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Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places

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Milestones

This is Arddun, aged 3

Arddun in Cinderella Dress, Extreme Close Up, grinning

This is our girl. This is Arddun. She’s now three years, one month and two days old. She has a thousand facial expressions, and hundreds of smiles.

Sometimes, she wakes up absolutely grouchy. Sometimes, she wakes up and talks about breakfast. Sometimes she wakes up and says random things like,

“Look, Mummy! I have a lot of hair!”

She still loves to sing. She lives for the end credits of Walt Disney flicks, because that’s when she gets to belt out the numbers and breaks out the moves. She loves Larry Boy (she calls him Happy Boy), and Bob the Tomato. She’s of the opinion that tomatoes are really yummy, even though she’s not eaten any since she was 7 months old.

She’s starts off Cinderella most days, transits into Elsa some days, and is always Jessie the Cowgirl in between, with her trusty steed, Bulls Eye.

She’s starting to recognise printed words like “The” and “On”. Thanks to the slew of birthdays in June and July, she can definitely recognise the print word “Birthday”, which is synonymous with other delicious words like “cake” and “presents”. She now recognises both capital and small letters of the English alphabet, as well as their sounds. She still loves counting, except she now sounds completely Aussie when reciting numbers 1 to 10 in Mandarin. She also looks completely self-conscious when she does. It’s like looking in the mirror.

I love that we now get dialogue, that she can now give voice to her thoughts. I love how we know her best friend in playschool is Emily W, and her best friend in Mother’s Group is Leila. I love how she cups my face in her still-tiny hands to plant a big kiss on my flat nose, before telling me gravely that she loves me too. I love how she gives herself a false name, and thinks it’s hilarious.

She walks into a crowded room, and it takes her – on average – about 45 minutes to warm up. She’s cautious before she’s carefree, looks before she leaps, and in that regard she ceases to be her mother’s daughter and becomes every bit her father.

She absolutely adores her father. They still make pancakes together on Saturday mornings when they can. The bedtime story still belongs to them, and Mummy is largely not allowed. He is Woody to her Jessie, horse (or elephant?) to her cowgirl, prince to her Cinderella. She doesn’t yet understand who God is, but Tony is her rock and her shelter. And because I never had that relationship with my father, it’s now one of my favourite things to watch.

She now feels pain and empathy when others hurt. I took a tumble yesterday and scraped my right knee, and here is my baby girl, grabbing a wet wipe and ever so gently dabbing my bloody wound while crooning, “Oh Mummy. Poor darling… you okay?”

(It had hurt like the dickens, in all honesty. But the moment was too precious to yelp and spoil it all.)

It’s hard to write about your own kid without either coming off flippant or overly mushy. I wish I’m being a lot more articulate, that my prose flows like poetry. But the spirit of this gorgeous human being is woven together by the mundane and the everyday, made altogether exquisite when I realise—with a jolt at the puffing out of candles—how quickly she has grown. It’s all happening now, in strides and sprints. Soon, she will have a sibling. Soon, she will be in school. How many more willing wriggles into my lap during worship for a shared prayer? How many more demands for kisses and cuddles?

The girl is growing up.

Arddun in Cinderella dress, full length shot
Her favourite outfit this winter: Cinderella dress.

Arddun looking afar, wearing Cinderella dress

Arddun looking at hands, Cinderella dress

Arddun looking straight into camera, wearing Cinderella dress

Arddun in Jessie costume looking at Jessie doll
Jessie is a new friend, never parted with for long
Arddun dressed as Jessie the Cowgirl
My cowgirl

To everything – turn turn turn – There is a season

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.

Got visitors

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. So unlike 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.

Arddun making autumn leaf pile

Arddun about to toss autumn leaf pile

Arddun tosses leaf pile

Arddun twirling in falling autumn leaves
To everything, there is a season. And I loved spending the season with you. xx

Ardunnese explained

Arddun’s language skills have picked up in the last while, and her words – and meaning – are clearer than ever. Nevertheless, unless you live with her, she can still come up with some words and statements that may give you pause. So here’s a few definitions, just so we’re all on the same page. Okay? OKAY.

Bye, Lunch! See you late!

Translation: Farewell, restaurant or other eating establishment. I so enjoyed the lunch you prepared. See you next time!

“See you late!” has so permeated our family vocab, that morning farewells from Daddy sound weird without them. Bye Arddun, Daddy’s going to work now. See you late!

Catty Pah-Low

Caterpillar. As in, Eric Carle’s A Very Hungry Caterpillar. She knows that story by heart, and will insist on reading it at least once a day. And then watching the DVD of someone else reading it.

Emily Davies

For a while there, Arddun would take Tony and I by the hand and go, “Come here, Emily Davies! Come here!” It took us a few weeks to figure out that Emily Davies is probably her best friend at Play School. And that after spending a whole day with Emily Davies, Arddun would come home and make either Tony or I pretend to be Emily Davies. A role which consists mainly of holding Arddun’s hand and playing with whatever she wants to play with that moment.

Hummph

A sigh of disapproval and waiting. Usually breathed with much gusto and to much effect while waiting for the swings to free up at the playground. Always accompanied by arms crossed around chest. Not a habit we want developed, but so hard not to grin when it happens.

Pewter

Computer. As in, “I want to type on the ‘puter like you, Mummy/Daddy.” As in, “Daddy is on the ‘puter. Let me help by MOVING THE MOUSE VIGOROUSLY while you’re in the middle of Battlefield 3. Because that always helps your KD ratio.”

That’s not funny

Could mean any of the following:

  • Stop laughing at me, because I’m not having a good time, even if you are.
  • That’s not fair.
  • That’s funny.
  • I have nothing else better to say, so That’s Not Funny seems as good an interjection as any.

Tiny Apples

Pineapples

Titty

Kitty. Specifically, Small Kitty. Because Small Kitty is her bestest non-living friend in the whole wide world now, next to Milk and Chocolate Cupcake? (The latter is always mentioned with a pound of hope.) Small Kitty is a small, bright pink, corduroy stuffed toy cat. And in case you’re concerned about the gender bias with colour (bright pink… girl… kitty cat… saccharin sweet…), I want to clarify that Small Kitty is also a Boy Kitty.

When out in public, the occasional “Where’s TITTY?!” might be mistaken for a request for breastmilk. But Titty is Kitty. And as for the other… she just calls them Boobs like everyone else. I don’t know where she learnt that one.

 

In truth, she is actually very clear most of the time. I can’t think of too many words she’s mangled, or turns of phrases she’s coined. I’ll leave you this evening with some counting lessons Arddun decided to give Tony this afternoon.

 

Birthday bash

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.

Our baby girl is 2!

It’s quite mind-boggling to us, her parents, that on this date 2 years ago, we welcomed our munchkin and she looked like this:

Arddun just born
Bright light! Bright light!

And her first mutual scrutiny of family ties with Tony looked like this:

Brand new Arddun with daddy
“I am your father” moment

And then last year, on her first birthday, she looked like this:

Arddun with the chickens
Duck and chickens

And then – whooshka! She turned 2, weighs a hefty 14.6kg, and stands about 90cm++. And she is more entertaining than ever.

Arddun and mummy with cheese
Taking the whole “say Cheese to the camera” thing a little too literally
Arddun and Tony ring a ringa rosies
What started out as a prayer for lunch soon turned in Ring-a-ring-a-roses.
Arddun in purple coat holding banana
Purple fashionista
Arddun at Big Kids table
Guest of Honour at the Big Kids table this evening
Waiting to blow out candles
Suddenly Shy during Happy Birthday song, after rehearsing about eleventeen times on the way over… (Also, sorry I chopped off her friends’ heads.) 
Arddun's second birthday cake
Happy Birthday, Irresistible You

Another suitcase in another hall

It still doesn’t look like it because of the amount of personal debris scattered across the house, but we leave for home tomorrow. And I thought I owed it – at least to myself – to summarise what this entire process has been like because I’m sure I’ll forget. I had intended to document my days in Singapore more regularly, but I found myself wilfully flunking this goal I had set because it became so much easier to watch Grey’s Anatomy at night. But I am getting ahead of myself.

We leave for Canberra late tomorrow, but I’m still not finished up here. The plan is to wait for the Grant of Probate from the court before returning to Singapore by the end of the year to consolidate everything else. Lord knows how neatly that’s going to happen, but I’m praying for very few dramas. Meanwhile, everyone keeps asking what I’m going to do about my mother’s flat. And even though I give a stock standard answer from the head, the truth is that I vacillate every day.

“Oh let’s rent the flat out for all eternity!”

“Let’s sell it to a good family, because I can’t bear to see this beautiful place trashed by a string of drifters who won’t care the way I do.”

“But if you sell it, you can never see it again. And they might hack up the original 1970 flooring.”

“But if I rent it out, it’s not like I can just waltz in whenever I feel nostalgic, can I.”

“Maybe I should find a buyer who will promise never to hack up the 1970 flooring.”

“Maybe I could rent this out to friends only.”

“Oh please. ARE YOU NUTS? STOP BEING NUTS.”

I mean, the floor isn’t the only thing I’m hung up on. That’s just one of the inner dialogues I had an hour ago. The truth is, as long as Tony, Arddun and I are living in this house, I’m far too close to the matter to make a real decision. So thank goodness I don’t have to make that decision today.

What else…

Tony and I spent most of our last two months taking turns to play parent to Arddun. Tony’s Big Boss was VERY kind to suggest and allow Tony to work remotely and part-time here instead of draining his long service leave, so I would try to take Arddun during most of the day time while he worked, and then we would swop over in the afternoon so I could pack in the evening and night. We were also very blessed to have my aunt and my cousin Andrea help out with Arddun as much as they could, so she spent many afternoons having the time of her life in their home while Tony worked in Andrea’s room and I stayed here to pack. Every Tuesday, sister Yuet Har came by and took Arddun out for the late morning till about 4pm. Sis. Siew Gek and Arddun had a few lovely afternoons together, too. All this gave me the time to pack and sort.

And packed and sorted I did.

All in all, I packed:

  • 10 humongous-ish boxes which were sent back to Canberra
  • About 6 boxes for my aunt’s family
  • 4 boxes of books and bible class craft for church
  • About 9 boxes for my mother’s fellow bible class teacher/disciplinarian and tutor extraordinaire, Wai Leng
  • About 9 boxes of kitchenware for a church family
  • About 40 boxes of Good Stuff that were given away to Salvation Army and Touch Ministries
  • About 15 boxes of things that were thrown away.
  • About 6 boxes of kitchenware to other church members

You have to understand that the packing, though gruelling, was actually the easier part of the process. The sorting was what did my head in. My mother’s room was an exercise in Sense and Sensibility. There were evenings when I would spend hours mulling over two drawers. Things that looked like absolute crap to everyone else were loaded with memories and meaning to my mother. A tiny card I had drawn for one of her birthdays. A badly-made jewellery box I had cobbled together from some cheap DIY kit from Oriental Emporium. (Remember those? Not if you were born in 1988.) My first paycheck. My first “Top Secret” rubber stamp and magnifying glass, from when I wanted to be a spy. Tons of “storybooks” I had written and illustrated from age 5 (I kid you not). In amidst of all my badly spelt love notes to my mother, one that read. “I hate you mommy. you stupid. you idot.”

(I was very sure to keep that one, because one day, Arddun will be sure to write one about me because I didn’t let her wear her favourite T-shirt to school 8 days in a row. Or some other huge betrayal in the eyes of a six-year-old.)

Each sentimental piece of plastic comes with the question of To Keep or Not To Keep. It’s easy enough when it’s about someone else (hence the 6 boxes for my aunt’s family.) It gets exponentially harder when it’s about my relationship with my mother.

And then I found her letters.

It felt like every single letter and card of importance to my mother had been filed and stored for posterity in that tiny room. I don’t know if you understand how small HDB flats can be in Singapore, but we don’t have built-in wardrobes and if you were to put in a Queen-sized bed, you might just be able to stuff a cupboard, a tall boy and a dresser in before you lose all floor. But in that room, my mother managed to keep almost every sermon and lesson note from church, and almost every card and letter from friends and family.

I spent about 5 hours sorting all her cards and letters in piles, and then the rest of my free evenings in May and this week slowly packing and mailing or giving those precious packages to my mother’s friends. I don’t know what the protocol is for cards and letters of the deceased, but I’ve decided to give them back rather than throw them away. Because if my mother treasured these friends enough to give their words precious real estate in her tiny room, then I treasure these friends enough to try to return their letters and show them just how much they had touched my mother’s life all these years.

It took me a whole month just to go through my mother’s room. I emerged at the end with my mind fully blown and my heart fully bursting. I now know, I now understand just how much I had meant to my mother, and how I could never have understood that love in its entirety until now, when I’m a mother myself.

I didn’t blog much at all, because I spent two months immersing myself in the life of another. It has been my long and luscious farewell to a soul I love as deeply as my own. Apart from God, I had been her greatest love. I had also been her harshest critic, as she had been mine. I wish to high heaven I didn’t do or say so many things to her out of anger and impatience, but I’m so relieved that I had loved her and showed her I loved her. She kept as many tangible pieces of evidence that I had. Even in death, she comforts me.

Grey’s Anatomy has turned out to be great for all its soap opera trashiness (a guilty pleasure), but also as catharsis. Every time I watch a patient quietly slip away, I relive our last moments together and then I absolutely lose it. I’ve found I need to absolutely lose it now and then. I have long stretches of Okay, but occasionally I just need to do a nutty so that I know I haven’t grown numb and uncaring. Because that’s the double edged sword about acceptance in grief. When you feel anywhere close to normal, it also feels like the worst kind of betrayal.

Arddun has grown into a girl. Her hair is soft and long, down her shoulders. Her skin is a little tanned but still pink. Her eyes are a little more knowing. Her dresses and shoes are all too short. She now jumps over steps with ease. She climbed a flight of stairs on her own when I wasn’t looking. She puts on her shoes. She tries to shower herself. She plays with her stuff toy Kitty like its her playmate.

She participates in bible classes and sings her heart out.

She cuts fries with a knife. She drinks Chinese soups by the bowls. She recites nursery rhymes and sometimes even raps them. Her favourite genre of music seems to be hip hop. She’s got moves.

She says, “Thanks”. Not so much Thank You or Ta. Thanks.

She sits on Big People chairs to eat her breakfast. She wipes her own face, teeth and hands after meals. She drinks directly from a cup. She holds your face gently in her hands when you accidentally nod off to sleep in the middle of story time, and start to snore.

We leave for Canberra tomorrow. Our new normal begins.

Daddy-Daughter Birthday Bash

Because Arddun’s birthday falls on the 18th of June and Tony’s birthday weekend also happened to be 18th May, we decided to put together a combined birthday celebration.

4-picture montage of Arddun at second birthday party
Birthday girl
Tony and Velle at 2nd birthday party
Birthday Boy and me
Tony and Arddun's birthday party guests montage 7 pictures
Some of our birthday guests
Cupcake-making station photo montage
Cupcake-decorating station
Party games photo montage
Games for one and all
Birthday cake photo montage
Labour of love by the talented and generous Audrey
Tony and Arddun's combined birthday door gifts in flower pots
Door gifts
Opening presents photo montage
Party loot (and I’m wondering how to ship it all back!)
Arddun fake sleeping
All tired out after a fabulous party!

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