Friday, November 9, 2007

Baa Baa Black Sheep, how are you?

"Baa Baa Black Sheep, have you any wool? Yes, sir, yes, sir, three bags full!" ~ Traditional nursery rhyme

My dearest E.,

This morning, as I dressed to go to work, you played with the new pink hair band I had bought for you, the one with a little clip-on teddy bear decorated with shiny crystal bits. You placed it in your hair, grinned at me and said, "Nice, Mummy!" I chortled as I got dressed.

And then, as you stroked your teddy bear and put the hair band over its head, I heard you singing, "Baa Baa Black Sheep, how are you? Yes sir yes sir, woo woo woo...." I hid a smile and continued to watch you. And you continued to sing those words over and over again. Your father, who was also dressing for work, winked at me and we both shared a happy smile, watching our little daughter sing and ask a black sheep how it was.

A year has passed

"Old Time, that greatest and longest established spinner of all!.... his factory is a secret place, his work is noiseless, and his hands are mutes". ~Charles Dickens

My dearest E.,

I can hardly believe that almost a year has flown by since I started writing in this blog for you. When I began, I wanted to be able to leave behind for you, lessons I had learnt in my life, changes I had gone through, my thoughts and hopes: these all were written as a means of instructions or guide, call it what you will, to you. And most of all, I wrote these entries in this blog because I wanted to, because you had given me such great inspiration to write, to release the feelings that lay quietly within my heart. Because I wanted you to know how much I love you.

Not too long ago, someone gave me an idea that I should publish all that I have written here. I've played with that idea quite a fair bit, honestly. I think I like the idea of having a book written just for you, which I can share with other mothers and people who'd maybe enjoy reading it. I know, these are thoughts which are extremely intimate and personal perhaps- but I'm not afraid of sharing my love for you. I really am not. I like the idea that one day, after I am dead and gone from this world, that you will have this strange little book I've written for you, and that it will give you comfort to "hear" my words ringing permanently on the ink-printed pages.

I don't expect that you will turn out like me. Quite the contrary. I think you have the makings of a very special individual person.

Perhaps this is where I should stop writing.... and start talking to you more, because you are 2 years old now, I can speak to you and your level of comprehension is clearly more advanced than it was a year ago. Or perhaps I will do both. Continue writing in this blog while I teach you things about life. I don't want to embarass you, though. I don't know if you'll be embarassed someday- what was my crazy, demented mother thinking, proclaiming her love for me to the world, telling strangers how I grew up and what I did as a child, even worse, my mother confessing to all her little failings! I chuckle a little as I think of these thoughts racing through your head, perhaps in 12-15 years down the road.

But time is very precious, my sweet. Soon enough, you will no longer listen to your old mother. You will have ideas of your own, thoughts independent from mine. You will no longer be dependent on me for your survival. So let me indulge in this just once. Let me say the things I need to say, want to say, to you.

What a wonderful year it has been, my sweet pea. And again and again- I'm ever so thankful, ever so happy, that you are my daughter.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Talk talk talk

"Sometimes when I'm talking, my words can't keep up with my thoughts. I wonder why we think faster than we speak. Probably so we can think twice" ~ Bill Watterson

My dearest E.,

You talk! Terribly adult-like. You form funny little sentences. You learn funny new words. Your voice is tiny and cute, just like a baby's should be. Sometimes you talk and talk, and I don't understand what you say. You nod and say "OK", "Alright!". Sometimes you say the bad F-word, or something you say "Shit" but we pretend we don't hear you, and then we fervently pray that you won't repeat it. You're like a sponge, absorbing things around you at a pace that I cannot keep up with.

You pay me compliments. You told me, "Nice, Mummy," when I put on a new red blouse for work. And smoothed the front of my blouse as you leaned into me to kiss my cheek. You wag your finger at me and say "Shame, shame!" when I undress in front of you. You tell me what you want: books, TV, your milk, food, TOYS. You love your toys and books. You want me to read to you all the time. And you talk and talk when I do.

You are ever SO precious. I don't care if you talk and talk and talk and never stop.

Being Busy

"Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans" ~ John Lennon

My dearest E.,

Yes. Life has indeed happened to me. In the times that I've been busy of late, I've experienced great work stress: great but strangely fulfilling, leaving me with the notion that I am somewhat important to my work organization. I've experienced illness and recuperation. I've experienced a little free time. I've had the opportunity to plan and celebrate your birthday with your little friends and our loved ones. Yes, E., you are now the grand old age of 2 years!

What a wonderful fun birthday party we had for you. Friends and family crammed our tidy little house (which wasn't so tidy after the party), a 40-odd-strong crowd whom I had to cook for (yes, cook! All by myself!). There were balloons and gifts, laughter and merriment. I put on your sweet indigo & red sailor dress for you, you looked a dream. And you were a gracious host, sharing your toys and happiness with your other little friends. I was a flurried host, making sure everyone had enough to eat and drink, entertaining our guests as they thronged at our gates and flooded our tiny living room. It was raining, but it couldn't be more perfect. And at the end of the night, when our guests had gone home, I sighed contentedly and dragged myself to bed, tired out with the events of the day.

Did I have any idea then that a dark event would overshadow our happy celebrations? Of course I didn't, but it was a sign of things to come when you fell ill the very next day, vomiting and purging. You spiked a high fever, sending the alarm bells in my head ringing, and your father and I frantically rushed you to the nearest paediatric clinic we could find open on a Sunday morning. The diagnosis: you had a stomach virus, a rather nasty one which had been making its way around our abode and general public, infecting people like a nasty plague. It was no coincidence that both your father and I had suffered a bout of it the previous week, and that at the time you fell sick, your uncle, my brother, had been hospitalized for the same illness. It came to my knowledge that many more people we knew had suffered the same illness quite recently.

My heart bled as you grew weaker, your cries louder, your need for comfort greater. You were small and tiny, your body hot to the touch, your cheeks flushed with the fever and illness ravaging your body. Your father and I rushed you to the hospital, and you were immediately admitted and placed on IV drips. Did I cry when you did, when the kind old doctor, who had not intended to hurt you, drew a line in your vein for the IV? Your father couldn't bear to look, but I did, and as you cried, I kissed and kissed your tears away, wishing that I could take away your pain. And in the hospital we spent for 3 long days.

Do you know what it feels like- to be helpless and watch your child suffer and cry from an illness? You were delirious in your sleep, whimpering for me, wanting to be close to me all the time. I stayed beside you, slept beside you, held you in my arms, all the time praying for your speedy recovery. The pain that hit me, and still lingers within my heart, to see you in that frail state, has not gone away. I suspect that it never will, because my eyes have been opened to your pain, emblazoned forever in my mind.

And so, this is life. When we are busy doing things, we live our lives. Good things and bad things happen to all of us. Your illness was a bad thing, possibly the worst thing that has happened to us. I am thankful that it has passed. But with it came a good thing: I know you're only a little girl, only 2 years old. But in your time of illness, you knew that I would be there for you, to love you and care for you. I hope you will carry this knowledge with you for the rest of your life.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Of drugs & such

"In the course of history many more people have died for their drink and their dope than have died for their religion or their country" ~ Aldous Huxley

My dearest E.,

I am not talking about the drugs that you take when you are ill, or the drugs you take to try to keep yourself healthy (like vitamins). Let us face the truth: that we live in an age of pills, prescription, legal or otherwise. And I need to tell you this because it is important that I do, that you value your life for what it is worth, because it is a wonderful life that has been given to you- and I hope that you never ruin what you have for an addiction to drugs or alcohol.

You don't want to know that your mother has done some bad things, but I will tell you this because you are my daughter and I owe this to you: that I was once addicted to nicotine. I smoked for several years when I left secondary school. I smoked throughout the whole of my 20s. I smoked for 12 years, until I got pregnant with you and stopped. And started again a few months after you were born. I am clean again now. And I hope to be for the remainder of my life.

Have I done drugs? Yes, I have. Marijuana. I was 18. And that was where I drew the line. I admit, had my resolve not been stronger, I may have ended up abusing even more illegal substances. I was able to stay grounded, because I thought of my parents, and how upset they'd be if anything happened to me, if I became a junkie, if I became an addict. I was a party girl, I had cool friends. I now know that no matter how cool my friends had been, how they told me I was cool, too, that it was ok to be doing drugs, they were wrong. It's never right to be using substances. And drugs are the worst, because they don't react the same with everybody. We're all special, we're individuals with different body systems. What is ok for someone may not be ok for you. Your body may react very differently.

Have I done alcohol? Sure, I have. I've had drinks, and I've got drunk heaps of times. I was young and carefree. I was never an alcoholic, though. And I always remembered my father telling me not to drink and drive. It's very important. Even though I knew my father would beat the living daylights out of me for leaving my car in a strange place overnight, I got a sober friend to send me home once when I knew I had drunk too much to drive carefully. Now I have the occasional glass of wine, a shot of whiskey, some beer. On special occasions. I don't like alcohol much these days. I'd like to think it's because I'm growing more mature, and perhaps, more responsible? And I ALWAYS watched my drinks, whether I was in a club or even if I was in the company of friends. Be very careful with your drinks.

I read a very sad, horrifying story in Readers' Digest, about a wonderful girl who was fun, loving and popular. Her parents, teachers and friends adored her. She had good grades, she was generous and kind, she was a good daughter who got along well with her parents, and she had friends she loved to hang out with. But she made a little mistake one day which cost her her life. She took an Ecstasy pill when her friend offered it to her. Perhaps she was thinking, it's only one little pill. And everyone said it made them feel good after they took it. That one pill killed her because her body could not take it. She died, and she was only 16 years old. I wanted to cry for her parents. And it scared me when I read that story, because that girl could be you someday. And for the life of me, I want to protect you forever, but I know that I can't. So, you must protect yourself.

I know, that when you are a teenager or young adult, growing up and finding out things about yourself, other people and the world, it can be a great challenge, and you find yourself confused about many things. But the world can be a beautiful place if only you allow it. Success will come to you if you work hard and allow it into your life. I hope this doesn't happen- but the likelihood that it will is almost a surety: that you will someday become secretive and sullen, and do not want to share your life with your parents. Your parents may seem annoying, over-protective, cloying. Nothing is ever good enough for them. You want to break free. You're growing up, you're not a baby anymore! You want to make your own decisions! I have been there, my sweet one. I have been in that place. And I realize now, that I needed to be there to become the person that I am today, and because I had been there, I am now more responsible and appreciative, loving and kind, and because I had been there, I know now how immense a parent's love is. It is a wonderful thing which surpasses everything in the world, I know this for a fact.

It was probably my parents' love for me, at the back of my mind, that kept me firm in my beliefs, in not giving in to extreme peer pressure (I did cave in to peer pressure, to a certain extent) and to do the things "all the kids were doing" in my time. Sex, drugs, rock & roll and all that jazz. I'm not perfect, I wasn't exactly Ms. Goody Two-Shoes. I was rebellious, but not so rebellious that I would've ruined my life.

It was also at this time that I realized, that the old adage about how children were exactly like their parents, or copied or imitated their parents by example, was far from the truth. My parents were good, exemplary people who showed me good examples, they were role models who taught me how to be a compassionate generous person, who showered me with love in the hopes that I would be a cheery, lovable person who would shower that love onto others. So where did they go wrong, if indeed it is true that children follow their parents by example? I cannot see a single thing that they have done wrong, except to give me everything I ever wanted. My parents did not teach me how to consume alcohol, or drugs. My parents did not teach me how to pick up a cigarette and smoke. My parents did not teach me how to have sex with a boy. So how did I learn all these....? I gave in to peer pressure.

I was nothing like my parents, I behaved like a shameless hussy, and I was ashamed, but only much later. Which also serves as a notice to me, my sweet E., that regardless of how I bring you up, that you may, someday be compelled to conform with your surroundings and your friends. And the only hope that I have for you, if that ever happens, is that you know where you stand, that you must judge the right from wrong, the docile from the extreme, and that you will always be careful and look out for yourself. And know, no matter how embarassed you are to explain to your mother that you'd had sex with a boy, or that you smoked a cigarette, your mother will forgive you and love you anyway, because she knows what you're talking about.

Your mother wants you to be a good, honourable person, to have the same values she was brought up with. Your mother knows that the teenage years and your early adult years can be trying, but that you will pass that phase and it will shape you into a better person if you would allow it to. Your mother wants you to be strong and firm in your beliefs, so that you will never ever have to doubt your worth as a person: know that you are special and wonderful, and if the people out there cannot see that simply because you want to hold on to your values and/or beliefs, then they are just not meant to be your friends or people deserving of your love.

Your mother wants you to know that she loves you unconditionally, and that if she ever shouts at you, or is angry at you, it is only because she loves you. And there is nothing to be ashamed about, ever, because you are your mother's daughter. You are special.

Even in adversity.....

.....you smile at me and say "Mummy" first thing in the morning, and kiss me on my lips.

.....you twirl your finger around your Snow White night-dress and pretend to do a little dignified dance.

.....you offer me your hugs and cuddles, you know I feel sad that you are ill.

.....you cry out, "Toys!" at the little toy store in the hospital.

.....you tell the hospital nurse, "Ok! Ok! Ok!" and you cry a little, after she pushes in a suppository to make your fever go down.

.....you are brave and clever and such a good girl, I love you so, and I am sorry that you are ill.

Walking and talking

"Sometimes I forget I have ears and then my hands go up there and I'm like "hey what are those!"" ~ Baby Bob from the TV Series, Baby Bob (2002-2003)

My dearest E.,

I like to watch you, walking and talking. Sometimes, you look like a cute little walking doll, fixed in her focus, inert on talking, forming words in your mouth, testing them and rolling them off your tongue. I have to admit- sometimes I don't understand what you're saying, even though you're talking to me, oh-so-earnestly, with your eyes lit up and your head nodding. And I pretend like I understand, until I realize that you intend for me to do something for you, and I have no idea what it is. Then you scowl at me, but laugh after that, and move on to something else to talk about.

You talk the moment you wake up in the morning, hair all messed-up and puffy. But you smile at me and say "Hi!" first thing in the morning. I'm still amazed that you rarely cry when you wake up in the morning. You just look so happy to be awake. And then I go about brushing my teeth, brushing your teeth and washing your face. And then I take my morning shower, with the door open so that I can watch you, and you talk and talk, playing with your soft toys, or with things fished out from my handbag.

You sing Baa Baa Black Sheep quite well now, although sometimes you have a little problem pronouncing words. But that's all ok, little babe. You will learn as you grow older. You like Row Row Row Your Boat, too, and This Old Man. Sometimes, you hum when you don't know the words, or what sounds like the correct words. You're such a musical baby, oh, I forget, you will be 2 very soon. No longer a baby. A toddler. A little girl.

You talk all the time. You never stop. You're always busy, talking and walking and doing things around the house. I love watching you do this. I could watch you all day.... But I remember that I have to talk back to you, too, otherwise it'd be rude, because you're talking to me, and all I can do is stare at you with a silly smile and contented happiness in my heart.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The sight of you

"Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart" ~ Kahlil Gibran

My dearest E.,

Yesterday, I laid eyes on you after 2 whole days of solitude and loneliness without your presence, your wonderful smile, your kindly eyes. I was at an event organized by the senior partner in my office- and your father was to pick you up and bring you to meet me there. The sight of you, it took my breath away, my heart was full with emotions. When I glimpsed you sitting in your stroller, your father standing behind you, my heart melted and I wanted to run to you and shout with joy.

Run, I did- but I was dignified enough to hold you close to me, breathe in your scent deeply and kiss you incessantly. And when you hugged me, your arms around my neck, I wanted to cry for joy, that you were home with us. And I lifted you up, into my arms where you belonged.

The light of beauty in your heart- which shines through and is magnified a thousand times on your physicality: that is what I missed most when you were away. If I could have things my way, all my way, I would never want you to be apart from me, ever again.

And we walked together, mother and daughter, and I found myself walking taller, prouder, that my beautiful, sweet little babe was walking beside me, charming strangers, smiling coyly, well-behaved. Pretty as a picture. My baby.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Your birthday is coming!

"Our birthdays are feathers in the broad wing of time" ~ Jean Paul Richter

My dearest E.,

It is now August, and I am very excited, because your birthday draws nearer (it is in October), and I can't wait to start planning for a little party for you!

We threw a big party last year when you turned 1, with much fanfare, expense and with many guests. How long ago that seemed-you were so much smaller and you could barely walk. This year, for your 2nd birthday, your father and I have decided on a small, intimate affair: a party at our home, with home-made decorations and food: yes, I will cook and prepare a scrumptious meal for your guests!

When you come to my age, birthdays are no longer a big deal: age is just a number. But when you are a child, make the most of your birthdays and parties, because it will be the most wonderful times you will remember when you are an adult.

Miss you like hell

"Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell" ~ Edna St. Vincent Millay

My dearest E.,

I am a weakling, I know I am. I am also a crybaby. Last week on Wednesday, your father had fallen ill with exhaustion . The task of caring for him, of course, fell on me. I was also exhausted because of the lack of sleep, and the decision was made for you to stay over with your grandparents to enable us to recuperate.

I don't have to tell you how terrible I felt that night. Your father and I decided to have a quick dinner outside, and as I sat at the booth there after we had ordered our food, and your father had gone to use the gents', I took out my mobile phone and watched videos of you on it. And felt tears pooling in my eyes when I looked at you. Those lively, carefree, sweet pictures of you. And felt that huge void in my heart. The tears came, faster and faster, I hadn't enough tissues to wipe the streaks that crossed my face.

I wanted to cry and bawl out loud, but I didn't. I continued watching my favourite video of you, dancing to my rendition of London Bridge and Baa Baa Black Sheep, and the tears continued to fall silently into my lap. Your father came back from the gents' and thought something terrible had happened.

And indeed, it was terrible for me, sweetie, to know that when I went to bed that night, you would not be lying beside me, and I would have no one to sing The Sound of Music to.

That pain of missing you filled me throughout the night, I barely slept, and the next day, and finally, when I laid eyes on you on Wednesday evening, my world was complete again.

Today, you have left to go to Port Dickson with your grandparents. I know that I will feel that terrible void again when I go home, so I intend to busy myself and go to the gym with your godmother and Uncle Calvin. I try not to think of your empty bed, with your sweet baby smell lingering in our room. I try not to think of your arms around my neck as you hug and kiss me good night.

You will have a wonderful time in Port Dickson, I know you will. But it doesn't help that I feel this way, and I'm glad, though, that you have no way of knowing now how I truly feel when we are apart. Because mothers are supposed to be strong role models for their children. And I certainly do not want to fail you and be a weak role model, simply because I hate being apart from my beloved daughter.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Bedtime Lullaby: The Sound Of Music

"The hills are alive with the sound of music...."~ Rodgers & Hammerstein II

My dearest E.,

The Sound of Music (TSOM), one of the greatest classics of all time, is a cinch when it comes to getting you to sleep. Three times, I'd sing this to you during bedtime: the first time, your eyelids start drooping, but you continue to twiddle about with your blanket, the second, your eyes are closed, you suck on your Minnie Mouse pacifier vigorously and you turn your body inwards closer to mine, the third, your pacificer drops out of your mouth and you breathe quietly, sleeping like an angel. I tell you, I have smiled and have not stopped smiling on the day I started singing this song to you, and realizing how much you loved it. And how easy it is to get you to go to bed once I start singing.

TSOM was a movie musical written by Richard Rodgers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein II (lyrics) and the 1965 production of the movie musical starring Dame Julie Andrews, one of my favourite actresses of all time, and Sir Christopher Plummer, shot to phenomenal success. The story of TSOM was taken from a book written by Maria Von Trapp entitled "The Story of the Trapp Family Singers". The songs featured in the movie musical have become amazingly popular classics. I can bet that there isn't a person who cannot sing the first opening lines of TSOM. And then there are songs like Edelweiss, My Favourite Things, So Long, Farewell and the Lonely Goatheard (which has been "borrowed" by Gwen Stefani in her song, Wind it Up).

Here are the lyrics to the Sound of Music: I promise that when you are older, I shall buy a DVD and we shall watch this beloved movie musical together.

The hills are alive with the sound of music
With songs they have sung for a thousand years
The hills fill my heart with the sound of music
My heart wants to beat every song it hears.

My heart wants to beat like the wings
of the birds that fly from the lake to the trees
My heart wants to sigh like the chime
that flies from the church on a breeze
To laugh like a brook when it trips and falls
Over stones on its way
To sing through the night
Like a lark that is learning to pray

I go to the hills when my heart is lonely
I know I will hear what I've heard before
My heart will be blessed with the sound of music
And I'll sing once more.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Of friends and friendship

“Surround yourself with people who will only lift you higher” ~ Oprah Winfrey

I felt compelled to write this because these people, your friends, will be one of the most important features in your life. Like family, friends occupy a special place in your heart. But there are many types of friends. And eventually, as you grow older and wiser, you tend to weed out the fair-weathered friends, the insincere, the ones who use you because they have ulterior motives, the ones who call themselves friends only in name and then utter half-truths or dishonest things about you when you have your back turned. I’d hate to say this because friendship is a wonderful thing, once you have discovered its true meaning: but along the way, you must keep your guard up. There is a certain measure of distrust that you must employ for self-survival. And your true friends will remain.

You will meet people from all walks of life when you grow up. But keep yourself grounded, your feet firmly planted on the ground. Do not discriminate by gender, race, colour, social standing, etc. Open your heart (carefully) to those who open theirs to you, but learn to take all colourful accounts of life from others with a pinch of salt. Believe what you see with your eyes, not what you hear with your ears. Learn to trust your instincts and listen to your inner voice. It is, as I have discovered, one of the most effective survival methods you will come across.

Oh, I know many people, E. I have many “friends”, but when I say friends, I mean people that I know. As I grew older, and the people who were once close to me drifted further away from me, I learnt to see only those who remained, notwithstanding the circumstances. I have a handful of good friends, people I trust and love and whom I can count on. People for whom I will sacrifice my life and liberty, because they will sacrifice theirs for me too. I have a childhood friend from primary school- she is a true friend to this very day. Our friendship has spanned a course over 20 years. She lives abroad now: a small woman with a truly big heart, who has given up her luxurious life in Malaysia to do God’s bidding in poverty-torn Aceh. A woman who has given up the comforts of living to serve the noble quest of rebuilding a nation torn by the December 2005 tsunami. A woman who, in all the years I have known her, powered God’s words on our earth. A woman who loved me and understood me, despite the vast ocean of difference between us. And when she returns to Malaysia for a break, we meet up and catch up on old times, as if time had stood still and things had never changed. We pick up where we’d last left of.

And then, when I started work in my early twenties, I met a group of people who were destined to be my friends forever. Or so, I'd like to think. It's been over 6 years since we met that day when I was a fresh-faced graduate all ready for work. Some dropped out of the "group" but a few of us stuck by together and saw each other through break-ups, weddings and children, amongst others. I avoid using the word "best friend" because inevitably, when once journeys through the roads of life, one meets a special someone who will, at that point, be the "best friend". So one tends to interchange "best friends", depending on whom one is closest to at that point of time. But I have good friends, are they all my best friends? So I adopt the Hollywood, diva-like term to these people, they are my BFF.

The years have passed, but my friends remain. In particular, your godparents. Extend the circle a little more, and we find partner, spouse and friends of your godparents. It doesn't matter that we're all a little older, or that we don't go on holidays together anymore (because we have children now!- and let's face it, a parent must first consider the needs of the child: comfort, food, convenience, healthcare facilities- before deciding to go on a holiday), or that some of us meet each other once every month or so. Some have moved abroad to work: Singapore & Australia. Some have found new passionate adventures, like rock-climbing, which the others, unfortunately, through some measure of constraint, are unable to participate in. Some bond because we're mothers hoping to achieve financial freedom.

And you, the apple of my eye, has become the apple of another friend's eye. He who loves you with unbridled attention, who seeks to ensure your every comfort and need, who gives in to your every whim and fancy. He who bought a pair of swimming shorts just so that he could be one of the first people to be with you when you first took a dip in the pool. He who cares for you like a father cares for his own child. He is one of my dearest friends.

We will all be friends until the day we die, and simply because we have shared with each other the most significant events in each other's lives. This is the kind of friendship that I hope you will experience someday. These are the kind of people I hope you will surround yourself with in your life. Because they will lift you up and stand beside you, no matter the circumstances. Love these friends like you love your family. In more ways than one, they will become your family too.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Relax, take it easy

"Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths, or the turning inwards in prayer for five short minutes" ~ Etty Hillesum

My dearest E.,

Let me share a brief folly of mine with you, a folly caused of my wanderings into unchartered regions- the information technology area and all things connected thereto. Last week, I thought that it would be great to have my own domain name and own domain host. Big ideals for a little person. I had an inkling how I would go about it: after all, the Internet is almost endless when it comes to information and knowledge. I knew I'd find some instructions on how to go about my task. The full account of my experience is recounted here.

But what I wanted to share with you, isn't so much about my experience. I want to share with you what I received out of that experience, and I don't mean tangibles, like a website with my own name, or content in a blog written by me. I received a valuable lesson: and it wasn't the first time that this lesson was being imparted to me. Many years earlier, my parents had tried to guide me through this lesson. I must've tuned out along the way, and only remembered this recently.

Relax, take it easy. It is that simple.

What do you when you're faced with a problem? Don't rush headlong into it. Don't allow yourself to panic and lose your breath or start hyperventilating. Don't allow the force of negativities to surround you. Don't berate yourself. Don't ask how the problem came about excessively (except maybe once, so that you can find a solution). And the most important don't of all is, Don't Panic! You will ask me, how can I not panic, not worry, not be distressed. But this is possible. A problem is usually exacerbated by excessive panic or worry. In that distressed state, your mind is clouded, your judgment becomes questionable and your focus is unbalanced. You want to find a solution immediately, so you don't see the little things that will help you reach your goals. Perhaps your heart will start beating quicker, the adrenaline will course through your veins like a flooding river- these physical traits will only serve to bring your mind to a snap-close, and however hard you may try to pry it open, it stays shut. Because you have been traumatized.

My mother taught me long ago how I could simply take deep breaths to calm myself down. I even did a whole meditation course on that. I did yoga. I learnt to breathe. Along the way, I forgot all that I had learnt.

The world will not come to an end simply because there is a problem, whether caused by you or not. Life will go on. And so you must as well to make do with the circumstances presented to you. A long, deep breath taken slowly and calmly (close your eyes if you prefer) together with a minute or two of silent contemplation and emptying your mind completely, will not only ease your mind, but also fill your body with oxygen, funnelling through to your brain, and releasing positive energies throughout your system. A long deep breath serves you better than a solid minute of panic, shouting and running around.

When you breathe, you can rationalize, seek creative solutions to problems. Open your mind to possibilities, make necessary judgment calls. What has been done, has been done. Often, the mistake is to dwell on why a problem cropped up, the cause of the problem, the perpetrator of the problem, etc. When your thoughts are focused on the past, you cannot look towards the future for the solution.

I confess that my thoughts initially were jumbled, panicky. I could serve no purpose. I couldn't find solutions, even though it was right before my eyes. Because I had allowed myself to become over-consumed by the alleged loss of my blog content (and that, was one of the most horrible things to have happened to me). Only when I had finally decided that I was going to let it be, did the solution, like a flash of brilliance hit me. And I solved my problem.

Apply this lesson to everything you do, sweet cakes. Exams, work, love, relationships and most importantly, life. I promise you: although you may not always find solutions to your problems, you will be comforted knowing that you had done all your best with a clear and conscious mind.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Being Ill

“I enjoy convalescence. It is the part that makes the illness worthwhile” ~ George Bernard Shaw

My dearest E.,

There is no rest for the weary. Your father and I fell ill with the viral flu over the weekend. At first, the illness crept through us quietly and steadily, showing no physical signs of mutation, or that we would become worse for it. We had a wonderful weekend as usual. But come Monday, the illness ravaged our bodies, played with our minds, and we were consumed with lethargy and weakness. Afraid that you would catch the illness from us, we left you in the care of my parents, hoping that you would remain fit and well whilst we floundered at home to take care of ourselves. I called in sick and stayed in bed a lot on Monday and Tuesday. Short trips to the doctor’s and to buy meals were inevitable. We also popped by for a short hour on Monday and Tuesday night to look in at you at your grandparents’. We have prayed that you would not be infected with the flu virus that has been going around.

There is no time for convalescence. It is Wednesday and I am back at the office, working at half speed despite the workload that has built up while I was home nursing the illness. My head is heavy and my throat is slightly sore. My nose is clogged with semi-dried mucus which I have to clear loudly in the bathroom. My body still aches. I am sick and tired of having to take my antibiotics. I am lucky, though, that my thoughtful colleagues have tried to help me with the work load, and covered for me in some of my work duties while I was home. It is hard to find people like these.

It transpired that my boss’ wife and another colleague’s wife were also stricken with the viral flu. It is at times like these, when I am ill, that I wished I had taken better care of myself. I glanced with a little guilt at the almost-full box of Redoxon Vitamin C effervescent tablets sitting on my table. And when I opened my drawer to take out some stationery, my bottle of Blackmores Multi-vitamins stared at me from within. A few sachets of organic powdered health drinks were sadly chucked and relegated to a dark corner of the drawer, too, where I finally dug them out from hiding.

Work has been slow, because my brain is a little slow and woozy today. I gorged on a bacon sandwich for lunch, and not too long after, a clean and crisp ham sandwich. Gorging myself on empty carbohydrates and fat-filled pork also means that I am now a little sleepy and disoriented. The new table clock I bought from Ikea points to 4 p.m. It seems like an eternity before I can get off work and go home. I am dying to have you in my arms again, after 2 whole days of not being with you. If circumstances permit, I want to bury my face into your face and neck, breathing in the scent of your baby sweetness. If my voice allows me to, I want to sing “The Sound of Music” to you and watch you fall asleep after the first verse.

I miss you, I miss you, I miss you.

I hate being ill, because it means that you have to be away from me. I will myself to get better in the next few hours, or risk leaving you at your grandparents’ for another night. I will probably cry this time if I do again. The tears have been dammed up within me the past 2 days, because it is for your own good. But tonight, I may have to break the dam for fear that it will consume me.

Your little bed is empty beside mine. I have tucked Mr. Bunny and Ally under your fleece blanket. Last night, I heard the tinkling of little bells, they sounded like the little bells on your gold anklet: I forgot that you were at your grandparents’, and I automatically reached out to stroke you back to sleep, and my hand fell through the silvery beams of moonlight drifting in from the window.

Nothingness. A flat, smooth bed. Unslept in for the past 2 days.

I sleepily took Mr. Bunny and held him close to me, the bells sounded again and then I remembered that Mr. Bunny’s head would tinkle everytime he was picked up or moved. An in-built bell in a toy bunny’s head. My. Bunny had your baby scent all over. I fell asleep, dreaming of rabbits, babies and toys.

The auditions

“When you are modelling, you are creating a picture, a still life, perhaps something like a silent film. You convey emotion but you are only using your body” ~ Helena Christensen

My dearest E.,

Your father and I, when you were born, had, and still do have, the highest hopes and dreams for you. You must know that we do not intend, in any way, to push you into a specific direction, a direction which, through some reason or other that we were unable to pursue ourselves, we now hope to channel you through. What I have learnt since becoming a mother is that children, even your own, are people with free will and spirit which should not be stifled with. What I can gladly do, is to guide you and offer options. At the end of the day, and above all, you will decide for yourself your goals, your aspirations and your wants out of life.

In my head, I have visions of you becoming a pro-golfer like Michelle Wie, an accomplished tennis player like Maria Sharapova, a squash queen like Nicol David, a supermodel like Gisele Bundchen, a Nobel Laureate like Wislawa Szymborska, a United Nations ambassador like Angelina Jolie, an activist with a heart like Oprah Winfrey, a soprano like Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, and the list goes on (these names may mean nothing to you when you’re older and reading this, but I can assure you that these are some of the world’s most powerful women now as I write this!). As I revel in these images in my head, I hope to be able to provide you with the push in these directions. Conveniently, I forget that you may not agree with my choices, and certainly, someday in future, we will most likely squabble over this.

But because you’re still a teeny-tiny little baby girl (and I will always see you this way!), your father and I have taken the liberty of taking you to various casting agencies to see if you could have your fortune made by the sheer beauty of your looks. As a result, you had been shortlisted once for a TV commercial, but the idea of using a baby in the aforesaid TVC had been scrapped (I know because the Assistant Director is none other than our friend, Eugene!).

Let me first tell you, my sweet, that I do not (I stress) see you as all beauty and nothing more. Indeed, I see you as everything beautiful and sweet, both in countenance and personality and hence, thought it my duty to expose you to the world (ahem!). Over the course of the last week, my heart fluttered several times over the 2 phone calls I had received from casting agencies. Both sent a clear message: the agency had clients who loved your pictures and had shortlisted you (you!) for their TV commercials (one was for AnMum, another was for Astro), and that you were required to attend a short video-casting session for them to make their decisions.

So we dressed you up in your Sunday best and trotted you off to the auditions. Your father and I thought, “Why not?” Better to have tried than not at all. I was frankly a little apprehensive at the thought. The lady from the agency who had called specified “Needs to look adorable”- I was dumbfounded, because you already are adorable, and you must’ve been to them otherwise they wouldn’t have picked you out of at least a hundred other kids.

Your father took you for the first audition at a place called Passion Pictures. I was unable to make it as it was on a Friday afternoon, the worst time of the week for me at work. I did, however, give you lots of kisses and hugs for good luck, and kept my fingers crossed. I think you were oblivious to the whole thing. Your father recounted the event to me: you weren’t too happy about the auditions, particularly the bright white lights shining into your face and the throng of people watching you. Incidentally, one of the gentlemen who were manning the camera was an acquaintance of mine: he was the lead male talent in my band’s music video years ago. But acquaintance or not, you could not be coaxed to endear upon them a beatific smile or a Shirley Temple pose. I admonished your father for racing you off to the auditions mid-morning, so close it was to your afternoon nap time. I had thought you would be more cooperative in the afternoon once you had woken up, refreshed from your nap. All that aside, my friend, Kieran, had to tell us that he was sorry, but we could try again next time when you were more prepared.

When your father told me, a little pang of disappointment hit me. And then guilt washed over me. And then I felt all terrible for putting you through that ordeal. Funnily, I also understand Kieran’s point of view. The advertising world is a ruthless place to be in- sometimes, one cannot stand to profit from being overly nice or overly patient. A model will be yelled at, criticized for being too fat or too thin, who cares if he/she is being paid? The director calls the shots. If you can’t cut it, you just can’t cut it.

You’re a baby, sweetie pie. You haven’t turned 2 yet. You have no idea what is expected of you, and how can it be expected from you when you haven’t even begun to comprehend the language of adults? How can I expect from you to act all cute-sy and in a certain way in front of these strangers? You think we’re special, you know we’re your parents, so you humour us with your antics, all those wonderful things you do to make us laugh or bring happy smiles to our faces. But you are under no obligation to do the same for other people if you do not want to.

Your father told me you fell asleep in the car immediately after the audition, and my heart went out to you. I wish that I was there to hold you and tell you, it’s ok, sweetie, you will always be my superstar and I’m sorry that I put you through the auditions.

But that same day, I received another call, the one requesting you to audition for the Astro commercial. Your father and I debated this once more: to allow you or not to allow you to audition. We weighed the pros and cons. More often than once, it came up that I thought you were still too young, and I could not bear the thought of putting you through another ordeal. But your father thought we should take our chances, and I agreed with him.

We confirmed with the agency that we would take you to the audition on Sunday afternoon. This one, at a place called Pegasus Films, went much better because you found a little friend there, a darling handsome boy of about 4 years old named Eric, clearly a product of mixed parentage. The 2 of you spent some time looking at each other and playing ball.

You were certainly more relaxed here, you even deigned to smile and offer some cheeky grins. But you were still awe-struck. The lights were bright, but not hot-bright, simply designed to put you in the limelight. Eric insisted on moving into the frame of the camera with you, and stood beside you while the gentleman behind the camera took pictures of you. If I was a hard-core Mummy-toting-about-her-child-talent, I’d have screamed blue murder and demand for Eric’s mother to pull him away. The nerve! Stealing my little girl’s moment.

But Eric was just being a child. And like all children, I saw no fault in him. So he wanted to stand beside you. That’s cool! Because he liked you. So he wanted to play with you. All in fun and jest, I enjoyed watching you at play with him. A brief thought struck me as I watched you: boys. And I dreaded to think of what would happen in your teenage years.

You paid more attention to Eric than the camera. The cameraman was polite and thanked us for coming to audition on a Sunday afternoon. I knew what his tone of voice meant. But I felt no sadness, no disappointment. I was only glad that it was over, and that this time, you had a good time because you had made a friend.

The auditions taught me something, E. Oh yes, even at my age, I am still learning things as the days go by. I don’t proclaim to be all wise and adult. I’ve learnt that all those dreams and aspirations I had for you- that’s all they will remain. I’ve learnt that I must let you make your own choices and that you cannot be moulded into something you clearly do not want to be. I will not force you to do what you do not want to do (disclaimer: terms will apply!) and I know now that you are not ready for the limelight, that you want to enjoy your babyhood with me and your father and your loved ones. When you are ready, I think you will tell me that you are. If the calls come, I will take you for auditions, but I will not force you to act a certain way, be a certain way. I will wait for your inner voice speaking to mine: I’m ready now, Mummy. Or: I won’t ever be ready, Mummy.

Either way, that’s ok with me, sweetie. It really is.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

All apologies

"Sorry seems to be the hardest word" ~ Sir Elton John

My dearest E.,

I'm sorry. And I don't have a problem saying 'sorry' when it needs to be said. And why am I sorry?

Because I have been busy at work. Because I had to leave you with your grandparents last night as I worked into the night, first at the office, then at the nearby Starbucks cafe, then at home. Because it is only going to get worse (work) the next few weeks. Because I need to do this. Because I love my job. Because I want to be appreciated by my co-workers.

But I also love you to pieces. And you are the most important thing in the world to me. But I cannot devote myself completely to you at this moment. I want you to know that I'm sorry. I want you to know that I need to do this. And I want you to know that no matter what happens, how busy I am at work, I promise that I will be there to tuck you into bed every night and sing you your favourite lullabies.

Wish List

"When you love someone, all your saved-up wishes start coming out" ~ Elizabeth Bowen

My dearest E.,

When I was a little girl, a teenager and a young adult, I had a wish list for each stage of life I was passing through. Most times, what I wished for very material and/or superficial things, or things that would never be achieved save through hard work and perseverance. As a child, I wished for lots of toys, particularly Barbie dolls. I wished for a pink bicycle with pink handlebars and matching pink ribbon streamers flowing therefrom. I wished for a puppy. I wished for a wonderful birthday party with a huge sparkling birthday cake, a bran-tub with brightly-wrapped gifts and all sorts of fanciful games and goodies. My wishes came true, all of them, and I simply attributed it to my parents; i.e. if you wish hard enough, then your parents will make them come true. I'd forgotten all that until now, now that I am a parent and realize that the wishes which came true when I was a child, came true because I wished for the wrong things. Because I wished for material things, things that every parent would go out of their way to make sure their children got.

When I was 15, I wished I was prettier. I wished that I would have a boyfriend. I wished that I would do well in my exams. I wished that I wouldn't have to go for my piano lessons every Monday afternoon (which lasted well into the evening!) because I was terrified of my piano teacher, who'd rap my knuckles smartly with a wooden ruler if I so much as released the curvature of my fingers on the smooth ivory keys of her Petrof. I wished that I was thinner. I wished that I hadn't started shaving the hair off my legs because dammit, it was getting to be a chore to shave them every 2-3 days! Not all my wishes came true. I still went for my piano lessons right until I was 17, and finished Grade 8. I still had to shave my damn hairy legs every 2-3 days. However, I did well in my exams (my parents were terribly proud of me and considered me something of a genius, when actually, despite the As I scored, I was nowhere near the top 20 students in my school. But they're my parents, I'll give them that. Parents always think the best of their children, that they (the children) can do anything. I know what that is like now). I had my first boyfriend at 16. I even thought I started blossoming and began to look more attractive, and less chubby and childish. After all, I had a boyfriend, so that must also mean I got prettier and thinner!

Why did some of my wishes come true and the others didn't? Because sometimes, in life, you are meant to do things you may not necessarily like, but which may serve you well later on. And because some of those wishes were meant to happen anyway. I just didn't know it then. I'm still shaving my legs every 2-3 days these days, and I'm 31. The shaving that I started as a teenager, to fit in because everyone was shaving their legs and armpits, is now a life-long commitment on my part. I'm glad I never shaved my arms, because that would've doubled my time in the shower. So although I regret shaving my hairy legs, I'm also thankful that I never shaved my arms. As for my piano lessons, I'm glad for them because I wouldn't have realized how much I loved music, if it wasn't for them, and how easy it is to write songs with piano accompaniment. Because now, I can play on my trusty old Weinbach no matter how rusty or stiff my fingers feel and teach you the songs I loved so well as a child. Playing a piano is like riding a bicycle after a long time. You suddenly remember the fluidity of the movements in your fingers (legs) and allow your mind to overtake your heart, and suddenly, you're free, flying and soaring in the air.

My wishes became more for "intangible" things as I grew older. Basking in young adulthood, rollicking in college and university, discovering drink & cigarettes, and embarking on my career, I wished for more money. I wished I was cooler. I wished I was prettier, thinner. I wished there were more hours in the day to cope with the amount of work I had. I wished that I hadn't started on my Masters degree. I wished that I would meet the love of my life who would sweep me off my feet and marry me. I wished that my parents would understand me more and treat me less like a child. It was here that I realized my silly wishes would never come true.

And that as I grew older, I had to work hard to make my wishes come true. I could no longer depend on my parents to fulfill them at my whim and fancy. Some of them came true, some didn't. My parents learnt to let go, but they were still my parents, and on hindsight, I thank God that they still treated me like a child then, worried all the time about my well-being, because if they didn't, what would that mean? That they no longer loved me? That I was left to fend for myself in this world? They still worry about me this very day. How thankful I am for that now. I stopped smoking and drinking. I met your father, my beloved husband, fell madly in love and we got married. Then we had you. And I see again how silly my wishes were.

Now I am 31 years old. All I wish for is your happiness, that you will grow into a sweet, kind and thoughtful young woman. I wish that our family will be contented and humbled by our love for each other. I wish that I will be able to provide for you better as the years go by, I am working hard for our better tomorrow. I wish that I will mean as much to you as you do to me.

So, this is what I want to impart to you, E. That whatever wish list you may have, your wishes are achievable. But you need to want them bad enough. And you need to work to make them come true. Remember that you are responsible for how you dream and map your life out to be. And that sometimes, it is ok even if all your wishes don't come true, because that simply makes you more human to be flawed, than Godly and perfect.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Bedtime Lullaby: You'll Never Walk Alone

"Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart, and you'll never walk alone" ~ Rodgers & Hammerstein II

My dearest E.,

"You'll Never Walk Alone" is a song written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Little did they know at that time (in 1945) that this song would live on in the hearts of Liverpool Football Club's (LFC) fans all over the world, and how it would touch the hearts of everyone by inspiring them with the simple but oh-so-meaningful lyrics. Because of the message of this song, it has apparently become a standard anthem in graduations in the United States and during World War II, the powerful lyrics gave solace to many who had lost family and friends in the war. This song was so popular that many artistes recorded their versions of it, including Frank Sinatra (1945), Patti LaBelle (1964) and Elvis Presley (1968).

The popularity of the song quickly drove it to become LFC's club anthem in the 1960s and was invariably sung before and after every football game. The words "YOU'LL NEVER WALK ALONE" feature in the club crest and outside the Shankly Gates at Anfield (LFC's stadium).

Here are the lyrics to "You'll Never Walk Alone". Perhaps someday, you may want to sing this to your own little babe and nurture him/her into our family tradition of supporting the Liverpool Football Club!

When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don't be afraid of the dark

At the end of the storm
There's a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of a lark

Walk on, through the rain
Walk on, through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown
Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone
You'll never walk alone

Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone
You'll never walk alone.

Lullaby & Sweet Ditties

"The Lullaby is the spell whereby the mother attempts to transform herself back from an ogre to a saint" ~ James Fenton

My dearest E.,

Isn't that the funniest thing you've ever heard? James Fenton must've had a fierce mother- even so, capable of the most tender emotions when it came to bedtime. Whatever the case, I'm not an ogre, although when you grow up and become a teenager, I may be one to you. But remember that no matter what you may think of mothers becoming ogres, these ogres only want the best for you!

But I digress- what I really wanted to highlight was how much you love your bedtime lullabies. I think you love them most when I sing to you- and thank goodness that I can sing (I think!). I have a rather baby-ish singing voice, so perhaps that's why you inevitably nod off to La-La Land when I start singing quietly. These days, my repertoire of bedtime lullabies is slightly more diverse than what they used to be when you were younger. I interchange between "You'll never walk alone" (Lullaby Mix, as I call it); "Moon River" (Bedtime Reprise: I coined this!); "Precious One", a lullaby I made up, sung to the tune of "Edelweiss", and "Baby Baby", another lullaby that I made up sung to the tune of one of Noddy's songs from one of your favourite cartoons "The Adventures of Noddy". Sometimes, I sing to you Paula Abdul's "Goodnight my love" but I can't remember the lyrics of the second verse then, so I end up repeating the first verse and chorus all over.

Why do I choose these lullabies? "You'll never walk alone" because it's the Liverpool Football Club's anthem (and your father and I are avid Liverpool fans, or Liverpudlians, as we like to call ourselves!), and because it says what it says: you'll never walk alone; "Moon River" because I imagine your journey ahead to be like a river, full of winding surprises and of course, I'll follow you on that wonderful journey; "Precious One" because the lyrics speak of how you make beautiful things grow with your smile, like flowers, for example; and "Baby Baby" because the tune is cute and light-hearted.

Sometimes, though, you fall asleep in the car when we're driving home from your grandparents, because you've had a long day, playing with your grandparents, going for walks and drives, etc. When we're in the car, we play your favourite CD, Raimond Lap's "Baby Classics" comprising music by composers such as Beethoven and Mozart. And as you sit in my lap, clutching your little security blanket, I would feel your body soften and lean closer into my warmth, and you'd be fast asleep before I could say "Sleep".

Sleep tight, my little one. And the morrow will be ever more beautiful and awaiting your presence.

Fierce!

"He who defines duty for himself is his own master" ~ Dick Cheatham

My dearest E.,

You are growing at an astounding rate. I want to tell you, "Stop, take a breather!" but you race along the path of Growth, learning as you go along, leaving Love and Compassion in your wake, picking up Intelligence, Knowledge and Language along the way, cultivating Kindness while you stop to pick up a smooth, red-marbled pebble, feeding your Tantrums and Anger when you feel the need. As Tyra Banks would say: you're fierce. A fierce beauty coming out into her own, a little caterpillar struggling in the silky smoothness of its cocoon, raring to meet the Sunshine and say hello as a butterfly.

Fiercely independent, you want to do things for yourself, which pleases your father and I, of course. I want to laugh when I see you solemnly imitating me when I get ready for work in the morning. You pull on imaginary clothes, fluff your hair, apply face cream and deodorant, and then laugh out loud with a huge grin on your face. At meal-times, you insist on feeding yourself, you freeze up when I try to scoop a spoonful of food into your mouth, you turn and twist away from me and loudly reprimand me for trying to baby you. And when I give up and allow you to eat on your own, you smile contentedly, shoving noodles or rice down your mouth, showing me a thumbs-up sign. And you eat there, quietly and messily, food dribbling down your chin and bib. But we watch you with pride. Because you're steady and clever. Because you want to be independent. Because you want to grow up and be an adult.

Your father and I recently bought you a life-sized (as in life baby-sized) kitchen cabinet and cookery set, complete with a plastic stove, baking oven and microwave oven, plastic foods, little utensils, casseroles and dishes, a water tap and sink and a kitchen roll holder. You fuss over your new toy for hours on end, humming happily to yourself as you busy yourself with preparing a vegetable casserole or sniffing in glee when you open the plastic oven and the imaginary scent of a lightly roasted chicken waft through the doors. You wash your hands as you ready yourself to chop up little onions on the cute, little, pink chopping board. You serve me beautifully with a piece of blackberry pie on a purple plate, passing me a little fork, urging me to taste the fruits of your labour. Methinks you could be the next wonder chef, cooking up a storm in your kitchen, inviting friends over to cosy lunch and dinner parties.

I look at you with wonder all the time. I am afraid that if I turn away for a second, you will grow out of your current antics and present me with something new to wonder about. And although the prospect of something new is always amiable to me, I want to hold each moment that I have with you in perpetuity. Your father and I talk about you all the time, and we'd say, "Remember when E. was 3 months old and she would do this?" "E. loved to do that when she was a tiny baby, remember?" There is nothing, nothing in this world, that can replace the feelings of reminiscence when we think of your babyhood past. Sometimes, your father and I pinch each other, wondering if we're in a beautiful dream and we hope that this never ends. And then, when the pinching begins to hurt, we smile happily and say, "Oh yes, this is real", because we see you sleeping beside us in bed in angelic repose, and when I touch your forehead and give you a cool light kiss on your cheeks, I think again, "Yes, this is real, and you are mine".

This doesn't mean that I don't wish to cultivate the independence within you. I know so, how independent you are, how unafraid of the world you can be. You seem to say, "Bring it on, World!" when you insist on putting on your shoes by yourself, and walking outside into the garden, enjoying the light evening breeze and the after-rain scent still lingering in the air. You want to walk out onto the road, unabashed and unafraid- but you are clever, my little one. You know that your parents can guide you safely to your destination, so you hold our hands. And we walk along, the 3 of us, trudging up that quiet tar road, passing our neighbour's homes, broken only by the tiny sound of you meowing whenever you see a cat. Such dreamy solitude. I can never be happier.

I am happy for you, sweet E., happy that you are a brave child and coming out into your own. I know that you're going to be oh-so-fierce in this world and face all truth & beauty and devastation & problems in your own stride as and when they may come. But remember: no matter how independent and self-reliant you become, no matter how successful and powerful, no matter what age, no matter the distance between us, your beloved Mummy will always be here to baby you and return you to your days of yore in your moments of fear, weakness and unhappiness.

Because that is what Mummies do. They allow their children to grow and fly away, revelling in their own freedom and independence. But Mummies also remain, whether physically or in spirit, and wait for the little ones to return to them someday. And that is our cycle of life.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The funniest things

My dearest E.,

You do the funniest things. At 18 months, you're energetic, lively and too bubbly for words. You speak in a cutesy voice. Methinks you have taken after your mother's temperament. You are your mother's daughter. Imitate, improvise, create. Seek to entertain. That is what you do. So tell me, my sweet, how do you expect me to act when you...:-

Talk on my phone and step away from the room to take that "call"? Or call my friends listed in my phone memory?
Answer: Hope that you don't drop my phone, because it's almost brand new. Laugh because you act like your father, who steps away when he takes an important business call. Tell my friends, I'm sorry but my daughter accidentally called you. She loves making telephone calls.

Tear my kitchen apart and re-arrange our kitchenware and dining ware and in the process, break 2 of my prized money-can't-buy china bowls handed down from my own mother?
Answer: Clean up after you. Reprimand you a little. Give in to your creative whims and fancies. I don't want to stifle you.

Dangle your hand into the toilet bowl and scoop the water into your mouth?
Answer: Scream! Beat myself up for not watching you closely enough. Scrub your mouth with baby toothpaste. Stick my hanky-wrapped finger in to clean out your tongue. You kick and scream. You get angry with me for daring to put a finger into your mouth.

Tear off the velcro-like fasteners on your diapers, throw those diapers off and run around the house like a little tornado, stark naked?
Answer: Catch you if I can (I always can). Hope you don't pee on the floor. Fit you into another pair of diapers while you angrily throw incomprehensible words at me.

Dip your hands into my food and feed yourself?
Answer: Clean your hands. Get you your own plastic bowl and utensils. Make you sit down beside me to eat.

Throw a tantrum and upset a whole bowl of porridge all over my clean living room floor? Shout at me for daring to serve up porridge to you?
Answer: So you want filet mignon, little one? Dump you into your play pen. Scold you for throwing a tantrum. Ignore your little demands. Clean up the mess. Order McDonalds' chicken porridge for you because I'm just too tired to cook another meal all over again. You still get porridge. Listen to your mother, because Mummy knows best.

Say "Hi" or "Hey" to strangers in the street or the mall or when we're out?
Answer: Swell up with pride. I didn't have to teach you this, but you've learnt on your own. I have a clever daughter.

Mimic Bruce Lee's kung fu moves?
Answer: Laugh like crazy. Make you do it again and again and again.

Try to hit my face after I've dealt you with a little smack on your hand- for touching those forbidden things (electrical sockets, that bottle of calamine lotion and camphor oil, the cash in my wallet)?
Answer: Bring my voice an octave down to a stern rumbling growl. Hope you'll listen. You stare at me, determined not to cry although your mouth has downturned. Make you kiss me and make up. And hug you, to let you know that if I do get a little angry, or try to discipline you, it is only because I love you.

Reach out to kiss me on my mouth, oh-so-tenderly and gently, when we lie in bed together, ready to fall asleep after a long day?
Answer: Kiss you back, oh-so-tenderly and gently. And hug you for showing me that you love me too.

Dance like a ballerina, spinning around like a little top, arms held high over your head?
Answer: Dance like a ballerina, spinning around like a big top, arms held high over my head. And we both fall down in a heap together, laughing.

Grow up a little too quickly?
Answer: Deal with it. My little bird will fly away from her nest someday.

How can I tell you how funny you are? How can I let you know enough how much I love you? How can I make sure you turn out to be a lovely, generous and kind person?

I suppose we'll find out the next few decades or so, baby. Give me your hand then. Both you and I- let's take that journey on self-realisation, learning and making mistakes together.

You

My dearest E.,

I wrote an article on Helium, a knowledge-sharing website which pays you for articles written by you. I wrote about you. I've earned some extra pocket money from this. You.

"Having my daughter changed my life- completely. Suddenly, everything that was difficult to deal with in this world, all the problems that I had faced: they disintegrated when I looked into her eyes, my eyes....

My problems, financial, work, or otherwise, which were once central in my life, no longer glared at me from the lens of my social and familial responsibilities. Suddenly, I found the solutions to these problems because they seemed so small compared to the magnitude of joy I felt in having a child. I could face anything now!

I stopped becoming a workaholic: worked decent hours and never took my work home with me, mentally or otherwise. I could be free in those few hours I spent with my daughter when I left the office.

I grew even closer to my parents, who care for her during the day as I worked. Now that I have my own child, I appreciate even more acutely what they had done for me when I was growing up, how much love they had surrounded me with, to enable me to overspill that love to my daughter.

I fell in love with my husband all over again when he became a father. His love, his devotion, his everlasting patience with me and my daughter, reminded me again why I had married him in the first place. That he was the same man, and even more, that I had married 3 years ago.

That I would leave behind a beautiful, physical legacy after I was long gone from this world: a beautiful child who had my eyes, my hair and my temperament, and who would go on to have beautiful children of her own, with her eyes, her hair and her temperament.

That I was blessed by God to receive this fruit of Life, the enormity and wondrous tumult and happiness that is Motherhood.

I have grown up and matured, wiser with my age and experience. I am a better person, and I hope to become a great mother.

The air was fresher and lighter, filled with the promise of sweet surprises as each gust of airy breeze drifted past my daughter and I, sitting together in the park.

The flowers in my garden were more colourful, brighter and radiant than I have ever remembered them to be and spread their delicious scent to soften our dreams."

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Falling down

"When I'm not afraid to fail, I won't. When I'm not afraid to fall down, falling down won't feel like failure. I have fallen down enough to get more comfortable with it, to know how productive it can be, how necessary it is to growth. Still, when I sense the ground beneath me giving way, I have to remind myself that it's ok if I falter. I have to remind myself that it's more than ok!" ~ Jan Denise

My dearest E.,

I suppose it had to come sooner or later. Last Saturday, you fell off the bed in my friend's house, your beloved Uncle Calvin who loves and nurtures you like his own. We'd been to his house many times, and you would always sleep peacefully like a little cherub in his soft comfy bed. That night was no different, and after you had gone to sleep, we proceeded to the living room to watch TV. We were frighteningly interrupted when we heard a monstrous loud thud and then your screams and cries filled the air. Rushing to his bedroom, we found you hanging halfway down the bed- thankfully, you didn't fall to the floor, but was hindered by the wide bed slats on the sides (a Japanese styled-bed it was). Unfortunately, you did hit your head on those slats.

Last night, you spent the night with your grandparents, who, this morning, informed me that you had refused to sleep and woke up crying several times in the night, suspectedly searching for me or your father. They had allowed you to run around the room to frolic- but alas! You had a little fall, and cut your lip and bruised your eye. You poor dear!

I blame myself incessantly for allowing this to happen to you. I cannot describe to you the guilt I felt simmering within me, imagining the "What ifs" and wishing that I had done better to protect you. Other parents offered me sympathetic advice, telling me a child falling down and hurting himself/herself would be inevitable, and was part and parcel of a normal childhood, and in fact, teaches both child and parents to become better people by nurturing their instincts for survival.

So, my dearest, although I find this hard to stomach, let us take this as a learning experience. And I promise that I will be more careful and alert in future to ensure that you do not hurt yourself in this manner anymore. However, I cannot protect you from the symbolic falling downs in your life to come, but I can offer you some advice in that area.

When you fall in life, whether from a relationship break-up or a difficult, testing job, remember that you should pick yourself up and carry on. Imagine falling into a deep pit. Claw and climb your way out if you must, and if you need help, never falter or hesitate to cry or ask for help. I, for one, will be there to take your hand and pull you up to safe ground, but you must cultivate that need to succeed, to rise once again and to never let deterrents in life bring you down.

I have fallen many times in life, my sweet. Sometimes, I was so depressed and thought myself a failure, that I could barely think of picking myself up. Most times, though, I did, because I felt that I was placed here for a universal purpose, together with all other human beings on our earth. And that if I did not pick myself up, I would then be a complete failure. I also had belief in my parents, who lent me their hands throughout. Remember that this is what parents do- this is what parents WANT to do. To make sure that you do not fail. And even if you do fail, that you will continue to persevere.

Failure is NOT falling down and facing your difficulties and crying or wallowing- failure is when you allow hope and faith to diminish in your heart, when you no longer wish to fight back, when you cannot bring yourself to pick up from where you left off, when you no longer wish or desire to succeed in what you do.

I know that you will not fail, though. And even if you do, you will rise like the phoenix to overcome your fears and that failure, and that makes you stronger, a hero. And even if you do, that is completely ok with me, because you will learn from that experience and become a more complete person.

You are my daughter. And you can do anything you set out to do, be anything you want to be. Because you have love, faith and hope as your guiding pillars of strength.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

On personality

"It's beauty that captures your attention; personality that captures your heart" ~ Unknown author

My dearest E.,

How personable you are! You have that wonderful spark of divinity, that expression of your personality. I know that you will contribute so immensely in the lives of those who know you.

Hello, hi and hey! Kisses and hugs. You greet me everyday in this manner. You greet your godparents in this manner. You greet your loved ones like this. And that simply makes us all swell up with pride and happiness.

Friendly, undaunting and sociable, you draw no barriers to your friendship and love. You oblige all and asunder with smiles and handshakes. You comfort with your touch and gentility. You dream of an ideal world where you hope to make a positive change.

Treasure your personality, my dearest. It will serve you in good stead. And in the years to come, I cannot wait to see how much more your personality will blossom and steal the thunder from the skies, enveloping with a radiant brightness of such great magnitude, that even the Sun will bow to your smiles.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Words

"One of the hardest things in life is having words in your heart that you can't utter" ~ James Earl Jones

My dearest E.,

I want to tell you the importance of words. About how important it is to think and rationalize about what you're going to say yet not compromising with who you are. It is often a difficult task, but certainly isn't an impossible one. I myself have been guilty of uttering things to people on the spur of the moment, and then later, I think to myself, "Why did I say that?" "How silly of me!" "How inconsiderate/tactless/thoughtless" etc.

I have now learnt to balance my need to vent blamelessly and mercilessly, with the need to identify with myself. I'm a rather forthright kind of person, especially to family and friends. I rarely mince words with people I care about, simply because I think they would understand and they would love me the same. However, sometimes being this forthright, you may end up wounding feelings in the process. Isn't it strange, then, with mere acquaintances, colleagues or strangers, people I don't care about very much, or perhaps care for on a less important level: that I cannot bring myself to be practically honest? I suppose it's because I don't wish to be thought of as being callous, but why do I care? I don't know.

In the past few years, though, I discovered that I had a very soft, contemplative side. Call it growing up if you will, or wisening with the age, but I learnt to develop a sense of empathy, artful tact, gentle misgivings, constructively tough criticism. My friends tell me I'm too nice, too soft. That I could never be capable of uttering a mean word to anybody. I try not to laugh. I wasn't always this nice a person. Strangely, though, I've also discovered that I am happier this way- that I can say nasty things in a nice way.

You are at an age where words, vocabulary and language is growing quickly central in your life. You experiment with sounds, roll your tongue, shout out loud. Your voice is tiny and cute, yet blaringly loud when you express your excitement when we're out. You articulate your favourite words in an endearing manner. You pick up funny phrases or words that your father and I have "created" as secret codes unbeknowst to the general public. I can't wait to hear you speak even more. Your father and I wait with anticipation each day to know what new word you've learnt or made up.

When language has become your way of life, your means of communication, remember this: that your words define you, move you, evolve you into who you can be in the future. That they are precious gems that fall from your lips, and if they are harsh or unkind, they turn into tiny pointed icicles that stab into a person's heart.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

The Masak-Masak game

"The world is but a canvas to the imagination" ~ Henry David Thoreau

My dearest E.,

Lately, you've been disposed to playing with my kitchen things. Plates, cups, utensils and what not. You often saunter into the kitchen nonchalantly, fiercely pushing away the bead curtains that separate our kitchen from our living and dining area, and you head determinedly straight for the kitchen cabinets. You have a fascination for such things. Because of this, I had bought a set of plastic cups, forks, spoons & knives, bowls and plates from the children's section of Ikea to keep you occupied and to hopefully nurture your creative and imaginative growth. Little did I know how imaginative you could be!

You surprised me first by arranging those plates and bowls on the floor of our living room. Forks and spoons were strewn all over the kitchen floor. But you chose a long-handled sturdy spatula and made use of a clean Famous Amos heart-shaped cookie tin as your little wok. How adorable that was for your father and I to see! And there you went on, sitting on the floor, "frying" and "cooking" in your little wok with the spatula, taking "ingredients" from the little plates and bowls. And on and on you went, with a fury! And you smiled at me, lifting the spatula to your mouth and took an imaginary bite. And went, "Mmmm...!"

I can't, for the life of me, think where you've learnt to do that. But you're growing into a wonderful little girl, generous and loving to your parents. You feed us your imaginary food, constantly smiling and "cooking" for us. Your father and I have vowed that we'll buy you your own little dining table and chair, and a whole new toy cooking set (masak-masak in Malay, which means, literally, cooking) for you. When I was a little girl, my Daddy bought me one of those sets too, and I loved playing with it, cooking up a storm on the kitchen floor when my mother used to prepare dinner. I used uncooked rice, water, cut-out pieces of coloured paper at first: green for vegetables, yellow for chicken, brown for steaks, red for apples. And then later, my Daddy bought me plastic foods like fruits, vegetables, french fries, and burgers!

It's your latest passion, this masak-masak game, and we enjoy watching you at play. Maybe you'll be a cook, or a chef someday. Who knows?

You have a vivid imagination, a creative ability to bring out the beauty in all that you do. You distinct reality and the make-believe in your games at this tender age. You are aware of the real truth of our world: the salty air we breathe in, the dust and sweat on your skin, the exhilaration of blood pumping into our hearts as we walk beneath the stars and canopied trees. And that is as real as the fleeting fancies and imagination you allow yourself.

For where are we, when we do not have any imagination to bring out the beauty, justice and joy of our world?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Growing Up

"Too many people grow up. That's the real trouble with the world, too many people grow up. They forget. They don't remember what it's like to be 12 years old. They patronize, they treat children as inferiors. Well, I won't do that" ~ Walt Disney

My dearest E.,
Since my last post here, I've realized how grown up you have become. The amazing rate of your growth astounded me so immensely that I can barely put into words how proud I am of you, and how much more I love you with each passing day. At the tender age of 17 months, you are intelligent and wise, compassionate and loving. I honestly do not know how you've learnt this. I'd like to think these traits are inborn and not learnt.

When I look at you these days, sometimes I want to just shout, "No, please, don't grow up so quickly!" A huge part of me wants you to be a little girl, my sweet baby forever. So that you will always love me unconditionally and depend on me for your every single need. Another part of me reprimands myself for being selfish, to want to keep you this way to satisfy my own need for love. But you're growing up, and beautifully. I cannot ask for more.

I cannot express in words how your antics make me laugh, make me cry, make me want to freeze in eternity these beautiful moments we have together. I love it when you brush my hair for me before we sleep at night, the way you stroke my face and kiss me when I sing you a lullaby. I love it when you insist on feeding yourself, and get angry with me for trying to help you out. I love it when you dance with such abandon when you hear music or your favourite songs. I love it when you call me Fatty, I don't care how rude it is! I love it when you jump up and down and shriek when you see me after a long day. I love it when you try to bang the keys of my piano, your eyebrow furrowed as you try to stretch your little fingers over the smooth ivory keys. I love it when you're angry and tired and throw a tantrum. I love how you're gentle and attentive when I'm ill, it's as if you know how bad I feel inside and out, and you stroke my hand to comfort me. How can I say this- that no matter what you do- I love you! I love what you do, each and every single thing.

I love watching you grow up. But promise me this one thing, E.?- that no matter how much growing up you do, that you will always remember and cherish your childhood, and know, that it is ok to miss being a little baby and that sometimes, acting like a child is perfectly normal because you keep your memories and learn to be more human.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Impermanence

"This existence of ours is as transient as autumn clouds
To watch the birth and death of beings is like looking at the movements of a dance.
A lifetime is like a flash of lightning in the sky,
Rushing by, like a torrent down a steep mountain." ~ Buddha


My dearest E.,

Although you are young and tender of age, you will soon understand that our lives are impermanent. Beautiful soft milky skin will become wrinkled and loose someday. Thick black hair will unveil itself in 60 years as a delightful shroud of white clouds. But this just isn't about you. It is about all of us. What you see in me now, wasn't the way it was 10 years ago. I was younger, prettier, had lively skin and dancing eyes. Now I grow older by the day, feeling my age not only in my bones, but also in my soul. And one day, I will no longer be on God's beautiful earth in this form.

But that doesn't make us less beautiful people. Or less human. We must rejoice for the chance at having lived at all.

When I was a child, your grandmother, my mother, tried to make me understand how life is impermanent. All living things will die someday, but that's not a bad thing. On the contrary, it just means that those living things have evolved into a higher state of being. And perhaps, happiness. She always taught me never to fear death or illness, or losing people I loved. Because it was an inevitable part of life which I must learn to accept. And with acceptance that all things are impermanent, we let go of the grief that binds us when we attach ourselves to our worldly pleasures.

I will confess now that I'm never much good at accepting this impermanence thing. When I was 12, my beloved German Shepherd, Queenie, passed away. When I was 14, my lovable mongrel, Tubby, ran away from home. When I was 28 and before your father and I were married, my dearest grandmother left our world to join the shadows of the next. When I was 29 and expecting you, the then-apple of my eye, in the form of my majestic Rottweiler, Nicky, passed away. All these times, I cried and cried, never for once wanting to accept that people I had loved so dearly were now gone from this world.

But I cried most of all 2 days ago. When your grandfather, my father, my hero, my idol, had a relapse of his heart condition in the hospital. I cried when the cardiologist told me he had a weak heart, and may not be able to withstand the trauma of surgery to remove his appendicitis. I cried when I saw him sleeping in the intensive care unit, drips attached to his hands, breathing labouredly. But I never once cried before him. I loved him, supported him, held his hand throughout this terrible ordeal. I never allowed him to see my tears, or how crushed my life would be without him. I needed to let him know that I was strong and there for him, and even if he were to leave us, that he could count on me to carry on his legacy. He was given another chance, your grandfather, because today, he is resting at home, happy to be with family, weak but recuperating. I cannot be happier. That he was not taken away from me.

This is the impermanence I most hate to face. That someday he will leave. He is not a young man, and has an old, damaged heart. Years ago, I told him that if I could give him my heart for him to continue life heartily, I would gladly do so and face death happily. But now, I have you. And you need me just as much as I need him. So I cannot give him my heart even if I wanted to. I cannot give him my heart because he will never hear of it, anyway.

His light brush with the danger of death looming was a horrible one for me. Although it has passed for now, and things are looking up and the sun is shining, that terrible day will come someday. I cannot ever be prepared for it.

Hence, your lesson, E.? What do you glean from this?

That it is ok not to want to accept the state of impermanence of things, so long as you understand this to be the way of the world. That it just is. That it is ok to be human and cry, and to drown in your feelings, if that will help you. That it is ok to tell someone you love them every single day.

That even if we lose someone we love on this Earth, we never really do lose them at all in our hearts. And that is the truth.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Grumps

My dearest E.,

Although you are, to me, the sweetest, cutest, most beautiful, adorable-st little thing ever, you do have your grumpy moments too- which are, I must say, as equally endearing as your sweet moments!

Advancements

My dearest E.,

You never cease to amaze me. Particularly over the past month. I can hardly believe how grown-up you are now. You've started talking a little, eager to utter new words you've learnt. Your comprehension and understanding astounds me. I always knew that you were a very personable baby, but I never knew just how personable. My friends remark to me, "What a cute little person E is!" You're coming out into your own.

I see little traits of my personality in you. Habits too. I still find it amazing, to know that you are your own person with many special attributes, but at the same time, possessing attributes similar to mine. It scares me- because it brings to mind what someone had said to me years ago- "you will find yourself turning into your mother as you grow older and wiser, and when you have your own child". It scares me- because it seems to be true. As I grow in wisdom and age, I also grow more motherly and my personality parellels are remarkably similar to my mother's. It scares me- because many years ago, I vowed that I would be my own person, and would not turn into my mother. Not because it's a bad thing, but simply because we want to feel that we will do things differently, things our mothers would not have done. I'm failing miserably in that aspect.

So, here I am telling you this now: perhaps one day when you become a mother, you'll turn into something like me, too. Which is a good thing, my sweets. I'd like to think of myself as a hip, cool Mom!

Watching you learn new things is an exciting journey. From helping your Daddy stack beer cans in the refrigerator, learning to drink from your own little plastic cup, feeding yourself (never mind the mess you make!), learning new words (flower, Daddy, no, yes, knee, bath), progressing to bath time in the shower, where you'd stand solemnly, touching shampoo bottles and taps whilst I gently rained water over your little body and head, to keeping your own toys in their little baskets after you've played with them, I discover more about you, my little daughter, each and every single day.

The past week we have spent together was a wonderful balm to my senses. Being with you for a whole week (I was on holiday for the Chinese New Year), without having to send you to your grandparents', was one of the most wonderful times I've had. We played, we laughed, we went out to malls and to the park, we had evening walks and afternoon slumbers together, we experimented with new things I cooked for you, we pored over your new Winnie the Pooh Little Touch Leap-Pad book, we drew circles and lines.....and so much more. Thank you for giving me such a lovely time, my sweet pea.

Now I write this from my office desk, and I reminisce about our past week together 24-7. I sigh a huge sigh of sadness because we can't do that everyday. But someday, my precious gem, I promise you I will. Work hard today, so we reap the benefits of the seeds we sow tomorrow. I hope that by the time tomorrow comes, you won't have grown up so much that you wouldn't want to hang out with your Mommy anymore.