Those who knew me growing up may remember that I was cared for by my maid, Beth, for more than ten years. This essay was particularly difficult to write, because it forced me to dig into my memory, acknowledge certain truths, and reconcile the separation. I was very close to my maid and, more often than not, I try not to think about our past in order to move forward in the present. Interestingly, the process of writing this turned out to be rather therapeutic, and the final product is, in a way, a celebration of our relationship. Who knows, one day she might chance upon this and we can be reconnected again. Till then, here’s our story in Litro Magazine.
I’m excited to announce that my short story “Off Duty” will be included in The Epigram Books Collection of Best New Singaporean Short Stories Volume 2. The book will be launched at the 2015 Singapore Writers Festival in November, and I wish I could attend the reading and events, but, alas, I will be in Los Angeles. Nevertheless, I will be sending lots of positive energy and well wishes to the writers there, and for those interested, don’t forget to grab a copy when the book is out!
For more information on the writers festival, you can visit their official page here. The line up of events and visiting authors looks good so be sure to check it out!
In two day’s time, you will be graduating from infanthood to toddlerhood. Pardon me as I borrow from the mother of all cliches: how time flies! Yesterday, I tried to hug you while lounging on the couch, but it was impossible as you kicked and squirmed your way out of my grip. It was not too long ago when you were not able to roll, much less stand and walk, and you would spend long afternoons cuddled in my arms. Those were the days when your father and I would range from cooing over your every smile and laughter, to passing you back and forth like a football while we complained about our aching arms and backs when you couldn’t sleep at two in the morning (fun times!). I’m happy to announce that even though you still have the occasional case of insomnia, you have settled into a two-naps-and-10.30pm-bedtime routine, which is more than what we can ask for. No, actually, we also ask that you sleep though the night without any feeds, but hey, baby steps, baby steps.
Even though one year doesn’t sound very long, in those months, we’ve watched you flourish so much. Your ever growing curiosity about the world (the walk from the parking lot to the grocery store would have taken us an hour if we didn’t carry you), your increasing ability to exercise your
demands choices (why don’t you like avocado anymore?!), your smattering of new words (the latest one being DAY-DI! Close enough. Your father said he’ll take whatever he can get) were all milestones that shaped your character and personality, making you so unique and precious to us. You were an early walker, taking your first step at 9 months and then running at 11, always eager to explore the next blade of grass or overturn a stone. But even as you squeal and race off, you never fail to cast a backward glance at us, to make sure we are within view, that we are behind you.
Just the other day, we were in the kitchen where I was trying to feed you while you were trying your hardest to escape. After 20 minutes of tug-of-war, I released you from your highchair and you took off, but not before turning around, giving me a gentle wave, and then trooping to the living room. In that moment, I thought about how this was the start of the many goodbyes you will wave to me. Outside the classroom on your first day of school. At the airport when you embark on your first trip with your friends. At the front door of our house the day you decide to move out. And the thought made me a little weepy (on the inside) because I know that in twenty years’ time (hopefully not sooner!), my baby girl will be all grown up, and you will inevitably take off to where life takes you. But even as you run to seek and embrace your future, my hope is that you will always remember that standing behind you are your father and I, always looking on, always ready to open our arms whenever you need to run back to us.
As you turn one year old, our prayer is that you will always be happy and healthy, and may Jesus pour forth His abundant grace and favor into your life.
Lord, you alone are my inheritance, my cup of blessing. You guard all that is mine. -Psalm 16:5 (NLT)
So the bubs is 11 months old today. In one month she’ll be graduating to toddlerhood. A couple of days ago, the hubs and I dug out some old videos of Ariel when she was only a few months old and she looked so different. Still super cute, but different. Her hair was shorter, her movements were not as fluid, and she was still limited to mere coos and tiny beatings with her hand. Now, man, she can walk (pretty fast when she’s excited), talk (even though she is still limited to mama and baba, she can respond back in her baby language when we speak to her) and eat bits of our “adult” dinner. Recently, whenever she is up before me (the hubs would take her out from the crib) she would run to my side of the bed (she knows which one it is!) and yell into my ear. That’s my drill surgeon right there. Sometimes, she would let me have a little more sleep by waiting patiently in her crib until she hears me rustle and then she would spring up.
When Denise Stirk’s essay “The Most Powerful Thing You Can Say To Another Mom” went viral recently, as a new mom, my first instinct was to join almost a million other people to like and share it. After all, the article’s about how mothers can share each other’s pain and struggles simply because of the role we play. “You are a mom, you know.” It is heartwarming and moving, like a P&G commercial. What’s there not to like, right?
Well, I didn’t share the article. I didn’t appreciate how Stirk, in an effort to bond mothers, excluded everyone else in the equation. Sure, the article doesn’t say that directly, but by only emphasizing on the solidarity among mothers, it effectively sends out another underlying message: If you are not a mom, you don’t know.
That, to me, is the problem. Too often have I heard complaints about how this woman had changed after she had a kid, or how obsessed about parenting another friend had become (the same is often not said about fathers when they take on the paternal role with fervor—in fact, most of them would be praised for stepping up to their duty— which only goes to highlight the gender inequality). As offensive as these statements are, such sentiments are fueled when a mother writes an essay about the ability to understand the death of a child, the difficulty in finding a babysitter, the stress of traveling with an infant, just because she is a mom. I have friends and relatives who, despite being mothers, are insensitive, rude and unkind. One told me I was fat six months postpartum. She was a mother of three. She should know the difficulties of weight loss after pregnancy. Another told me I was lazy because I didn’t have time to make barley water for my baby. Women are not magically transformed into sensitive souls just because they bore a couple of kids. Likewise, friends who are childless both by choice and otherwise have demonstrated much love and kindness toward my baby and me when I was struggling through the initial stages of breastfeeding—something they obviously have no experience themselves.
So yes, revel in the joys of motherhood. No one is stopping you from doing that. But let us also not forget those who are not parents, because motherhood is hard. And without the support of not just mothers, but fathers who help with night feeds, grandparents who offer to babysit, friends who forgive your tardiness because your baby had a diaper explosion just before leaving the house, your neighbor who understands the late cries at three in the morning, and the gentleman who gives up his seat to your kid on the train, being a mom can be almost impossible. And most importantly, let us remember that being a mom does not automatically mean you can understand the struggles of another. Being kind, compassionate, sensitive, sympathetic and empathetic does that. And you don’t need to be a mother for that to happen. You just need to have a heart.