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Having 5 kids is a whole lot of fun

It should be fairly clear by now that the husband and I adore kids. I’d describe this in detail but then wait, I already do it all the time on the blog. Pretty much every post I’ve ever written is a variation of how much I like these 5 babies.

Oh and here’s a fun fact. When the husband comes home from work every day, I make him listen to how adorable the kids have been that day. He gets the full on unedited director’s cut version of the blog (with run on sentences and everything!) and to his credit, he displays a level of enthusiasm that is remarkable considering that none of this is groundbreaking material. That’s some true love right there.

But then that’s what babies do; they take your heart and do some crazy magic to it and make you happier than you ever thought you could be.

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Having 5 kids is borderline insane behaviour and one of the things I get asked quite a bit is how much it takes to raise so many kids in Singapore.

When it comes to money, I think we can all agree that the universal rule is: MORE IS ALWAYS BETTER. But it’s all relative, though, right? How much is enough in terms of actual dollars?

I suppose the best way to approach this is to talk about our experience of raising these babies.

Okay, let’s back it up a bit. The husband and I are from very average middle-income families, or what one might call low SES. When we graduated from NTU in 2005, we had a combined total savings amount of like $23, just enough to meet the minimum $20 withdrawal amount for emergencies. We couldn’t afford grad trips or fancy restaurants or even to take our time in finding a job.

Fast forward to 10 months after we got married, to the moment we discovered that we were having Truett. After the celebratory euphoria died down, we looked at each other and said “What have we done? How are we going to afford this baby?”At that time, we had a 4-room HDB (yay!) but still not much savings because most of it had gone into the down payment+ renovations for the house (not so yay).

To make things even more exciting, I left my job soon after Truett was born so we were effectively down to a single income.

More bills + less money = so much fun!

Those first two years after we had Truett and Kirsten back to back were some of the most difficult years we’ve gone through financially.

The husband was working hard to keep us afloat while I tried every possible way to supplement the family income on top of watching the kids at home. I started evening tuition jobs – the husband would rush home at 7pm to tag me on baby-watching duties so that I could go tutor kids on A’ Level GP. I worked on every writing/editing job that came my way, even those that offered to pay me in exposure and portfolio development. I took on every data-entry work-from-home job that was available and was glad for it. I tried property sales for a while but seeing that I had difficulty selling a sandwich to a starving person, a sales job wasn’t a great fit.

Meanwhile, we kept a very close eye on the expenses, trying to stretch every dollar and make it count.

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This experience has taught us that raising kids can cost as much or as little as we want it to.

When Truett and Kirsten were babies, the main expenses required were for necessities like milk powder, diapers and doctor’s visits (hello, polyclinic!). With Kirsten on breastmilk for 9 months, we were looking at an additional $300-400 for both kids a month.

As for all the other costs, they were nice-to-have extras. We got tons of clothes handed down from friends. And toys? All of their favourite toys were stuff like makeshift DIY rice shakers or non-toy items like remote controls. Besides, mom is more fun than toys so we did a lot of improvised um, creative play.

How about the scariest cost of all, childcare? Right from the start, we were clear that fancy preschools were out of the question. One place that we really liked had a monthly fee of $1,080 after subsidy and while it was excellent, we considered it insane to have to shell out an extra $2,160 every month so that option got canned real quick. Finally, after visiting almost all the preschools near our home, we chanced upon a program called Flexi-Care at a school which cost $275 a month (unfortunately, that program was no longer offered after 2012, but they allowed Truett and Kirsten to finish up K2 at that price). With the CDA co-savings, it worked out to only $137.50 per kid.

This might all seem very extreme, but what I’m saying is that it can be done. We survived raising our first 3 kids on a mostly single income with some lifestyle adjustments and careful planning.

It’s since been much easier financially but we’ve kept to our philosophy of managing the kids’ expenses carefully. This includes handing down baby clothes, buying baby gear second hand, making regular trips to the library to borrow books, and selecting an affordable preschool for Finn and Theo.

And now for a game of spot the difference. I meant to do a collage of the kids wearing the same clothes but LOOK AT THESE BABIES THEY ARE ALL CLONES.

Now that our budget isn’t as tight as it used to be, the one thing we splurge on is travel, which for us, is the best thing we can possibly buy with money. The time spent on adventures together as a family and the memories we get to create make it totally worth it. Although that brings me back to the point about deciding how costly raising kids can be. During the earlier years, we were happy just making memories at home and taking short trips to Sentosa for the day. When we could afford longer trips to Disney World, those were pretty rad too.

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This seems like a good point to highlight some of the government schemes that helped us a lot with the costs of having kids. You might be familiar with Baby Bonus and the CDA, which were a huge help for us in managing the kids’ childcare fees, but there are other schemes to help with costs.

From the get go once you discover that you’re pregnant, the costs will start adding up. Pre-delivery maternity checkups can range from $70-$120 per consultation, with additional scans and tests costing upwards of $200. The actual delivery + hospitalisation costs for our kids were in the range of $2,800 (Kirsten – natural birth with epidural, KKH double bedder) to $4,500 (Truett – caesarean, Mt Alvernia double bedder).

When we first saw Truett’s delivery bill, I had a mild panic attack on top of all that pain from my c-section recovery.

It was a great help that a substantial portion of the medical bill (plus $900 for pre-delivery check ups) was claimable from Medisave, which meant that the amount required in cash was only a fraction of the total cost.

4 months of paid maternity leave is also very useful. It’s stressful enough having to adjust to the trauma of dealing with a newborn without having to worry about work stress. The leave is flexible so it can be taken all at once or spread out over the next 12 months after the child is born.

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Looking back, would the journey have been much easier with more money? For sure. We had to make some adjustments and give up certain luxuries in favour of other more pressing needs like baby necessities, but it wasn’t like a tragedy or anything. We weren’t miserable or mopey about having to make these sacrifices.

Quite the contrary. It was such a delight waking up to Truett’s giggles and adorable baby talk at the crack of dawn every morning. We would pretend to be asleep, hoping that he’d take the hint and go back to bed, while secretly trying to peer at his squishy face because it’s the cutest thing I ever saw and I couldn’t help myself. It was the best game of peekaboo ever.

Was it hard sometimes and did we have to give up stuff along the way? Yes. Would we do it all over again? A hundred percent, yes.

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Clean is always better

One time, I was picking Kirsten up from school and as usual, I asked about her day so we were talking about this new snack she discovered at the canteen and as we walked past a trash bin, suddenly she was all, “Oh wait up, I need to throw this away!

I thought it was her leftover snack or something but she started pulling out wads of crumpled trash remnants from her pocket. Like some torn paper and a plastic bag and a bunch of used tissues??!! I had no idea she could fit so much stuff into her tiny pinafore pocket. I was mildly appalled, like “Sweetie, why do you have all this trash in your pocket? Are you developing hoarding tendencies?? Is there something I should know about??

No lah! My teacher says if we see rubbish lying around on the floor in school, we should pick it up and throw it away. But I couldn’t find a rubbish bin so I put them into my pocket first.

I’ve taught the kids about not littering, but this was something else. My 7-year-old was one-upping me on graciousness and civic mindedness because in all my life, I’ve never picked up someone else’s trash from the floor and stuffed it into my pocket for later disposal.

Woah, well done! Although maybe you might want to find a rubbish bin immediately instead of putting it in your pocket because you don’t know what kind of germs are on the stuff you pick up. And then wash your hands ok!” I told her.

She beamed and then spent the ride home telling me about the importance of keeping Singapore clean so that we can live in a beautiful home.

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This happened several weeks ago and when I heard about the Keep Singapore Clean Movement, I immediately thought of Kirsten. She would be the perfect person to teach the boys about doing our part to keep Singapore clean so I appointed her our family’s cleanliness ambassador. Her job was to teach the boys about how we can keep our home and neighbourhood free from litter.

Rule #1: Placing litter on top of the bin or next to the bin = littering.

This usually happens when the bins are full, but placing litter on top of or next to a full bin is considered littering. Instead, we should look for an empty bin nearby to bin our litter.

So the rule is that if it’s not inside the bin, it doesn’t count.

This is Kirsten teaching the boys the art of proper binning.

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Rule #2: Not picking up litter that we “accidentally” drop = littering. 

Yes, it’s an accident and yes, it’s extra effort to squat down and pick it back up to bin it properly but if it fell out from your pocket/person, pick it up.

“What if we don’t know that we dropped it?” Truett asked.

“I know! If other people see it, they can tell you so you can pick it up,” Kirsten volunteered.

“That’s a good point. If you see someone else drop something, you should definitely tell them about it.”

Rule #3: Leaving your unwanted items at the lift landing = littering. 

If the unwanted items are too big to fit into a trash bin, there is a proper method of disposal, which I discovered when we were shifting out of our HDB flat last year. You can call up the Town Council for your estate and arrange for someone to come dispose of the furniture/appliances from your home, so instead of lugging it down to the lift landing and leaving it there, someone will come pick it up from your place and dispose of it properly.

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I realised that kids are really great at doing their part when they feel like they are contributing to something important and also, learning how to be gracious and responsible while they’re young helps them to develop good habits that will last a lifetime.

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They’ve started making a game out of binning trash properly, so much so that they are constantly asking me if I have anything to throw away. And this baby Theo doesn’t even ask. He’s just picking up random stuff from around the house and chucking them into the bin so these days, we have to dig through the trash for treasures before disposing of it. Once, I found $2.40 in coins, plus a remote control in the bin. While it’s still adorable, he’ll have to start learning to tell the difference between trash and non-trash items. :)

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Meet the Mozz Squad

So here’s a secret: getting rid of dengue is best done as a team. Sure, it’s possible to do it alone, but then where’s the fun in that? Besides, having back up is always better than not having back up – they can help to double check all the areas in case we miss a spot.

With that, I’d like to introduce you to the members of this small but effective dengue fighting team. We call them the Mozz Squad.

Alpha One

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Also known as Mission Commander. Leads the team on regular search and destroy operations. First in, last out, does not leave until the mission is completed.

Honey Badger

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Dedicated, tenacious, overall badass. The team’s secret weapon.

Maverick

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Assists on missions but occasionally gets distracted by birds and small furry animals.

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Now that you’ve met the squad, here’s a sneak peek into one of our Mozzie Wipeout Missions.

1. Make sure all water containers are turned over when not in use.

It only requires a small pool of stagnant water for mosquitoes to breed, so we need to conduct regular inspections of the house to ensure that there is no stagnant water anywhere.

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I don’t know why we still have these jerry cans but the rain does sometimes splash onto the top of the cans. The mozz squad checks to see the containers are dry at all times.

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We also make sure that all water storage containers are turned over to prevent water from entering or stagnating within when it rains.

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Maverick says it’s A-ok!

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2. Check scupper drains along the corridor to ensure that the flow of water is not obstructed.

A clogged drain can cause stagnant water to accumulate, which forms ideal habitats for mosquitoes to make lots of babies.

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Drain could do with a bit of cleaning (ahem), but otherwise, all clear.

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3. Check flower pot plates for stagnant water.

Flower pot plates are one of the most common breeding grounds for mosquitoes, and the water from the plates have to be removed every other day. We also loosen the hardened soil so that stagnant water does not accumulate.

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We make it a point to get the kids involved in mozzie extermination missions and they take it very seriously (so cute!). They know that we all have a part to play in keeping our home safe from dengue, plus they help to remind us to do the 5-Step Mozzie Wipeout regularly. Win-win.

Alright, mission complete. Mozz Squad over and out.

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collaborations

Books that moved me

Books were once my best friends. We got each other. We spent hours together and they taught me wonderful things like how to talk to spiders, travel in wardrobes, and escape from a French prison. As a kid, I’ve been called a bookworm more times than I can remember; and I didn’t mind because it was true, I even had a pair of thick plastic specs to complete the look.

I remember spending entire recesses hidden in a corner in school with my nose in a new book I just could not put down. I’d get ravenously hungry in class later but it was always worth it.

Sleep? Who needed sleep? Bedtime was for reading and I spent many nights huddled up in bed with a book and a torch. “One more page”, I’d tell myself. Next thing I knew, it’d be morning and it was time for school.

This one time, I hid a copy of Roald Dahl’s Tales of The Unexpected in my Chemistry textbook and tried to read it in class, pretending that I was deep in thought over electrons. Looking back, it was such an obviously dumb move – I was busted and sent out to the corridor to ponder the error of my ways. Somehow, I managed to sneak the book out with me via my skirt pocket and I spent the rest of the lesson lost in the home of a London stockbroker. Sort of worth it, but kids, PAY ATTENTION IN CLASS!!

It’s hard to pick favourites because there were so many but if I really, really had to choose one, I think my all time favourite childhood book would be Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne. It’s not the most exciting narrative – just a silly old bear off on silly little adventures with his friends – but it’s exactly my kind of book.

pooh

I wish there was a grand story behind how this book came into my life but there isn’t. I don’t even know where it came from or whom it belonged to, I just found it on the shelf one day and started reading it. You know how some books make you fall in love? This is one of them – it made me smile and cry and hold my breath and giggle all at the same time, and there are so many gems in this one book, like these:

“It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like “What about lunch?”

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Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. “Pooh?” he whispered.

Yes, Piglet?”

“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s hand. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”

***

“I wonder what Piglet is doing,” thought Pooh. “I wish I were there to be doing it, too.”

I’ve given away most of my books over the years but this is the one book I still have on my shelf. One day soon, I’ll flip the old, stained, yellowed taped up pages as I read it to the kids while they’re snuggled up in bed. And I’ll watch them fall in love with a silly old bear named Pooh.

I was really glad to hear about the “Books That Moved Me” campaign by The Singapore Memory Project because it brings back so many memories of all the books I used to love. It’s been 20 years but there’s something about books that take you back in time and suddenly, you remember exactly how you felt when you first read them.

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As part of the campaign, The Singapore Memory Project scoured through secondhand bookstores and went about reuniting old books with their lost owners. It’s a really sweet gesture and I know I would have been thrilled to find back some of my old, lost favourites. 

It was really cool that SMP managed to do just that. Here’s a video of how Mahdhir was reunited with an old childhood friend.

There will be 2 showcases called Books that Moved Me at the following venues, drop by to check it out if you’re in the area: 

1. Date: 20 June – 31 August 2014

Venue: Lobby, Level 1, National Library Building

This showcase presents our collaboration with KULT. Visual artists from Singapore and overseas present their takes on 40 well-loved book covers, from local titles to global best sellers and literary classics by authors such as Enid Blyton, Shakespeare and Catherine Lim.

KULT

2. Date: 20 June – 31 August 2014

Venue: B1, Central Public Library, National Library Building

Be reunited with the books that moved you once upon a time, with a showcase featuring scents and interactive audio elements to bring you back to the childhood stories you love. Come share your own memories of reading and books with us.

You can also be part of the campaign by sharing your most treasured memories on the iremember SG websiteFacebook Page and Twitter, as well photos of your favourite childhood books (if you still have them!) on Instagram.

*All content submitted will be contributed to the Singapore Memory Project. Please visit iremember.sg to find out more.