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.