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Family

Truett’s been having a difficult time sleeping the past couple of weeks. Insomnia is rough for an adult to deal with and I can’t imagine how much worse it is when you’re 11. He wakes up several times a night and has trouble  falling back asleep so he just lies there in bed, sometimes for hours, feeling the creeping frustration that insomnia brings.

We tried every hack for curing insomnia and so far none of it has really worked. Sticking to a bedtime schedule, a warm bath, bedtime routine, calming music, essential oils, breathing techniques, light reading if it gets too long. We pray for him and sit with him in his room till he falls back asleep and tell him that he can come over to our room if he can’t sleep.

It’s been a long time since he’s wanted to cuddle up in our bed and it’s nice to have him over; it reminds me of all those nights when he would try to fall asleep in our bed as a tiny baby. He used to crawl around in bed jabbing my eyelids and yanking my hair trying to get me to wake up and play. There’s much less jabbing and yanking now but I hear him tossing and turning next to me and I reach over to tousle his hair like I used to when he was a baby. I’m not sure if it helps him to fall back asleep but I think maybe it’s a little comforting.

We talk to him about coping with anxiety and the one good thing that has come out of this is that he’s been writing us long letters about how he’s feeling, which is the sweetest.

The other kids know that he’s been going through a rough time and they’re all rallying around him trying to see what they can do to help him feel better. Finn offered to trade places and take the upper deck alone so that Tru can have some company when he sleeps, even though he’d much rather be the one sleeping next to his big brother all night. But he knows Theo isn’t going to take the upper deck alone so he volunteered. That’s what true love looks like.

Kirsten tells him to wake her up anytime so she can hang out with him in the middle of the night. Theo is like “don’t worry, kor kor, I will pat you to sleep,” then promptly falls asleep and starts snoring because he can’t even. Baby Hayley offered him her stuffed lamb, “but only for a while and I’m gonna need it back OKAY?!

We’re all a little sad that Tru is having a difficult time and we’re not quite sure how to help but this experience has reminded us that this is what family means. It’s knowing that there are people who’ve got your back and are there for you for as long as you need it.

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So, February

February and I aren’t like the best of friends. We try to get along but it’s awkwardly cordial at best, with the possibility of being straight up dysfunctional far more often.

You always know what to expect with January. There’s the leftover high from the year-end break coupled with the start of a new year to keep things exciting but come February, it’s pretty much just a sad reminder of how much of the year you have to get through before you reach the next December.

In this particular February, I feel like I’m already redlining it two months into the new year.

It reminds me of the time I attempted to take up running like all the cool kids. Want to hear about it? Of course you do. I had decided that I was going to be the kind of person who runs. With much determination, I laced up my trainers, did my warm ups and started what was meant to be my easy 5km jog. About a minute in, all of my insides were starting to hurt. Another minute later, my lungs were on fire and I thought I was about to die. At this point, my mathematical brain got all like, “I’ve done about 200 metres out of 5000, there’s another 4800 metres to go and at this rate, I will be 100% super dead by the time I reach the end.

That particular run didn’t last very much longer and it was probably the reason I didn’t attempt another run for the next um, 15 years. I started running again last year and I still feel the soul crushing pain about two minutes into every run. I glance at how much further I have to go and will immediately feel the need to give up on life but I’ve learnt that if I just keep going, my brain stops registering the pain after a couple more minutes.

I think Februarys are a bit like that for me. It’s that point where the routine feels like an unbearable weight and I’m not quite on my game. I’m exhausted way too early for me to plausibly make it to the end and things aren’t looking all that great. Maybe I’ll catch a second wind or maybe it’ll be one of those runs that feel painful all the way through but the only way to find out is to keep going.

Drink some water. Put on some music. Find that little bit of joy or whatever it is that adds a boost to keep those legs moving until I find my mojo.

**

On that note, Finn and Theo are the definition of best bros around here these days and watching them hang out has been asking a lot of my ovaries. These two boys have been spending hours every day just talking to each other about their secret boy stuff – adventure missions and special powers and being in their little world with very complicated rules that only the two of them understand.

They take this very seriously – there are a lot of charts and many pages with detailed descriptions of special abilities. Finn will do all the writing and then they will huddle over the pages intently like it’s their 武林秘籍.

These two have the most adorable dynamics. Occasionally Theo will yell “kor kor Finn is getting all the powers” and Finn will try to explain himself like “no, we both have the same number of powers, Theo has 5 and I have 5“; to which Theo will yell “but his powers are more powerful than mine” and Finn be will like “WHAT?? He chose those powers himself and they are the same kind of powerful and it’s all imaginary. Urgh ok ok fine we can swap powers” and Theo will nuzzle his head into Finn’s arm affectionately because he knows that a big brother like this is something special.

Sometimes I watch them together and it’s exactly how I imagined their relationship would be like and that makes me smile.

**

I realise I haven’t really talked about the little 3-day trip we took to Hong Kong Disneyland last month. It was meant to be Hayley’s first introduction to Disney and also for us to get in some quality time with the two babies.

The trip was only 72 hours but I’m glad to report that both of those things were achieved to varying degrees of success. Turns out that this baby is terrified of even the slowest baby rides and is not a fan of all rides in general. Her first ride was on the Slinky Dog Spin (a ride that’s as relaxing as it gets) and she basically lost it from that point on. The moment we started moving, she grabbed me in terror and screamed “I WANT TO GET OFF NOW!!! LET ME OOOOUUUTTTTTT!!

I thought it was first time jitters and we managed to talk her into riding the carousel and the flying carpets, both of which ended up the same manner – with a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth. So that was that for this baby.

She’s more of a “let’s walk around and soak in the magical Disney atmosphere” kind of kid so that’s what we spent our time doing. Munching on popcorn, watching parades, and enjoying the cool Disney air. On the bright side, she was happy to chill out while the husband and I took turns to ride Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars 14 times one evening when it was a walk on. Also, why have I never done this ride before? It’s amazing, possibly right up there in my list of top 3 rides of all time. Disney World’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad used to be in that spot but this is definitely better in terms of pacing, backward drops and overall fun factor.

I’ll always miss the other kids who didn’t get to go but traveling with 2 kids was almost too easy. And they got to have our attention divided by 2 instead of 5, which in terms of math is a very good thing.

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Hey 2019!

It’s 2019 and there are a lot of changes happening around here. Good ones!

Finn is off to Primary 1 and I’m so proud of him like a proud mama bear. He was so excited to start the first day of school with Kirsten in a proper big kid school with homework and everything! In preparing him for Primary school, the big kids were all “it’s a sad life – you need to do a lot of learning and homework and there’s very little time left to play” and Finn was his usual sweet, positive self like “I don’t mind learning and homework.

It’s true, he’s the only kid who says “thanks, mom!” when I buy him assessment books and then does them like it’s nbd. We picked up a fresh batch of assessment books at Popular last week and the big kids acted like I was buying them a basket of live rattlesnakes, like “PLEASE, NOOOO!!!! MY LIFE IS OVER!!

Just look at this adorable serious face on the first day of school.

He woke up at 6.30am on day one and the whole time, he had on his serious face for when he needs to focus on something really important.

When they got to school, Kirsten said, “follow me, Finn, I’ll bring you around” and he finally smiled. It must be nice to have a big sister watch out for you when you’re starting a huge new chapter in your life.

//

After a year and a half on the waitlist, Tru still couldn’t get a spot in Kirsten’s school, so he decided to go for the next best option and transfer to the school further down the street. It’s a slightly longer walk but it beats having to take the school bus back to Tampines at 6.05 every morning.

He considered this for a long time, not wanting to say bye to all his friends and teachers from Gongshang Primary but it was a brutal commute, plus he had to loiter around in school for an hour while waiting for the return school bus after remedial classes several times a week.

He’s a good kid – he made a list of all the pros and cons and at the top of the pro list, he put <mom gets to save $240 in bus fare every month> right at the top, followed by <wake up at 6.45 instead of 5.45>. The cons list was much longer, but he still decided to go ahead with the transfer because “it’s the smartest thing to do“. 11 years old and already killing it at decision making skills.

//

Also after a year and a half on the waitlist, Theo finally got a spot in the preschool right next to our home. The waitlist for this was in the hundreds and it was a small miracle that he got a spot. There was no pros and cons list to be made because Theo doesn’t care for such lists in the same way he doesn’t care for going to school at all.

If it was up to him, he would spend his days hanging out with me and Hayley. He tried to make a case for it too. “I’ll miss you so much, mom…and Hayley will have someone to play with…I’m only 5, I can learn all the stuff at home anyway, don’t you want to spend time with me before I go to Primary school like kor kor Finn?

I’ll admit, that last part got me and I genuinely considered it for a moment because watching Finn go off to Primary school had me all emotional but then I snapped out of it because I suddenly realised what I was considering. Homeschooling??!! Some people possess the temperament required to homeschool a child. I do not. Homeschooling would eat me for breakfast and I wouldn’t last a week.

Theo was really sad the first day and that’s all it took for him to adjust. This morning, he considered bursting into tears again but he looked at his fun new school and his new friends and his lovely teacher (who happens to be Truett’s teacher at Starlearners 7 years ago!) and decided that all that fuss wasn’t worth the effort so he said bye and went in to class.

//

I really like new years. It always feels like a pause and a fresh start. We get to look back on the previous year and celebrate the things that were great about it. The not so good parts, we get to give it another go; do it differently and hopefully have it turn out a little better.

2018 had all of these parts. There were some pretty spectacular ones that will make it straight to the Epic Moments To Remember list. We did Melbourne with 5 kids. Iceland with 3 kidsNew York with no kids.

There were a lot of the average moments that turned into surprisingly great ones. All of the baby cuddles, the hilarious conversation I got to have with the kids, the long bus rides and spontaneous park outings and just being there to watch them grow up. I feel like I grew as a mom this year. Being a mom stopped being so hard now that the kids are bigger. I’ve always told myself to enjoy the journey but this year was the first time I honestly took that advice and savoured the moments. Even when I go out alone with 5 kids, it’s easy these days.

I saw a mom at the store a few days ago bouncing a fussy infant strapped in a carrier, holding a toddler in one hand and bags of groceries in the other and I immediately got severe PTSD. I think it was her eyes. She looked so exhausted, like all the life had been sucked out of her and there is no light at the end of the tunnel. I remember exactly how that feels and I wanted to give her a hug and tell her that it will get better.

2018 was also the first year I’ve managed to stick to my Get Fit goals. I’ve done my workout videos 5-6 days a week for about 9 months and developed all kinds of cool new muscles. I also feel stronger, possibly even more than I did at 16 playing basketball for the school team. I still draw the line at putting kale or quinoa into my mouth but there’s progress.

There were a whole bunch of not so great moments in 2018 too. Some were really not great at all and I’d much prefer to not have them ever again. If I could, I’d totally erase these moments from the year so I’d only be left with the good ones. But I think my life is supposed to be made up of all of these moments like one of those pictures that’s made up of a thousand smaller pictures. I mean, maybe a good life isn’t one that’s made up of only good moments because there are all of these other moments that are kind of sweet and funny and mediocre and sometimes sad that make up a really rad bigger picture and when you put all of them together and do a dramatic slow zoom out, you might just like what you see.

//

Have a good 2019, you guys!!

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The ones we’d like to keep

Is it already the middle of November? You start a year and things happen and other things happen and then more things happen and suddenly you’re midway through November and you think about whether all the memories you made are the ones you’d like to keep.

::

Exams are all over and the kids are done with school and I’m very pleased about having all my babies home with me all day for the next 6 weeks. The older they get, the more I cherish these moments where I get to have all my babies to myself. We’ll play board games and go for walks and fix fun meals and work on comics and just sit and do nothing at all together.

Speaking of exams, the kids brought home their results and they’re like “Mom! I got my English paper back!” First of all, I love the enthusiasm because it suggests that they have done well enough to be suitably excited (whether or not that enthusiasm is warranted is another matter).

So right, my teacher says this paper was super hard and the highest in class was only 88…and I got 82.” Yeah, way to go to frame the conversation. Suddenly 82 goes from really not great to understandably ok and possibly decent with a bit of improvement.

It’s not what I was expecting,” he adds, “but it was really quite tough and I think I’ll do better next time.” Nice touch with the likelihood of improvement in the future.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you deliver news of mediocre results.

Although they still had to work on a revision schedule for the holidays because the two questions I always ask them is 1) Is this result an adequate representation of your ability and 2) Did you put in enough effort?

No? Congratulations, you’ve earned yourself a holiday revision plan!

::

One of the benefits of having siblings is that when you’re ill, you get lots of warm hugs. Tru was sick after church one weekend and all the other kids took turns hugging him super tight.

At first, I was like “No hugs!! Germs! Viruses! This is going to infect everyone!!” but then I look at them and urgh, fine, hug all you want, it’s too adorable.

And yes, everyone did fall sick eventually but was it worth it? Totally. Kind of. Okay not so much. Depending on when you asked me that question, it’s probably one of those 3.

::

Baby Hayley is a dainty little princess but she’s also possibly the most driven of them all. For a tiny baby, this girl can be very determined when she puts her mind to something.

We were cycling/scooting/jogging to a cafe near our place for brunch with some friends and all the kids were on their bikes and scooters. Baby Hayley was the only one on the stroller because it was about 1.5km away and that’s a long way for a baby who’s not particularly proficient on the scooter to scoot on her own.

On the way back from brunch, Theo fell and scraped his knee so baby Hayley volunteered to give up her stroller and scoot home instead. It was a treacherous journey back for her but she refused to stop even when her knees were buckling from exhaustion. Sweat was pouring from her little face and she looked like she was going to pass out. The husband offered to carry her several times and she kept saying “I CAN DO IT, PAPA!!”

She made it home like 20 minutes after everyone else but she was so pleased that she did it all by herself.

She now uses this experience as proof of her ability whenever I tell her that she’s not ready for something. “Remember I scoot home all by myself? I’m a big girl now, I can do it!

Can’t argue with that.

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On being a big brother

Truett was never the classic big brother type. He’s very chill, almost to the point of having too much chill.

He doesn’t fuss over the babies like Kirsten does, or babytalk them like Finn does with Hayley. When he was younger, he would mostly be doing his own thing. I’d ask if he wanted to hang out with his baby and he’d be like “No thanks!” because “babies are boring” and fair enough, that is an accurate assessment.

Look at this squishy face trying to figure out what to do with his boring baby sister.

When he started preschool and got really bad separation anxiety, he would look to Kirsten for support because she’s the badass who waved bye and skipped into school at 18 months like it wasn’t even a thing.

::

But now that he’s bigger and the other kids are bigger, Tru has grown to become a pretty rad big brother. He watches out for them and is affectionate in his non-committal manner.

One time, he was supposed to present something together with Kirsten and she was self conscious, like “Korkor, you do it, I’m shy” and Tru was equally reluctant but eventually he was all “Ok fine fine I’ll do it, don’t worry” and he did a fine job.

He’s still not the giving orders to everyone sort but it’s clear that all the other kids think he’s some kind of awesome.

These days, when the two younger boys are up to no good and I have a word with them, they’re usually just like “Ok mom, message received” and they run off but when Truett is even a little disappointed with them, their little hearts get broken and they immediately start to tear.

::

Tru recently shifted up to the top bunk by himself and this was a huge blow to Finn, whose favourite part about sleeping was snuggling with his big brother.

In fact, they would all sleep like this together on the bottom bunk if they could.

We’re really sleeping, mom!” they would say, as if I was born yesterday. We all know that this is a setup for a play all night without sleep situation.

So now Tru gets the top bunk and every night, Finn would climb up and squeeze in next to him, which is sweet, but very uncomfortable for them both. At first, Truett tried to accommodate the squeeze but he would sleep poorly and end up being really tired the next day.

I told Finn he couldn’t go up to Tru’s bed anymore and he was so sad, like “I miss korkor and I can always sleep better next to him” but he knew it was rough on Tru so he tried his best not to go up for some snuggle time.

Few nights ago, he relapsed and slept-climbed his way up on autopilot. Instead of just shooing his brother away, he brought him down and told him he would snuggle next to him until he fell asleep. And he did. He stayed next to him until Finn fell asleep, then covered him with a blanket and went back up. By then, he was wide awake and couldn’t fall back asleep for the next hour. The craziest thing was that when he told me the next morning, he wasn’t even annoyed like a person who just had his sleep disturbed would be.

This is exactly why the smaller kids adore him and would do anything he says. Especially Finn. As far as Finn is concerned, Truett is the finest specimen of a human being in the history of humankind.

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H to the F to the M to the D

It’s been a proper circus around these parts over the last week because not one, not two, but three kids have been stricken with the dreaded HFMD.

In itself, HFMD isn’t the worst illness one could be stricken with; it’s not life threatening nor does it even require any real medical intervention. The doctor looked very sympathetic, then prescribed them paracetamol and a small dose of leftose syrup to reduce inflammation in the throat, which was clearly an afterthought placebo sort of situation, like here, take this to make your throat less painful (it won’t).

The worst thing about HFMD is mostly the discomfort of having your mouth covered in ulcers, although that’s a lot of discomfort for a baby (or adult) to handle. I had two ulcers that merged into a huge one some weeks back and I couldn’t shut up about it for days. I showed it to the kids frequently as an exhibit of my great suffering and this time, they returned the favour by making me peer at their ulcers many times throughout the day.

LOOK CLOSER, MOM, it’s right in there at the back,” they instructed me. I was already so close I could feel the condensation of their breath droplets on my face and the whole time, all I could think of was “I’m breathing in HFMD germs why have I brought this upon myself??

I still did it though, the peering. My babies were in pain and if my excellent observation skills could make them feel better, then here, I’ll volunteer as tribute. I was already mentally prepared to partake in their affliction so I really got in there to peer at their ulcers and hugged them and kissed them each time they wanted some mommy tlc. “Are you allowed to kiss me, mom? Will I make you sick?” Theo asked with mild concern. I gave him a big kiss and said “It’s ok, mommy has super immunity powers” and he beamed so wide, it was definitely worth it. For the record, I don’t have any immunity powers at all but I loaded up on all of the supplements and thankfully, I’m still clear, phew!

//

So how did this happen?

I don’t know. As in, I literally have no idea from whence cometh this terrible virus upon my kids because I’m paranoid about HFMD. When Finn’s school had an outbreak last year, I kept the kids at home for a whole month as a precautionary measure until the school was completely cleared. They were so thrilled to be on preventive HFMD holiday.

I was dropping Theo off at school last week when his teacher discovered a whole bunch of ulcers in his mouth during the customary health check at drop-off. She asked me to take a look and I was horrified when I saw it. The top and back of his mouth was speckled with white ulcers. I immediately led him away from the queue of kids behind him, half expecting a swarm of SWAT level CDC personnel to descend upon him yelling 23-19 like that scene in Monster, Inc.

I would have kept him at home if we even suspected any sign of HFMD but he had no fever and he didn’t even complain of any pain in his mouth. He was his usual cheery self and in fact, that morning he just had a full breakfast of pancakes + cereal like it was nothing. Clearly, his pain threshold is far superior to mine.

Upon confirmation at the doctor’s, I tried to quarantine him at my mom’s house for the next 2 days but it was too late, Finn + Hayley started displaying symptoms of HFMD the next day. And that’s how we have 3 babies down with the HFMD.

On the bright side, they were really happy to be able to hug again because hugs do make everything a little better.

 

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Holiday shenanigans

So the kids are back in school this week and I discovered that I’ve grown fond of the school holidays. I really enjoyed having the house filled with rowdy kids for a whole month, I think it reminds me of a time where all my babies were small enough to be home all day keeping me company.

We had all the time in the world to go on spontaneous cycling trips to Coney Island or water play outings at Gardens by the Bay.

I used to breathe a sigh of relief once the start of the new school term rolls around again, but this last Monday morning when all the kids were back in school, I sat sipping my coffee in a quiet house (baby Hayley was quietly fixing her Peppa Pig puzzle beside me) feeling like my life is missing something.

This is probably why I said yes to the kids having bunnies. Now when everyone is in school and Hayley is napping, I’ll be hanging around the bunnies talking to them like they’re my babies.

The husband is like “give it 10 years when the kids are all big and you’ll have 2 dogs, 3 cats, and a whole family of bunnies.” That does seem like a very likely possibility.

***

Truett is 10 but he’s been eating like a bodybuilder who hasn’t seen food for days. He’s like Gaston on a rampage. Is this normal? It’s a lot of food and I don’t know where it all goes.

He wallops 2 double sliced tuna melt sandwiches + eggs + a large cup of chocolate milk for breakfast, an adult portion sized bowl of noodles + a side of 4 chicken wings for lunch, and 2 full bowls of rice + all the dishes for dinner. Right around dinner time everyday, he’ll be hanging around the kitchen asking “Hey mom, what’s for dinner?

I’ll say something like “Rice, ABC soup, salmon, spinach, steamed pork ribs” and he’ll be like “Is that all?? That’s like very little. How about pork chop? Can we have pork chop as well? Or remember the chicken you made that day? That was not bad, I don’t mind some of that chicken. Or maybe both? Chicken AND pork chop?

I don’t have time to do both on top of everything else but ok fine, some extra chicken coming right up, your highness!

And that’s only his regular meals. In between, he’s scavenging the fridge for snacks or asking me to fix him something. He came back from school yesterday and the first thing he said was “MOM I’M VERY HUNGRY, I NEED FOOD!!” He had already eaten lunch in school (noodles + mashed potato + milo) and he was still able to polish off half a rotisserie chicken + a hot dog sandwich + a whole bowl of grapes. It didn’t seem to affect his appetite for dinner either.

Amazingly, he’s still as skinny as ever, it’s like magic.

By the time all 3 boys become teenagers, I’ll have to operate an all day on demand food service at home. Or look into subsistence farming so I can make them grow their own food. You want potatoes for lunch? Here’s a shovel, go harvest some from the garden. You want scrambled eggs? Go get them from the chickens.

***

Watching Finn and Theo interact is one of my favourite things to do. In this relationship, Finn has to play the role of reluctant big brother even though it’s not really in his nature to be assertive. He has to be the one to teach Theo important things like the rules of UNO, and feed him snacks.

Theo, while being 2 years younger, has the personality of a hurricane so most of the time, he’s imposing his own ridiculous rules on Finn, who alternates between exasperation and resignation.

Negotiations for soft boiled eggs are taken very seriously around here

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