline bunnies incapable of switching off and building fulfilling lives. Hardly. I’m just saying Canberra is starting to suit me, but it doesn’t suit everyone. Mostly because there are no durian parties here.)
This is a super long-winded way of me saying that it made my heart sing to see how Andrea and Ben truly appreciated this brown land I’ve come to call home. They found joy in the little things I find joy in – good food in surprising cafes, gorgeous views unassaulted by high-rise buildings, fresh produce, quirky shops. Freezing cold air juxtaposed with yummy hot chocolate, humongous stationery warehouses, a double-storey music store. Stretches of winding road enveloped in velvety darkness, supermarkets that stay open till midnight. Quiet traffic.
An almost-empty cinema and a brilliant movie playing while you’re nursing a glass of Prosecco. A surprise of wooden artistry in a forest of glass and concrete. Crazy playgrounds shaped like acorns, and a breathtaking expanse of land dedicated to the cultivation and conservation of the world’s trees.
A church that is small but intimate and loving. That trusts each other enough to lay down true burdens, that worships without fanfare (and sometimes without Powerpoint). That asks hard questions and is okay with diverse answers. That can be disorganised, but strives so hard to be patient with one another in love.
And then the ultimate compliment – that they can see why I live here. And that is heartwarming indeed.
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