Who moved my cheese ?

Before we have kids, we dream of how gobsmackingly good looking and smart they’re going to be. After we have kids, all we dream of is dreams really, REM sleep eluding us after the extended sleep-deprivation of nursing newborns. By the time the tyke gets to school, dreams of another sort haunt our waking hours: packing up and running away for a month anywhere, so that we can have conversations that revolve around things other than uneaten school lunches, homework and after-school activities. Adult conversations.

On weekdays, we dream of weekends when there is no early morning alarm to set, when we can just laze about until midday in our pyjamas. On weekends, we dream of weekdays when the kids are off at school and we have a couple of childfree hours to ourselves. Then we find ourselves a nice herbivorous-looking sitter one evening and decide to go and get reacquainted with our other halves. That’s when the penny drops. What we really dream about is a life free of parental responsibilities. But are the childless really having such a good time or are they just pretending to have scintillatingly full lives so that we’d be envious of them?

It’s moments when my child puts her hand in mine, or clasps my face with her grubby paws and says, “Mummy I love you” that I’m left feeling silly for ever wanting different. Then the occasional resentment of it no longer being about me or having any time for pre-parenthood interests melts away and the only dream I have is of this journey that began with the making of this special little person, never-ending.

Mother and baby sharing a moment in a pool.

A private moment between me and my baby.

On driving down the road blind.

Sunrise from Uluramaya Retreat Cabins.

Sunrise during my trip to Uluramaya Retreat Cabins last year.

If there be a part of me that bears witness to my recently found Peranakan roots, it’d be my subscription to paganism. I don’t slaughter pigs and offer them to Baal as such, but rather believe in the life force of all living things. I believe in God, but not the God of the Bible or the Torah or the Quran. I acknowledge that I have a creator and our relationship, like all my other relationships, is based on making realistic demands of each other. Of course the balance of power in our relationship is inequitable, Him being the Almighty and me being just plain ol’ me, but we have to make exceptions for one whom superlatives fail to justly exemplify.

The way I practise my “faith” is by being open albeit occasionally unhappy about the new twists or persons who present themselves, being of good cheer even when inside I’m gloomier than Eeyore on a bad day and trusting in divine providence to step in and take my hand when I am at a crossroads in life. It is when I am tested that I remember that ordinary existence is made up of a string of sublime minor miracles, starting with conception right up to where I am today, that makes me think that whatever ails me, I’ll be just fine.

Precocious children: products of hot housing or flukes of nature?

Among the gifts I received when Amanda was born, was a book by Japanese educator Makoto Shichida entitled, “Every child can be a genius.” Doubtful and sleep-deprived though I was at the time, I read page after page of this guide – in my mind, very extensive promotional material – on how to create a wunderkind out of the progeny of my modest loins.

I noted that there were no pictures of esteemed graduates, certainly no reference to their glorious achievement in adulthood, and most first names of children quoted were abbreviated to a single letter followed by a full stop. Notwithstanding, in the interest of science and my Chinese side making itself felt, by me not wanting to be left out, I studied some of the proposed techniques.

First up, I was to make a series of flashcards. Only a couple hundred of them to stun my newborn with, for a few minutes each time, as many times as possible in a day. Surely I could do that in between breastfeeding since the person who gifted it to me could help her children, one then in preschool, to memorise Chinese classics everyday. I made the first fifty flashcards when Amanda turned two and then abandoned them in favour of virtual ones, which I bought off the net after googling.

Worried that as the book said, my child’s brain was switching from right to left orientation and thus going from unhampered creative genius to humdrum normality that makes up most of everyday life, I read to her for hours daily as my now sore head was propped up on several pillows. Perhaps, without a friendly neighbourhood Shicida centre to go to, where followers of this method can expect to part with several thousands a year, I was living in fear of Amanda missing out on all the supposed benefits; among them photographic memory, sharp imagination, perfect intuition, the ability to speak multiple languages, superior IQ, musical talent, artistic ability and most contentious of all, outstanding personality.

So does this really work? Piggybacking on the Shichida philosophy, my inspired tutelage produced a well-adjusted, if regular child. Even though Amanda knew the alphabet at 2 and had a vocabulary ten times that of her peers, speaking in complete sentences, counting and recalling up to a hundred books word-for-word as they appeared on a page, I am unconvinced that the end result is any different to if I had just taken a more organic approach; bringing her to playgroup and leaving her in a sand pit, which I also did.

As for the well-meaning person who gave me the book, I have to report that although she thinks her second, who benefited the most from this method, is Einstein reincarnate, he is to the casual onlooker but an ordinary kid. I have yet to hear of him skipping grades, or speaking Swahili, or having invented anything worthy of the Nobel Prize. Of course, he’s only eleven. However, if you consider that the IQ of most immediate family members is within 5 to 10 points of each other, and that the average IQ falls in a bell curve between 90 and 110, that is unsurprising. For those among us who are envious of the intellectually gifted, we can take comfort that Mozart outgrew his precocity and though still a musical genius, died almost penniless as interest in his music in adulthood never quite matched the hype and fame of his talent as a child.

 

On coming out.

If you had read my earlier post about discovering my Peranakan roots at twenty-nine years of age, you will understand why this has nothing to do with me being gay or a part-time streetwalker. I am neither, although for me, coming out publicly with my real ethnicity was fraught with as much soul-searching as had I been either.

To start with, my mother had long denied having non-Chinese ancestry. My father had asked her many a time, but each time she reacted as though he had said the most absurd thing. In her defence, her mother had nine other children and passed away suddenly when she was fourteen so she probably had no one to enlighten her on how her father was a court interpreter and lower court judge. Pre-independence, most Chinese were merchants or labourers. Apart from Malays, only Peranakan held government posts and by virtue of their mixed-ancestry and fluency in many languages, acted as intermediaries for the British with the locals.

Furthermore, from a young age I had seen other Chinese ostracise my Eurasian sisters by labelling them half-castes. This was Malaysia of the 1980s and our mother was called into their school principal’s office every so often to settle arguments with teachers that arose when they were called derogatory names. There was even a period when she resorted to teaching the principal to making chee cheong fun, a steamed rice noodle dish, at our home, in an attempt to butter up the latter so that there would be fewer of such trips. Thus I knew that in claiming to be other than what every Chinese had sceptically accepted I was, I risked social alienation. After all, with the offspring of modern-day marriages between Chinese and Malays deemed to be Malays and hence Muslims, and many Peranakan from my parents’ generation marrying non-Peranakan’s, we are a dying breed at the mercy of authorities out to peddle our unique cultural synergy to attract tourist dollars.

Me as a five year old with my mother.

 

Puppy love in the playground.

Children grow so fast. One minute I was cradling Amanda as a newborn, the next she is talking to Vivi, her Chinese language tutor’s daughter, about her classmate’s crushes. “Sveta loves Vlad,” I hear her say.

“What’s this?” I ask in my typical Asian-mother voice, communicating my disapproval. After all, when I was her age, the only crushes I had were on TV stars and I wisely kept them to myself.

Everyone knows Sveta loves Vlad,” she says, making me feel like the only parent who missed out on the school’s weekly newsletter. She goes on to wax lyrically about her best friend’s new admirer, another classmate of theirs. “And everyone knows that Guy likes Lily.”

“That’s ok,” I say. “As long as everyone knows that you cannot have a crush or boyfriend until you are thirty, Amanda.” What I would give for her to be a baby again.

Amanda and a her friend Maia making mud pies on the banks of the Brisbane River.

 

 

The dawn of a new era.

For once, instead of opening a can of baked beans to feed Amanda and myself, I have to boil rice and cook three other dishes since His Royal Highness will be dining with us. No longer is it fine to stay out at other people’s homes until the police come searching for us because he’ll be home much earlier than he used to. In the past, I’d be happy if I saw my husband once every third day but post FRACS exams, the landscape of our marriage and family life has changed altogether.

Not that I am complaining. For the past decade I have been His Royal Highness’ staunchest supporter and number one ally. I’ve advocated on his behalf, carried the parental load for the both of us, picked him up when he was down and nudged him to move when he had inertia. I’ve defended him against ignorantly unsympathetic people, friend and foe alike. Wouldn’t you say it’s about high time I had some company? No doubt this amount of togetherness will take some getting used to.

 

 

Pigs flew then they came to my party.

Two days ago, after ten and a half years of belly-crawling uphill, His Royal Highness and I arrived at what is the apex of his surgical career: his passing the notoriously tough exams for Fellowship to the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, recognition by his peers that he is up to the job of performing surgery. To appreciate the magnitude of the event for us personally, here is a couple of paragraphs I shared with friends on facebook, thanking them for their congratulations and best wishes.

For those of you who know us well, or HRH from back when he was just a boy, this has been a very long and winding, not to mention difficult road. I don’t think he’d be pleased with me talking so publicly about his struggles, but I feel I must since this is the story of our lives together.

HRH did his 6th year medical exam twice, when almost everyone did it once, because his mother died while he was doing it the first time. Then after passing and moving to ADL, the local emergency director tried to stop him from getting into training. He moved to Victoria where he got into training and after a year, was told he needed to be a citizen or PR in order to proceed. He was neither, so we moved to NZ and back. In the meantime, he passed his first part but was threatened with expulsion if he should fail to get into advance training.

By some miracle, the law changed and we were granted PR. HRH applied to advanced training and just as he was about to resign himself to waiting another year AND being the longest serving resident ever, he was posted to Darwin and from there Cairns, then Townsville and finally Brisbane. Along the way, he had every brick and bat thrown at him from people who mistake his gentle, quiet demeanour, borne of a traditional Chinese education, as being unconfident and incompetent. Here, the talk is half the show and if you can’t talk, then everyone is going to overlook you in favour of someone who can.

This was HRH’s 4th attempt at the FRACS and everyone’s necks, including his bosses who supported his quest, were on the chopping block. I won’t pretend and say that I enjoyed spending the last 4 to 5 years ALONE but yesterday made it all worthwhile.

As an aside, I’ll add that the passing rate for FRACS exams this time around was 55% and that HRH was examined by the incoming chief examination officer, among others.

HRH choked with emotion at reading his FRACS exam results.

On being one race and then another.

This seems like a physiological impossibility but let me assure you that in the realms of everyday living, it most certainly isn’t. I was a full Chinese person for the first twenty-eight years of my life and on my twenty-ninth year, became only three eighths.

So how did this happen and how did I arrive at this peculiar set of fractions? After all, most people are either half, quarter, three quarters or some indefinable combination of ethnically different genes. My sisters would be galled reading this seeing as they still think of themselves as half Chinese. We share the same mother and a different father. Already they have gone through life as islands growing up in homogenous if multicultural Malaysia where pure Malays, Chinese and Indians predominate.

Like me, they must have thought that our third aunt enjoys living in a Chinese museum, unaware that the various wooden sculptures, furniture and fixtures are reflective of our real culture. My mother and her sisters fondly refer to our third aunt as “Nyonya” and for twenty-eight years of my life, I assumed it was because she cooked curry prawns and fish for all our Chinese New Years.

I postulated it was simply a way of life she subscribed to, even though her mother, my grandmother, was also a Nyonya. As was her mother and her grandmother before her, because as I discovered belatedly, Peranakan, while recognised by the governments of Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia as Chinese since their respective independence from colonial masters, are a hybrid race spawned by Chinese settlers of the 1500s and local indigenous peoples and that until the last generation, only married within their own community!

That we have our own culture, language and traditional dress, was something I was oblivious to until I made the connection. Then I was rediscovering myself anew, for I had grown up only thinking myself a solid, ethnically Han Chinese person; my father in his eagerness to impress this upon me showed me the physical marks of a real Han person. He neglected to mention that one of his grandmothers was a Peranakan too, even though with my features, Chinese, Malays and Indians had queried me repeatedly from childhood about by my ethnicity; hence, how I arrived at the three eighths.

Facebook and friends.

As it so often happens, I receive friend requests from total strangers whose existence troubles me less than my menses until the little red “add friend” icon brings them to my attention. When that occurs, the question we all ask ourselves is, “Should I add this person?” After all, given that paedophiles are just as internet savvy as we are, if not more, seeing as they seek to escape detection from law enforcement officers, is it unreasonable to ask to see their blue “safe to work with children” card before you add them?

Having said that, I’m quite well aware that every man and his dog can see my posts here – the irony of it all. But adding a friend to facebook is like inviting someone into your home. Or is it not? I suppose it depends on how much information you put out there and who your existing facebook friends are.

For like forever, the only people I added were those known to me. Out of my 427 friends, the majority are friends from my last secondary school and university. Thanks to facebook, I’ve also found and been found by members of my very large extended family, childhood friends and various acquaintances. After five years of diligent logging in to spy on people and update my status, the greatest danger I’ve come across is assuming a closer relationship with people I hardly know – despite our weekly interaction and their liking my many posts – rather than a brush with your average axe murderer, which given the preponderance of lunatics out there, is fortunate for you and me.

Men at home on a working weekday.

I know this title is bound to get under the skin of some househusbands, or wives of househusbands. But trust me, it has nothing to with people of either gender staying home to cook, clean and care for their family all day. It is about husbands who ordinarily go to work between the hours of nine and five, from Monday to Friday, staying home.

They may be sick, or in need of a day off, or like mine, about to sit for the Fellowship exam of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons  for the fourth time, but the one thing they have in common is that they expect you to put your day on hold, just because they are around. If unwell, they’ll whine like they are the first persons in the history of the world to ever have a cough, cold or a mild temperature. Fair enough if they have cancer, but the average husband who chucks a sickie doesn’t have that.

Sometimes they just feel like staying home. I’m all for spending time on the couch and holding hands but when they want to do it from drop off until pick up from school? Sometimes they don’t even want to hold hands. They just want you to drop everything, and I mean everything, to hear them whine about life, their hairline, their waistline, their work, while you wonder who’s going to pick up the bread and milk and put the trash out. I get that they want to connect and communicate like I’m doing now, but can we do this after I’ve had a chance to at least use the toilet?

For my part, inspiration for this entry came about when His Royal Highness asked me to look at him while he was speaking. In other words, give him my undivided attention. Mind you, I had woken at the usual time of seven, walked our daughter to school and walked myself home in the drizzling rain, opened my laptop expecting to do some writing when his insistent voice came from our couch.

“What’s more important than your husband?” is his favourite phrase. He’s a Leo. This morning it was, “What’s three more days?”

Nothing, if you have been spending weekdays and weekends by your self for the last five years! “Just concentrate on your exams,” said I, hoping he’d leave me alone.

“Come over here and let’s talk.”

“Why don’t you just, just, just … ” What was a good phrase for asking your spouse to get lost without hurting his feelings? “Just try and centre yourself. Meditate.”

“Come over here.”

“Look, I don’t want to get into an argument with you before the exam. If you keep insisting, I am going to get cross and we will have one.” Perhaps I was edgy because I had heard from his colleagues that he is as good an operator as those who passed on the first go, and if not for being continually picked on for his less than impressive command of English, would have long passed.

“Fine. Wake me up at eleven. My exam is at twelve.”

And with that good people of the world, peace was restored in the palace. His Royal Highness had his nap and I managed to get some work done.