Older and better: growing into my own skin.

I recently celebrated a milestone birthday. How many candles did I blow out, you ask. Okay, I’ll give you a number. I might as well since many who know me personally read this blog and they already know. It seems only fair. Well, madam here turned 35. Now, you may let your jaw drop to the floor. It’s all right. I won’t be upset, I promise. Really, it’s fine.

I marked this birthday Gandhi-esque style – not chomping on lentils, but simply, without much fanfare; like most weekdays, I sent HRH off to work at 7.30 in the morning, then because I have Amanda with me for the next 2 weeks, had a lie in with her until midday. Then I took a nice long hot shower, dug out something new to wear, had Amanda change for the day and the both of us traipsed across the road for wanton noodle soup.

Perhaps dismayed by my ho-hum mode of celebration, Amanda kept asking, “Won’t you be getting a birthday cake? Don’t you want balloons and candles?

To please her, I said we’d get the cake from the French Patisserie on our side of the road, but no balloons or candles. “I’m no longer a child, Amanda,” I explained. “So I have no need for such things.”

“How about a present. I like presents on my birthday.”

Ah, to be a child again. When I was her age, I happily collected pieces of rubber from the caps of Coca Cola bottles. Then I went on to happily collect boyfriends, handbags, shoes, jewellery… all manner of rubbish really. Nowadays I’m in the business of consolidating and curating my belongings. 1 Husband, check. 1 Child, check.

I got rid of 15 pairs of shoes – quality ones too – to move from Brisbane to Perth this January. I decided they had served their purpose and were no longer necessary. I also gave away 1/4 of the contents of my wardrobe and brought less than 1/2 of what remained with me. And now having only worn 1/2 of the remaining 1/2 (you do the math) these past few months, I realise how much excess baggage I’d been hauling from house to house.

I did the same with my many relationships as well. Like my shoes and clothes, I took a good look at them and sorted the lot into 3 baskets: keep forever, keep for now, discard. I wasn’t despondent about the culling, merely cognisant that in quite a few cases, I’d reached the end of the line. There’s nothing you or I can do when that happens, except accept the facts as they are and move on.

Then again, I’m of the thinking that for every window that closes, a door must open somewhere. It’s just a matter of finding where that damn door is. I’m realistic about people and life, but also optimistic about the inherent potential of both.

Age also makes you see things differently; what was once so important, in countless instances, no longer is. Take for example my body. When I was in my late teens, I was preoccupied with having slender thighs. When I pinched them, all I saw was excess fat, skin and cellulite. Not exactly a pretty picture. But now, at age 35, I see them as these 2 marvellously fleshy pillars that take me from A to B, carry me through all sorts of wild adventures – dancing, chasing after Amanda down the road, childbirth. That they are wider than the width of a chopstick bothers me not.

I also don’t care if the young un’s call me Aunty. In fact, I insist they call me Aunty. How dare these cheeky buggers call me “Jie Jie” (big sister). Such insolence! I know it isn’t the norm for children here to address those older than themselves with honorific titles, but I get riled up all the same when Amanda’s friends call me by my name.

“It’s Aunty Estella,” I often correct them, sounding like butter won’t melt in my mouth.

Amanda’s bestie’s sister in Brisbane even does a wonderful impersonation of me, coming across all crusty and stern. It’s so true-to-life it had her mother worried I’d somehow moved into their house – she of the school of gentle parenting.

Anyway, the evening of my birthday, a dear old friend messaged me. She said, “Hope you can have a simple celebration as I don’t think you (need) anything in life…

And of course she was right. I had a simple celebration for the precise reason that I lack nothing. Even though not particularly religious, I replied, “I thank God I have family and friends, reasonable health and wealth and the mental acuity to recognise this.”

Many people have a lot more but have to be twice my age before they see this. I think the greatest gift I’ve received this birthday is not something that came gift-wraped, but hard-won wisdom to appreciate what I already do have. For that I am amply grateful.


His Royal Highness’ 40th birthday celebration.

His Royal Highness turned 40 yesterday and to herald his transition into middle-age, we hosted a noon-time poolside gathering for his former study partners and their families. So as to ingratiate my way into a nomination to the Hall of Good Spouses, I did all the cooking while His Royal Highness, being the birthday boy, put his legs up.

Using my mother’s frozen sambal, I prepared Nasi Lemak, the de facto national dish of Malaysia for our meat-eating  guests and Vegetarian Noodles for the herbivores amongst us. To ensure that none went home hungry, I also fried some soy crackers and baked a whole Atlantic Salmon, weighing a whopping 4.2kg, which I slathered in Nyonya sauce.

A picture of the Atlantic Salmon I baked for HRH's 40th birthday.

This bad boy has to be seen to be believed. Weighing in at 4.2kg, we had difficulty carting him home, then stuffing him into our fridge. Whilst trying to put him into the oven, I even burnt my left hand as I accidentally brushed against a hot rack.

A picture of guests at HRH's birthday gathering.

Alicia with her baby, Tania and Bella.

A picture of me and Tania and the spread we had for HRH's 40th birthday.

A picture of me and Tania and the spread we had for HRH’s 40th birthday.

A picture of me and HRH on his 40th birthday.

Me and the birthday boy.

A picture of the food I prepared for HRH's 40th birthday.

A picture of the food I prepared for HRH’s 40th birthday.

Janaki, Mehan’s wife, kindly made His Royal Highness’ birthday cake – his favourite carrot cake with cream cheese frosting – while Tania, who you hear me refer to all the time, brought us two bottles of sparkling Moscato that tasted like champagne. I enjoyed both their offerings so much that I had two slices of cake with 4 glasses of wine. The old boy took no notice of my over-indulgence as he caught up with his mates in the sun. As you can see from the photos, everyone had a pretty good time. Later, after everyone had left, I went to have a well-deserved lie down.

A picture of Janaki, HRH and Maya with the birthday cake Janaki made.

A picture of Janaki, HRH and Maya with the birthday cake Janaki made. Looking on were Geoff’s kids.

A picture of HRH and his study partners.

A picture of HRH and his study partners Geoff, Ken and Mehan.

A picture of all the kids present at HRH's 40th birthday.

Naturally, there were kids. A picture of all the kids present at HRH’s 40th birthday.