Mothers Make It Work: Leaving On A Jet Plane

(Editor’s Note: Owls Well is proud to welcome Cat K as a guest contributor on the Mothers Make It Work blog train! Cat K and I went to school together, and I have always admired her grit and determination, as well as her selflessness towards the people she loves. Cat K is a happy-go-lucky pharmacist who currently lives in Melbourne with her family. Apart from raising her two tween-aged kids and managing territorial disputes between her pet rabbits and cats, she also finds the time for baking delicious cakes. In her post she’ll be talking about the dhifficulties that she faced as a young mum in relocating to another country with young children and in-laws in tow. We are so happy that she agreed to share her story with us! – Debs G)

Hello Owls Well Readers,

Everyone has their own reasons for emigrating. There are many reasons why people choose to leave the safe and efficient country of Singapore.

As young mother with a young family, it seemed ludicrous to others that I would leave the comfort of the “village” (i.e. adoring family members who help to look after the little ones), as well as a successful career as a senior clinical pharmacist in one of Singapore’s largest hospitals. My reason was simple – to ensure that my family stayed together. My husband was already living in Melbourne studying to become an academic and I was determined that the family should be there with him.

Melbourne boasted wide open spaces, a tolerant society, a bustling cultural scene and a wonderful temperate climate but Singapore was where my family and friends were and where my career was. I was torn between the two and it was with much trepidation that I left for Australia.

The questions of whether I could find work, whether the children could fit in and whether they could enter good schools were high on my worry list. More pressing was the fact that children had not seen their father for months. They were disinterested in the daily Skype sessions and the time difference between Singapore and Melbourne did not help matters at all.

Bringing the family back together was my top priority and I knew that as long as we were together, everything would work out.

I often thought of my own paternal grandmother who left Hainan Island and her family behind to follow her heart and be with her love, my grandfather, in Singapore. I liked to think that I was following in her footsteps.

The time that it took to prepare for our move measured a full year and we all had to work together to make it happen.

My husband had to travel around Melbourne to look for a place to settle the family. We had numerous Skype sessions and emails to finalise the location of our new family home. In the meantime, I had to study and pass a qualification exam by the Australian Pharmacy Council in order to apply for permanent residency.

During this one year, I learnt to sleep early when the children went to bed at 9pm and wake up at 3 am to study for the exam. I quickly realised that it was so much easier to complete tasks – study, housework and exercise – in the morning when the children were asleep. I was fortunate to be living with my in-laws, as they helped with cooking and looked after my children during the day while I was at work.

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I still get stuff done early in the morning now…but not all at once anymore

As I had to work on Sundays at the pharmacy once or twice a month, my mother-in-law advised me to stay with my parents on Saturday nights, and take a taxi home on Sundays. This would give my children precious time to bond with my parents and provide some respite for my in-laws. I also worked a half-day on Saturdays, so after the end of my shift, I would run home from work, pack the overnight bag for the children and then get a lift from my father-in-law to my parents’ place.

Life was a blur. I was working full-time, studying for the Australian Pharmacy Council exam, raising two toddlers and keeping house for my family. I managed to squeeze in time to shower my children twice daily and spend time reading with my son. When I took on the responsibility of supervising an intern pharmacist, I had to make time to vet her presentations and project work as well.

At my worst point, I was sleeping only three hours daily for two months in order to juggle work, study, and family. I had lost a great deal of weight as I was just too stressed and busy to eat. When I had to take leave from work to bring my infant daughter for her vaccinations, or attend my son’s parent-teacher meetings at his childcare centre, I often told my colleagues at work that I was living like a single parent.

It was a logistical nightmare trying to plan and pack for everyone according to the baggage restrictions. I had to ensure that my 18-month old daughter had adequate supplies of milk powder and diapers to give me time to find the Australian equivalent of Similac and Mamy Poko. I remember squeezing three body pillows with our clothes into one suitcase! The last step was to arrange for a moving company to ship all our precious books over.

Finally, we left Singapore.

When the plane landed in Melbourne after a 7-hour flight, a wave of relief washed over me. I had been up and about for most of the flight walking my fussy toddler to sleep and was completely exhausted, but I was looking forward to finally getting to see my husband. It was great having the family together again.

Although my in-laws were glad to see my husband again, they were shocked and upset when they saw our new home. Their old apartment was situated across the road from a large shopping mall with all its conveniences, and this new suburban place seemed too quiet and remote in comparison. My husband and I had been so focused on making sure that the transition for our children was as smooth as possible, that we had overlooked how his aged parents would manage. I realised that adjusting to this new environment was going to take a lot of time for everyone.

I planned to take two weeks to look around where we were and figure out how things worked in Melbourne, but I completely underestimated how long it would take for everyone to settle in. There were a lot of new things to get used to!

Going from a tropical climate to a temperate climate took some adjustment. Bath time routines were initially incredibly stressful for me, as I worried about finding the same skincare products as we had in Singapore and whether children would fall ill from the cold autumn air. Fortunately for me, their skin loved the dry climate and improved with each passing day. In the end, my children adapted well to the cold weather – they just loved it.

Living in a wooden frame bungalow made of plasterboards was a new experience too. Like most Singaporeans, I had lived all my life in a high-rise apartment and was used to hearing noises from our neighbours, but now, I had to make myself investigate every single sound. Every creak and scratch could be a burglar making rounds, or a mouse – or worse – creeping around the house. Even cleaning the house presented a challenge. The bathroom floor did not have a drain hole so I could not wash the bathroom floor in the way I was used to. The bedroom floors in the rental house were carpeted -something I really hated – and made cleaning horrible, especially with toilet-training children.

After being trained as a clinical pharmacist in major hospitals in Singapore for 7 years, I was not going to let my pharmacy training go to waste. After I passed my Australian Pharmacy Council exam – I got the results the day after we landed in Melbourne – I immediately started to look for an internship position. My lucky stars must have been shining on me as a close friend introduced her preceptor to me and I got the internship spot! It was a good start on my way to obtaining an Australian Pharmacist license.

I had been a senior position in Singapore for five years before going to Australia, and had been in charge of not only the wards and services, but was also responsible for training pharmacy students. Now, I had to start from scratch as a retail pharmacist, which required a change of mindset. Retail pharmacy was so different, and I had never had to work a cash register before! It was a humbling experience, but seeing my husband and my children playing together in the living room made it all worthwhile.

One of the joys of living in Australia was finally having my own oven. Having an oven is so expensive in Singapore especially with the high electricity tariffs. I was so happy to make my son’s birthday cake a few days after we arrived in Melbourne. Finally, we were able to celebrate his birthday together as a complete family.

Going to the shops, I was aghast at how expensive things were in Australia. A box of Kleenex 100’s was AUD$3! Gosh, that was daylight robbery! (Fortunately, the price of tissues has dropped since then.) At the checkout, customers were the ones who handled the EFTPOS or NETS machines and bagged groceries. Self-service, indeed. We could not flag down taxis in the suburbs, we had to book them in advance. The level of convenience of public transport was not the same; buses and trains followed a strict and infrequent timetable.

Thankfully, cars were five times cheaper than in Singapore and parking was free in the suburbs, if you parked for the allotted number of hours. I had a driver’s licence but had not driven much in Singapore but I had to learn to drive a large MPV around on unfamiliar Australian roads. It was nerve-wrecking trying to park the car! I soon found that driving in Melbourne was easy with its wide roads and friendly driving culture, although the traffic in the city centre can be as bad as traffic in Singapore.

Within a month of arriving, we had to settle the children’s childcare arrangements, and enrol my son into school. It was another stressful period looking for a suitable school. Fortunately, he got into the school of our choice or we might have had to move house again.

Putting the children in childcare was an opportunity for us to make friends. This was where I found another Singaporean mother whose child was good friends with my son. It was comforting to find someone who could teach me tips on living in Australia. We would arrange playdates and the children would play together. We soon became close family friends.

It has been eight long years since I moved to Australia with my little pigeon pair (that is a boy and a girl in Aussie speak!) and we are all very well-settled in our new home!

So, Owls Well Readers, here are my:

Top 10 tips for a smooth transition to a new country

  1. Own your home

It would be hard to purchase or build a home the moment you move over, unless you have family living in that region who can help inspect properties for you. The logical way is to rent for short term whilst looking for a good home, a nice neighbourhood, and a good school for your children.

Having a safe and secure home is really important whilst having a young family. Renting may work for some but having the Sword of Eviction constantly hanging over one’s head can be stressful for the long term. Children need a nice environment to live in, and living out of boxes can take a psychological toll on them.

The best part of having one’s own home is pet ownership. Many rental properties do not allow pets. I have found that children grow up well with pets as it helps teach them responsibility and empathy. We started out by keeping fish, then rabbits, and now we also have cats.

  1. Asian grocery shops are the BEST

I am lucky to have a husband who is an excellent cook, but he would be nothing without the local Asian grocery shop! This treasure trove will provide you with everything – for a price – that will ease the homesickness.

The suburb that we live in has numerous Asian groceries, and using good recipes from the internet always helped to satisfy our cravings for a taste of Singapore. Of course, there are some things that will never be the same (I’m looking at you, frozen durian).

  1. Keep an open mind, and always make friends with your neighbours

It took us some time, but we have gotten to know our neighbours and are now close friends. Keeping good relations with the next door neighbour is absolutely important. If something happens at home, your neighbour would be the best person to help you.

  1. Integrate yourself into the new community

Isolation is a poison that eats you up from the inside. You are already in a new environment, why not go out and learn about where you live? When I first got to Melbourne, I would strike up conversations with other passengers around me when I was on the train. It is a good way of making friends.

Working helps you to interact with the community and enhances your understanding of the country that you live in. Even if you cannot find a job, volunteering within the community would also let you find your new role and purpose.

  1. Internet and social media are essential

When one is living overseas, homesickness is always there. Needless to say, getting a good data plan is essential. Unlike Singapore, most other countries will have numerous internet providers, and you can explore local forums to find out more about the companies and which one offers the best deals.

Social media allow you to keep in contact with family and friends, and the amazing world of the internet will provide you with good recipes to recreate the food from back home. Even now, I call my family almost daily, and it’s good hearing their voices and knowing how they were doing.

  1. Always check the weather

In Singapore, the weather patterns are predictable all year round, but living in a lovely temperate climate (like Melbourne) generally means that the weather can be temperamental.

Always check the weather before you go out because it can be cold one day and hot the other. You certainly don’t want to be shivering in a short-sleeved top when the temperature drops to the top of 160C, when it was the top of 250C the day before.

  1. Always seek help – you are never alone

Australia, just like many other countries, is all about helping people in need. Even if you do not use the internet, there are people at community centres, city councils, and migration hubs that can provide you with in-depth knowledge of the suburb that you are living in. They can even provide you with reviews of the various childcares in the local area.

  1. Look for schools early – and adjust your expectations accordingly

If you thought Singaporeans were “kiasu” about schooling, the people in Melbourne are worse – and you’ll find the same attitude in most countries outside Singapore. Everyone wants the best for their children. Due to the great teacher to student ratios in Australia (20 to 26 students to one teacher and a helper), the student populations in Australian schools are low, with each level only holding up to 200 students. Hence competition for schools can be fierce. In Melbourne, it would be wise to register for private school as soon as your child turns two.

In suburbs with popular private schools, the waiting list can be miles long and enrolment into any school is based on the time the child is registered. Otherwise, if you want your child to go to a good public school, then remember that home location is key and you will have to be prepared to pay top dollar for a small unit.

  1. Find a good GP (or pharmacist!) and ask them for advice

Common health ailments and medical care differs from country to country. Even the trade names of over-the-counter medications are different. Your local primary healthcare providers are a great resource and would have good local knowledge as well. If you have any issues with a strange new rash, or if you are worried (like we are in Australia) about a spider bite, ask a trusted healthcare professional – don’t try and treat it on your own.

Oh, and don’t forget to get to know your local pharmacist who can give you advice on over-the-counter treatments or help you with your prescriptions!

  1. Get your driver’s licence

The Singaporean driving licence is very well recognised by many international boards, and can be converted directly to a local licence without a need to take additional tests. In many large countries, driving is the way of life – and it certainly is in Australia. Road trips are essential to getting to know the land that you are in.

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Exploring the countryside with my hubby and kids

Every weekend since we arrived in Australia, we have taken the opportunity to travel and explore this big country. It has been great visiting all the famous landmarks in Melbourne. Travelling has helped us to broaden our horizons and increased our love for Australia.

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Moving to a different country made me realise the essentials of living: Having a roof over our heads, clean clothes on our backs, food in our bellies, school, employment, and friends.

If you have all of this, you can survive anywhere.

by Cat K

This post is part of the “Mothers Make it Work!” Blog Train hosted by Owls Well. To read other inspiring stories, please click on the picture below.Mothers Make It Work ButtonIf you would like to travel to the previous stops on this Blog Train and read more interesting stories, you can check out Dorothea’s amazing Work-At-Home-Mum journey over at A Pancake Princess.

19179345_10158786845860585_1318408897_oDorothea is mum to two feisty and exuberant boys and spends most days playing in their pretend dinosaur world, dabbling in paints and bringing them on adventures. Of course, there’s also the never-ending breaking up of fights, meal time wars and messy rooms to deal with every day. She shares her parenting journey and faith lessons at A Pancake Princess.

IMG_20170629_143144Next week on the “Mothers Make It Work!” blog train, we’ll be heading over to visit Lyn Lee at Lil Blue Bottle. Lyn is a mother of two girls who has a full-time office job, and a lot of support from her village. She is one of the most thoughtful and generous people you could ever hope to meet, and I am privileged to call her a friend.

Permission to Grieve (Part 2)

Grief is a strange thing, because the idea of loss encompasses so many different things, including the loss of an abstract concept.

I know that an acute grief reaction can occur in women who are expecting to have a well baby, but instead have been told their child has a birth defect – the grief over the diagnosis is just as real as their grief over the well child that existed only in their imagination. In some cases, the pain can even feel as visceral and as violent as if the well child has been murdered.

I once met a lovely and vivacious girl from Australia at a friend’s wedding. The both of us didn’t know anyone else there other than the bride (who was of course busy making her rounds of all her guests), so we just ended up chatting to each other most of the evening. She told me about how she’d worked as a lawyer to please her family, saving up all her earnings in order to pay her way through achieving her dream of becoming a veterinarian. At the time, she was finishing up her final year of veterinary training in Australia. We traded stories about our clinical work. Towards the end of the evening, we got up and danced with the bride and groom, giggling and laughing like old friends. I had to leave the party early, but not before promising that I would drop her a line if I ever headed out to the land of Oz.

It was almost two years later that we were planning a trip to Australia, I remembered my promise and I contacted my good friend (the bride who’d invited us both to the wedding) to ask for her help in connecting the two of us via email.

My friend was completely flabbergasted that I didn’t know what had happened to that beautiful girl. She’d died a few months after the wedding, in a horrific car accident.

I couldn’t believe it. Dead? No way. But it was true. It happened when she was bringing her family back to the Perth airport, after they’d attended her graduation from veterinary school. Her family members all survived with a few injuries, but she was killed instantly.

In telling me the story, my poor dear friend had to relive the devastation and despair that she felt upon receiving the news of the death of her best friend and had been asked to give a eulogy at her funeral. The accident was so terrible and so tragic that it had even been reported in our local newspapers – I’d completely missed it because I’d been pregnant with Little E at the time and had turned into a hermit crab for nine months.

For the rest of that day, I felt utterly miserable but I didn’t quite think that I had a right to feel so upset. So I pushed the feelings away and just tried to carry on with the rest of my day. After the kids were in bed, the Barn Owl asked me why I seemed to be moping around the house, and I just burst into tears.

Debs G: There was a terrible accident and she died!

Barn Owl: That’s bad. Was she your friend from school?

Debs G: No. I didn’t know her at all.

Barn Owl: I don’t understand.

Debs G: I don’t either! I never knew her, and I’m sad about it! And now she is dead and my friend was very sad about it, and I wasn’t there for her! I’m sad about that too!

Finding out about the death of someone you know, even someone you’ve only known very briefly, is always a shock, and it’s important to remember that the right to grieve does not need to be earned. If you feel bereft because death has stolen someone from you, that in itself gives you the right to grieve.

Although I had only known this girl for the space of a few hours, she still left a lasting impression, and that is worth something to me. I’ll always regret not following up on our meeting sooner.

(Guest Post) Mothers Make It Work: Advice from a Part Time Working Mama

(Editor’s Note: Owls Well is proud to welcome Twinklystarz as our first guest contributor! A Becky C and I grew up with Twinklystarz and she has always been a very organised and hardworking person who seemed to have her life in order at all times. As of now, Twinklystarz is an expert tightrope walker, balancing work life in one hand and home life in the other. She has two boys – her hubby and 3 year old son – who bring her much joy. We are so excited that she agreed to write this post for us, so that we can have a peek into the world of a Part-Time Working Mama! – Debs G)

Hello Owls Well Readers,

I am a 3-year-old Mama.

Yes, it has taken me THAT amount of time to find some semblance of a work-life-kid equilibrium.

Quite often, that delicate balance is less than perfect, and Mommy Guilt gets to me almost every other day. That being said, I thank God every day for many bountiful blessings: the opportunities to spend one-on-one time with my 3-year-old during the work week, a job that keeps me sufficiently challenged – mostly mentally – and above all, The Village (more on this later) that supports me and keeps our little household of three happy, well-fed and thriving.

My Journey to becoming a Part-Time Working Mama
My mum was a Stay At Home Mama to my brother and I, so naturally, I intended to be the same.

Growing up, I liked having someone to come home to and I wanted to be that someone when it was my turn to have a family. I even planned my first career around this, accounting for some flexibility to stay at home but still earn an steady income.

But, Life (God, rather) threw several curveballs at me, around the time The Hubs and I were planning to get married. In the end, I left my supposedly-flexible job for an office job with fixed hours, and we bought our new home at a time when housing prices in Singapore were sky high.

When S was born, I stayed at home for a year. During this time, our finances were starting to become uncomfortably tight, especially since we were repaying our housing loan. I was also gradually turning into a recluse and I was getting very bored of being trapped at home with a non-communicative baby. I struggled significantly at this stage with mommy guilt, believing that I wasn’t making good use of the time God had given me, whilst also wishing that I had the financial luxury to stay at home for the long-term.

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The Hubs and I with S at one year old

On hindsight, if I persevered beyond the early toddler stage, it probably would have gotten quite interesting and challenging. Who knows?

When I first went back to the office, turning over care of S to my parents, I relished learning new material at work and was very happy being busy again in a nine-to-five setting.

However, I was overwhelmed with mommy guilt and my poor parents probably received anxiety-ridden Whatsapp messages every half hour! This mommy guilt never really faded even after a full year.

A little over half a year ago, The Hubs got a new job which came with a sizeable pay increase, so I took the opportunity to negotiate a part-time contract with my company.

And this is where I’ve been since then, working three-and-two-thirds days a week at the office, which leaves me a full day during the working week to spend with little S.

This precious mid-week day off has been great in giving S and I that special one-on-one time to get to know each other better, especially as my toddler transitions to the preschool stage (and is now a lot more communicative).

This journey to find the right work-life balance for me has been long in coming, and I hope you will find the following tips useful in finding your centre of gravity in this crazy mama life:

1) Know yourself

My year as a Stay At Home Mama taught me a lot about some qualities a mom should have in order to remain sane in the house. I decided to take on the role without much forethought, but realised that to make full use of the time at home with a little one, a substantial amount of planning is required.

As the little one grows and begins to explore, meaningful learning activities need to be thought out and planned in advance. Unfortunately, while I can organise big events like parties, I couldn’t seem get together small little details in a fixed daily schedule. Babies and toddlers do benefit from some routine and structure, and that doesn’t work for me – I like to go with the flow. It took me the whole year to admit to myself that unlike my mom, I wasn’t cut out for the Stay At Home Mama life.

2) Don’t sweat the small stuff at home

When you have to outsource your care-giving, you can’t sweat the small stuff – after all, The Village is doing the work of parenting on your behalf! I have learnt to gratefully let go of the controls, and trust the judgment of my son’s caregivers.

Learning to let go has helped me in many ways, especially when my son transitioned to preschool and I have to put my trust my son’s teachers daily. Communication is key to building trust between caregivers – my parents, The Hubs and I have a very active Whatsapp chat group where we decide together what to do with S on a day-to-day basis. Starting this chat group helped keep me calm and reassured when I first went back to work.

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S with his security blanket, heading off to preschool

3) Also, don’t sweat the small stuff at work

Unfortunately, the current mentality of Singaporean employers is that part-time work is a privilege, not a right. While this is a topic for another day, I’m very thankful (eternally grateful, to be exact) that the bosses at my workplace are supportive and understanding, even though The Village can support me working full-time.

In my case, this also means understanding work exigencies and being willing to step up on occasion, regardless of the extra hours. I often work from home on my off-days, or stay back later than expected when work is urgent. I think my bosses appreciate my commitment to the job and this has probably helped me to convince them to let me work part-time for a longer period.

4) Grandparents are Gold 

I am also immensely thankful for The Village.

Having a ‘childcare centre’ at the Grandparents’ place has facilitated my part-time work arrangements, especially when I need to swop my off days due to urgent work demands. My colleagues often remind me that others rarely have such flexibility luxury. So, it’s difficult to express the full depth of gratitude that I have for my parents who are sacrificing their golden retirement years in order to care for little S.

Our Village also includes the Grandparents Set 2 (my in-laws), who give us a lift home every weeknight and keep us well-fed and healthy with hot, delicious meals all through the weekend – sometimes even right to our doorstep.

The greatest blessing of all with Village Care is to see the joy on the grandparents’ faces when they spend an extended amount of time with their grandchildren.

5) Above all, wait for God’s timing

It can take a long time to find out what works best for you and your family. Many times, I wanted to take things into my own hands whenever I was at my emotional limit. Like decide not to return to work. At all. Ever. Or request to go part-time much earlier than I eventually did.

In the end, God always intervened at exactly the right time – for example, when my boss offered me a new role to part-time on a long-term basis just when I was worried my temporary part-time arrangement would not continue. God has also blessed me with unexpected promotions so that although I started working part-time, the overall income flow would remain steady. I learnt we could always trust God to provide, in His perfect timing.

Oh, one last thing:

Fathers are important partners in your motherhood journey. The Hubs is the rock of our family and keeps me steady with practical advice and wise words.

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The Hubs with S at the Singapore Art Museum

To The Hubs and all the dads out there, here’s wishing you a HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!

by Twinklystarz

This post is part of the “Mothers Make it Work!” Blog Train hosted by Owls Well. To read other inspiring stories, please click on the picture below.

Mothers Make It Work Button

candice

If you would like to travel to the previous stops on this Blog Train and read more interesting stories, you can check out Candice’s thoughtfully written post over at MissusTay.com.

A part-time-working-mum to two preschoolers, Candice shares about parenting, activities with kids, marriage and travel in her journal at MissusTay.com.

Next week on the “Mothers Make It Work!” blog train, we’ll be heading over to A Pancake Princess to hear from Dorothea.

19179345_10158786845860585_1318408897_oDorothea is mum to two feisty and exuberant boys and spends most days playing in their pretend dinosaur world, dabbling in paints and bringing them on adventures. Of course, there’s also the never-ending breaking up of fights, meal time wars and messy rooms to deal with every day. She shares her parenting journey and faith lessons at A Pancake Princess.

Permission to Grieve (Part 1)

When I was in my first year at University, I met an interesting girl.  Now, this girl was cool.  And I mean cool.  She had an interesting life.  She’d done all these things and seen all these things that I wished I had done and seen.  She was talented – a fantastic artist, singer and dancer.  And I wanted ever so much to be just like her.

We became friends.  And for that first year of University, life was a whirlwind of me trying to impress her with how cool I had become/was becoming.  I did and said a lot of things that I regret now, and did and said more things that I will never regret.

We used to do crazy stuff together – on the weekends, we’d go to Chatswood and busk outside the St George bank.  Not because we were poor or anything, but because it was fun.  And I had a LOT of fun when I was hanging out with her.  With her, I did a lot of things that I wouldn’t normally have done.

She taught me how to live.  She taught me that if I wanted to do something, that I should go out and do it instead of waiting and fretting until the opportunity passed.

But…

She wasn’t a good friend to me.  Things were said (I only regret some of them).  We had a huge fight (it was horrible) and after that, we stopped being friends.

I’ll admit that I wasn’t the nicest to her after the fight either – I was free to others with my reasons for the friend break-up, as it were, and added a lot to the drama surrounding her life.

So, I didn’t speak to her or see her again for almost 13 years.

Last week, I heard that she’d died.  A car accident.  It was very sudden.

I went to her Facebook memorial and there was a great outpouring of grief.  People left well wishes.  And it seemed that from the time we stopped being friends and the time she died, she’d become a completely different person.

A much better person.

Thing is, though, I wasn’t sure how to feel about the whole situation.  Her death made me feel my mortality, but that was really about it.  I didn’t have many good memories of our time together and what memories I did have were tainted by the messy end of our friendship.

Sometimes, however, we need to give ourselves permission to grieve, even if it’s over someone we didn’t know well, or whom we didn’t get along with.  They were still part of our lives.

Whether she’d changed or not, though, her death is still sad.  Still sudden and unexpected.  She had a lot of life in her and though she wasn’t my good friend, she had been a good friend to many others.

Her loss will be mourned and it is a tragic waste that she was taken so young.

So, I cried a little, and then I was ready to face the next day.

Mothers Make It Work: We’re Owl in it Together (Part 1)

When I was born, the Aged Ps had been married for a few years, and my dad worked very long hours and was often sent out of the country for weeks at a time. So, when I was very small, my mum’s biggest challenge was to manage the household by herself and care for a small (and loud) child at the same time.

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The Aged P with Debs G (4 months old): Mealtime is playtime

In order to keep the house clean and tidy, mum would make the best of baby morning and afternoon naptimes to mop the floors, wipe down the surfaces and do the laundry. She felt that it was most important to keep the floor and beds clean and tidy, as these were the places that would be most in contact with the baby.

As I grew older and more mobile, she bought a soft rug for me to play on, and trained me to stay on that rug during playtime so that she could complete her daily chores without worrying if I would be up to mischief.

If my dad was travelling, she would make sure that we were home every evening at the same time, as my dad would ring the house at 6pm without fail to talk to us. This was a very important daily ritual for the whole family, and even now, when my dad travels for work or if mum travels to visit my sister, they will FaceTime or Skype with each other at least once a day.

I will always appreciate the lengths that my mum went through to make sure that I acknowledged and remembered my dad, and understood where he was. She would bring out his photograph and point to it. She would point to the map and teach me to say the names of the places where he was working. She would make up songs about how much we loved each other. So, although he wasn’t physically present, I knew how important he was and our relationship was never diluted.

Although mum really loves to cook, going to the market daily with an infant in tow was pretty tiring for her, so she would only purchase enough to make breakfast and dinner every day. Additionally, as a child, I would always be full of beans in the morning, so she wouldn’t really be able to take the time out to prepare her own lunch if she wanted to spend that time meaningfully with me.

So, for lunch, mum first tried a local ‘tingkat’ or food delivery service, but soon tired of the repetitive menu. In the end, she made an agreement with one of our neighbours who had a large family and would set aside a portion of food for her. (Although the neighbour would often reserve the worst parts of whatever she happened to be cooking for my mum to eat – bony pieces like the chicken neck and the ends of vegetables – it at least saved her the trouble of meal planning and cooking!)

Mum often volunteered as the church organist and she sang in the church choir, so she would bring me along with her to attend rehearsals during the week. As an infant, I slept quietly in my moses basket during these times, and as I grew, I learned to sing along with her.

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Breakfast before play school (Debs G at 2 years old)

The year that I turned 2 years old, one of mum’s friends persuaded her to send me to playschool.

Although she felt that I was too tiny for schooling, it was around this time that my elderly maternal grandfather started to require regular medical checkups. As the only daughter who didn’t hold a paying full-time job, it was left to her to accompany my maternal grandfather to his various appointments. Sending me to playschool would allow her a few hours in the morning with which to manage this.

However, one day, the medical appointment ran overly long and she was late in picking me up from playschool. By the time she arrived, she found to her utmost horror that all the teachers and the school principal had gone home, leaving me alone outside the darkened building with nobody but the school caretaker to watch over me.

You can imagine how traumatised we both were from that experience.

From that day onwards, as soon as we drove past the trees leading up the driveway to the playschool, mum said that I would start crying uncontrollably. She arranged to send me to a different school and I seemed perfectly happy with that – but she was much more careful to pick me up on time. This of course meant that she had to do much more shuttling back and forth if the medical appointments ran long, as she would pick me up from school and then drop me off at my maternal grandmother’s house, then return to the hospital to accompany my grandfather.

In Mobile, Alabama (Debs G at 3 years old): Before a ballet recital

Midway through my third year, my dad was posted to the US for further studies. He couldn’t bear to leave his family behind, so we all moved with him to a small town of Mobile in Alabama, which was near the university where my dad was studying sports medicine.

We were the only chinese family there in the Deep South of America.

It could have been dreadfully lonely, but my parents saw this as a great adventure.

The community in that small town was very welcoming, and they were very respectful of my parents, who were not only english-speaking, but polite and well-educated. It took my parents a while to understand the sleepy southern drawl but eventually they got used to it.

Instead of shyly keeping to herself, like most people would in a new environment, Mum made an concerted effort to be actively became involved in the community, bringing me to the local play school and dance studio and taking part in town events. She joined a quilting class and a cake decorating class in the mornings when I was at play school. Some afternoons, if my dad was at class, she would meet with the other housewives in the backyard of the rental complex where we lived. They would sit on the grass and chat whilst the kids played together.

She was always smiling and gracious to everyone. She would exchange recipes with her neighbours and very often, people would come round to our house carrying an empty bowl to enjoy some authentic chinese cooking or bring some delicious meals to share. At the first neighbourhood potluck party, all of our neighbours had never seen or eaten chinese food before, and the whole dish of stir-fried vegetables and fried beehoon noodles disappeared in a blink of an eye. Our neighbour was so impressed with the delicate pieces of thinly sliced meat amongst the crunchy julienned vegetables that he remarked that my mum “can take one piece of meat and feed an army”!

Until now, Mum still keeps in touch with her friends from Alabama – in fact our neighbour’s grandson has recently come to Singapore to work!

Of course, it was the constant travelling and their commitment to their elderly parents that probably made the Aged Ps decide put off having a second child until I was five years old and much more independent…but that’s a story for another post.

P.S. Happy Birthday Mummy!

This post is part of the ‘Mothers Make It Work!’ Blog Train hosted by Owls Well. To read other inspiring stories please click on the picture below.

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If you would like to travel to the previous stops on this Blog Train and read more interesting birth stories, you can start with this very thoughtfully written one here, penned by Angie over at Life’s Tiny Miracles.

18261241_120300003540885353_2103005318_o-768x512 Angie is the Mommy behind the Life’s Tiny Miracles blog. The journey to Motherhood has been a bittersweet experience for her. As a mom of 5 kids (3 in Heaven), Angie embraces every bit of this season: the tears, the insanity, the sacrifices and the joy that comes from knowing she’s loved as a wife, a friend, a daughter and a Mom. In her post, she talks about the importance of a strong and supportive community in a mother’s journey.

18518925_10155077378855202_1525611593_oAt next week’s stop we will be visiting Michelle over at Mummy Wee.

Michelle is a mum to 6 kids and now that she has packed her last child off to school, she has time to channel her energies to her 7th baby, an enrichment centre she feels passionately about. I for one am very excited to read about how she manages all her kids – from her preschooler to her teenaged daughters – whilst working full-time at The Little Executive!

Queen of Konmari Challenge Stage 3: Papers

Okay, I admit that I was really dreading this stage of the Konmari process, for the following reasons:

  1. I would have to open up and empty out all the cupboards and drawers in the study room.
  2. It just seemed like sorting through years of papers would just be interminable.

In actual fact, it was not as bad as I expected, although I did get very familiar feeling of self-loathing after the first hour of gathering all the papers in one place. This feeling very quickly dissipated once I shut the spare room door on the whole mountain of mess.

In all, it only took me a total of six tidying sessions (each an hour long) to finish this part of the Konmari challenge and it was all relatively painless.

I found clearing the papers very manageable for the following reasons:

  1. 30% of the papers I’d accumulated consisted of junk mail, warranties for items I no longer own, letters contained outdated information, magazines and research journals = all junk = could be recycled straightaway without any sort of emotional turmoil
  2. 50% of the papers consisted of sentimental items or craft/decorative items = different Konmari category and could be saved in cardboard boxes for later. Hooray for procrastination!

In actual fact, I only really needed to properly sort through about 20% of the mountain of papers that I accumulated!

Yay!

Following Konmari’s instructions to the letter (pun intended), I did make an effort to open up every single envelope, and unfold each slip of paper one by one, instead of just throwing things away as a stack.

I’m so glad that I did this because I found:

  1. My husband’s Kindle which he thought he lost at work years ago – it was tucked between the pages of an old medical journal which was sandwiched between some old revision notes.
  2. $60 in cash monies! Yay! Who doesn’t love finding money?! These were crumpled up notes and stuffed into random envelopes, and completely wrapped up in receipts.
  3. A Lip Smacker lip balm, still in pristine condition within it’s original packaging. Somehow it found itself inside an accordion file with a bunch of old household bills. I opened it up and it smelled so good. I am now using it every day so that I can smell exactly like a strawberry banana.

Of the 10% of papers that I had left, I kept the following:

  1. Personal documents for each family member (mostly certificates) – filed into separate pocket folders with one for each family member
  2. Family documents like bank account details, mortgage and leases, medical and insurance information and other legal documents – filed into one large pocket folder
  3. Deeds, warranties and manuals pertaining to our house and household appliances – filed into a single ring binder
  4. Bills and bank statements: only 2 years worth – filed into a single ring binder
  5. The Barn Owls Work Stuff – put into a cardboard box for him to sort through at his convenience
  6. Papers that need immediate attention – filed in clear plastic folder and kept on my desk
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Reduced several boxes of papers down to half a shelf of files.

As you can see from the picture above, all of the household papers are now neatly and clearly organised into files which only take up half of my shelf. Everything else was shredded and sent to the recycling bin – yes sir, yes sir, ten bags full!

P.S. Why am I doing this? Here’s why.

P.P.S. Check out the rest of the Queen of Konmari series here.

If you haven’t read the books already, you can get them here:

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organising

Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up

Choo choo! All aboard the blog train!

Hello Owls Well readers!

18296990_10155043212889845_121891817_oThe Mothers Make It Work blog train is starting up today, starting with a thoughtfully written post by Hai Fang from MalMal Our Inspiration!

Hai Fang is a stay-at-home mom to 2 boys aged 7 and 13. She believes in eating healthy but has a weakness for simple sugar. Cycling and running is her way of keeping sane and writing forces her to think coherently.

This is a wonderful post full of useful advice on how to retain your own sanity amidst the current pressures of high-intensity parenting, whilst teaching kids to remain centred and true to themselves.

Hop on over and check her out!

For more inspiring stories, click on the picture below:

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