Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Monet and the colour of souls

Trinity's curiosity about life is huge. Ginormous! I am entertained, baffled, tickled and perplexed as to how to answer all the questions she has fairly, without prejudice, factually and yet simply enough that she can understand. She asks questions that none of the other children have ever asked. Some of these are tough to answer. 

Our conversation leaps from topic to topic at lightning speed. One question triggers off another and so on. 

Our conversation started with souls. Deep stuff. Even theologians struggle with this one. I try my best to tackle it valiantly. She asks: who controls our soul? Does our skeleton control our soul? Does our soul grow old when we grow old? What happens to our souls when we die? How do our souls get out of our bodies? 

So I have to give an answer that is reflective of our Catholic faith since we are Catholics. But I also struggle at certain points and I suspect I might have been treading water several times and gone under. I try to explain about conscience - the knowledge between good and bad, and the decisions we make that impact our conscience and hence, our soul. I explain that if we take care of it, our souls will look beautiful when we are dead but if we neglect it and abuse it through wrongful actions, mean words and mean thoughts, then our soul will look shriveled, old and dirty, so how do you go to heaven if your soul is dirty? Gosh, I didn't even get into purgatory yet! 

Luckily she veered off and asked: so what does heaven look like? 

I answer honestly: I don't know. And here is where I am very clear. If I do not have the answer, I say so. If I think I don't know, or I'm not sure, I admit it. I say it is my opinion or that some people think that way - I clarify that not every one shares the same view. She doesn't really care at this point because she just wants MY point of view. 

So then I do what everyone else does - I google it! 

Her next question was about bad angels. Are all angels good? Yes I say, today. But once, there were bad angels. And here's where I tell her about the fall of Lucifer. We google images to see. Lots of great art surfaces. Then she says hey mum, do you know a painting about water lilies and lily pads? The artist's name starts with an M. I name him - Monet, to her delight. Yes that's the one! Kudos to her art teacher for exposing her to Claude Monet. Wow. When I was 8, Monet was far far removed from my sphere of influences! 

So I google Monet and his famous series of water lilies. She zeroes in on Monet and the Manneporte (Etretat). When I try to explain to her that this was a rock arch in the sea, she waves me off impatiently and says: look at the sun shining on the rock mummy! It looks like a rainbow to me! I know its a rock but I like this part! I guess that is art appreciation at its purest eh? That immediate gut response to a piece of work. 

How did Monet die mummy? Lung cancer I explain. What is lung cancer? And so it goes. From there, she asks about how the heart beats, I explain about the function of the heart, the mitral valves, the structure, what happens in a heart attack, how the heart and lungs are protected by the ribcage and the sternum, what happens when cancer strikes, what are cancer cells, and all these leads weirdly, to Sandy Squirrel and how she can breathe oxygen in a space suit. Her last question of the night was: is there oxygen in space? 

From metaphysics to religion, to art and art history to biology in the space of an hour. 

I treasure this time and I appreciate this opportunity. I enjoy it even when I don't have the answers.  I enjoy it because it  feels like a journey I take too. There is a satisfaction when you see her eyes light up in understanding.I enjoy her sense of curiosity. I don't want to extinguish it. I'm glad that the grind of school has not yet killed this in her. We live in an age when information is so readily available but all that is moot if one lacks the curiosity to venture and to explore. More importantly, if I lacked the patience to help her explore all these ideas. So I guess in this way, I am sort of unschooling? 

If so, thank you Joseph Chilton Pearce for inspiring me to answer the infinite and difficult questions with patience and thank you Sergey Brin - I couldn't do it as efficiently without Google. 

Friday, August 30, 2013

A year on - an update

Life moves on in so many ways. In the day to day bustle, you don't notice where the time's gone until it's gone. So it is that I promised to keep this blog alive only to let it fizzle and fade away into the background buzz of everyday life.

So a quick update into life in my corner of the world. Not that my three followers (you know who you are!) need this update, they already know what's going on via Facebook updates etc. But sometimes it's just therapeutic to sit and take stock. Have to say though that I do have three articles sitting on my deadline of 31 Aug and I'm nowhere near completing those but as with all forms of writing I do, consider this warm-up and a good way to just let the words flow.

With another year gone, the children are older of course, and busier. It gets harder now to really get everyone around one table for a meal. The relationships also see subtle shifts.

With Gillian and Isaac, who are now 18 and 17 respectively, their lives are crowded with school, internship, friends, church work and the ever-present Facebook updates. Isaac did surprisingly decently for his O levels and got into TP's Aviation Management course. This means that we are together on campus but in a sea of 18000 students and 1700 staff, we never meet. Of course that does not mean I don't try to stalk spot my son when I head for lunch at the canteens nearest his classrooms. It does mean however, that I am more on top of things so when I spotted a camp planned for Aviation students, I pounced on him at home and asked why he didn't sign up. Things like that would be impossible if we did not share the same campus.

He fobs me off sometimes and I let him. He's older and wants his space. I don't like micro-managing. If the boy wants to look as shaggy and unkempt as a UK boy band, he's entitled to it. I may not like it but I'm beginning to realise and accept that there really is little I can do. That's something the husband does not seem to realise though and he is full-on about nagging, lecturing, prodding. I really would rather not but that's his style and I don't interfere. It just leads to the boy avoiding his father at all cost and maybe being a bit more open to telling me more stuff. That's fine with me.

Gillian is doing her internship in Butterfly Park now, giving tours to little children, student groups and tourists. She's coming home late, often exhausted but even when she tells us how tough her day was, she always manages to find pockets of optimism and snatches of joy. So if the silly parrot pecked her or the iguana dug its claws deep into her arm, she's okay because she enjoyed showing a butterfly to pre-schoolers or maybe she helped some Korean visitors feel more at ease with the insects with a smattering of Korean. She's learning that the working world is never easy but Gillian being Gillian, in her happy-go-lucky way, she always sees the silver lining and that keeps her going for the next day. And in all honesty, in life, what more can we ask for right? Not to dwell on the pain but to keep chugging along in spite of it. That kind of resilience she's got in spades.

Caitlin is in the throes of labour pains for the PSLE - the mugging, the angst, the tears and process that is called PSLE prep. The government has announced some measures to try to ease the stress. I'm not going to be pessimistic even before I've heard what these specific changes are, but what I do hear so far does not leave me hopeful that the situation will get better for subsequent PSLE kids and their parents. I'm just cynical that way. Which is why I think its just best to go your own road and do what you think is best for the child at the child's ability levels. The rest of the world and society can just take their yardsticks of success and shove it where the sun don't shine. There will never be a level playing field and those who think the government will do level out one for you would be really deluded.

For us, it's one month more and then it'll be all over. No matter how you plug at it, the quality of your work for the past two years would already preclude your performance at the PSLE. There is no magic bullet, and to be honest, hard work only does this much. I don't believe a child who consistently fails will suddenly soar to A* levels just because s/he has worked hard for the past couple of months. Intrinsically if the child has always been a 70%-scoring child, she will continue to be a 70%-scoring child at the PSLE. Maybe the burst of effort might push it up 10% but I don't expect miracles. Which is why again, the husband and I are at odds with each other. He pushes, I don't. I'm probably just lazy but I really dislike like micromanaging - have I said this before? Hmm... He's the one nattering away about powerzones and I'm the one just going - "eh do your best la." Does this create tension? You bet. In more ways than one.

Owain is puttering away at school, firing well on all cylinders except Chinese. This boy is bright. He does very well for Eng, Math and Science. The recent CA2 results showed high Band 1 grades for all three. Then when it comes to Chinese our friend plunges the depths to emerge a dismal Band 4. Not even a borderline but a really bad fail. On the bright side, he seems to have discovered an entrepreneurial flair. To reward his good performance, his Math teacher (who has a soft spot for him) gave him a highlighter and a set of some Animal Zoo cards or something like that. He does not play this card-trading game but his friends do. So he's offered to sell the deck for $8 - and someone actually accepted! The other day someone in school wanted loose change for a $2 note. Owain offered to make the change, pulling out all the coins he had - about $1.10 in all. His friend accepted the trade so Owain made $0.90 as 'commission'. This boy should either end up in government one day as PM or a really really sharp loanshark.

And now for my baby girl Trinity. This one I will protect till the end. I will defend her from her siblings when they gang up on her, from her teachers when they label her or throw boxes of homework at her and from the big nasty world if it tries to be funny with her. Like Gillian, she's extremely sunny-natured. Not the sharpest knife in the box but she makes up for it with a lot of sincere effort. She works really really hard. She takes a longer time than other kids to remember things, to absorb concepts and even then she forgets just as quickly. But the good thing about her is that she never gives up.

In the right frame of mind, when I work with her on her schoolwork, you can see that she tries hard. She can be tired and overloaded but she will try. She gives it her all. When she goes for swimming class, the coach says "Do 10 star jumps!" Other kids would be doing the half-hearted swings, cutting corners when they can. Not Trin. She would give each and every jump her whole-hearted enthusiasm, leaping high and spreading out as if her life depended on it. She can be tenacious even if she struggles. And yes she does struggle. It's showing in her school work, in her grades. She's just walking to the beat of a different drummer. When the world moves on, she'll be plodding along in the rear. That's why I feel like I have to walk with her. Take care of her for as long as I can. She's going to be 8 but she still sleeps with me and I'm so reluctant to give her up. It would be one step away from me and that is a step I am so unwilling to take.




Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Someday

Some day, hopefully in the not-too-distant future, I would like to go back to school.

All of us have had that One Defining Moment that changed our lives. Sometimes, I try to think about when mine was. And I think for me, that single most significant turning point in my life probably came and went without me even noticing it. Sometime during my junior college days, probably at one of the many parties I attended, or one of the days I skipped school, crawled beneath cut fences to spend a day at the movies, or hung out at a school sports event (my excuse to spot cute guys), it must have happened.

Sometime then, I think it began - the journey to where I am now.

My 'A' Level results paid the price of my good-time days and with it, entry to the university. My mother took it fairly well. She was disappointed but said in her very pragmatic way, "You could always go to secretarial school." It did not occur to me to re-take my 'A' levels - I didn't want to go through the whole stress of it again and I guess my confidence levels were probably a bit beaten up too. It also did not occur to me to go overseas - I didn't think we could afford it. So off I went to secretarial school.

I lasted three months.

All I took away from that time was the memory of fabulous curry puffs from Tambuah Mas during tea-breaks and touch-typing skills. I never made it as a secretary. I got a job as a writer in an entertainment magazine. And from there, my paths in journalism, PR, marcom just flowed on.

I worked in publishing houses, did publicity work, picked up marketing skills, edited a teen magazine, did media relations, burrowed deep into the civil service and along the way, got married, had kids - all five of them - bought my little house in Riang, travelled, wrote some more... and life just flowed on. There were offers and opportunities along the way - start up a parenting magazine (which is still in the stands today), head yet another popular parenting magazine as editor, to all of which I said no.

I was happy where I was. I still am.

But now, the children are growing older and finding their own spaces. I'm a long way from retiring but I'm still restless. My life is in a good place but I feel the need to think beyond these days.

And so something keeps drawing me back to one thought - I could go back to school. I could enrol in a university and get my degree. Long overdue. The pragmatic side first thought of programmes here which I could do on a part-time basis. That thought perished almost as soon as it surfaced. I will be the first to admit I would be too lazy to see this through. Just the thought of commuting to school after work from one end of the island to another gives me the shudders.

So I took one option after another, played with each possibility and tossed it aside until I came up with this one which I think is worth keeping:

I shall go back to school. But not here. Not now. I shall take a liberal arts degree in Japan. I've started looking at places and fees and surprisingly, it's do-able - after I sell my house! In say 10 years or slightly less, when the last of the kids is in her teens, when I am ready to let go of my beloved little house, I shall spend some time in Japan taking a liberal arts degree.

At that point in my life, I will not really care if the degree is practical, if it will add value to my career. I will pick subjects and pathways which I enjoy, not because of the value and shine they will add to my resume. It does not have to make sense to anyone. I will pick subject clusters in sociology, international relations, political science, language and culture... selected only based on high excitement levels. It also does not matter by then, whether I swot it out for distinctions or settle for Cs - although I suspect my natural competitiveness would push me towards good grades. I will very likely be the obasan on campus and that's fine. I checked - no age restrictions! It might even be cool to be an obasan on campus.

Best of all, I will spend time learning about and living in Japan - a place that never ceases to fascinate me.

I thought of Waseda University at first. They run an English language liberal arts school but they are so prestigious I'm not sure if they would take someone like me. Also the thought of living in Tokyo for three years is daunting. Plus I'm wary about being surrounded by super-bright, over-achieving ultra-competitive people.

Then I found Akita International University in the far rural north of Tohoku. It is a small college whose campus is in the country, outside of Akita City. Population 1.07million. Largest consumers of saury top sake guzzler in Japan. Akita produces Japan's rice, prettiest women and smartest kids. Home to the namahage demon who comes out every New Year's day to scare the pants off young kids - nothing like the threat of skinning you alive to make you behave. Plus the secluded Nyuto Onsen is practically in its backyard. I like what I'm hearing already.This is a very strong possibility but I'll keep my options open - I have time on my side! 

The nay-sayers will cluck all they like and say I'm self-indulgent (yes that is true), a bad parent for leaving her family (true but they would love to have an excuse to visit and we now have Skype!), impractical in all my choices - of country and course (deliciously true!).They will say the money can be used for retirement - true but I think I will have enough left over to be comfortable.

All these years I never once regretted not having a degree because of the value of the paper. That never mattered that much. I think I've proven - to myself at least - that the lack of paper qualifications never hindered me in my career (or at least it didn't matter to me since my career or what's left of it has been on the back-burner for such a long time). I never hankered for it. 

The stress of doing something like this just to gain a piece of paper is not for me. When I choose to learn and wish to devote my time and energies to a project away from my family, it better be worth it. That was why I chose the Grad Dip in Childbirth Education: I had such passion for the subject matter.

I truly believe learning ought to stem from sheer joy and a deep personal interest. This comes from making a conscious decision, a choice to learn something that one is deeply passionate about. And I think this is where it will start for me. I will work towards it and look forward to it. To that someday when I can go back to school.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Electric youth!

It's the holidays and one by one, the kids take turns at going to camp. Confirmation Camp, Christmas Camp, Altar Servers Camp, Youth Council Shepherds Camp, Youth Council Retreat. 3 days and 2 nights spent not in a fancy resort by the sea but in a church-owned building in various parts of Singapore.

The sleeping bag has never seen such action.

Over the past few weeks, at any one time, at least one of the kids would be off somewhere.

It's been fun for them and for me, given me fresh insight into a group of people I'm only just getting to know through the eyes of my kids - the youths. And what I have seen so far impresses me and leaves me with lots of food for thought.

Invariably, these camps are run by young people in their teens to early twenties. Usually they are from the youth ministries in church. Both Isaac and Gillian are highly active in these ministries themselves. Isaac faithfully serves mass twice a week at least, attends meetings with the altar server boys. And both he and Gillian are in the Youth Council. Gillian in fact recently stepped up to serve as a 'Shepherd', a youth leader in the YC.

I like the fact that these activities keep them busy and engaged. They get to know committed, responsible young people, serve the community and along the way, shape their own faith.

These kids are a good bunch. When Gillian was hospitalised, they trooped down en masse for a visit, leaving a huge home-made get-well-soon card peppered with cheerful wishes, photographs and names that even the doctor grew to be familiar with. They are unfailingly polite and courteous when we meet. 

Beyond this, I've seen them in action and I like what I see. The Risen Christ Children's League who organised the Christmas Camp is case in point. These kids - usually ranging from about 16 to 20 in age - run the Children's Liturgy at mass and they organise activities for the younger kids eg outings and camps during the holidays. They are such a cheery bunch, loaded with enthusiasm and ideas.

At the Christmas Camp, it can't have been easy looking after some 30 kids, some as young as six. But these kids took it all in their stride. They led creatively, patiently, with lots of laughter and improvisation. They managed the younger kids very well. I watched them keep the group in order, inspire the shy kids to get up on stage, manage the noisier ones, lead the singing with lots of smiles and encouragement and came mealtimes, they served the buffet line and were always, always polite with a smile.

Similarly the altar servers that Isaac work with are a great bunch. The older boys in their late teens take charge and lead the group. They behave with maturity and dignity sometimes beyond their years.

At a parents forum once, some parents gave them a hard time, pushing for some unreasonable requests. Sitting at the back of the room, I've rolled my eyes at these over-protective, critical, picky parents and wondered why they could not just leave the boys to manage the situation and work things out themselves - after all, the boys have done a great job so far. Once or twice I was tempted to tell these parents to just give the boys a break. But I didn't have to. The boys handled the prickly situations very well - always giving considered answers, always polite. They took every comment, suggestion seriously and explained clearly their stand. They never lost the "ma'am" and "sir" even when the comments grew heated. I was so proud of them and I wish I knew who their parents were - I'd shake their hands for raising such great kids.

At Isaac's confirmation camp, I realised that all the youth groups in church had been mobilised to facilitate and help in some way or other. They not only managed logistics and organisation but also facilitated discussion and reflection. How so that these kids had the maturity, faith and insight to share and to lead? To hear them speak, to hear them sing praise and worship, was stirring. I was seeing living faith in action.I was seeing youth leadership at work.

The catechists who worked with the kids for confirmation on their faith journeys from Sec 1 to Sec 3 are young people themselves, a few scant years older. I thought this was great - nothing like the young leading the young. Everything becomes immediate and more relevant. It is brilliant to get the young people to lead the faith journey. Far better than the old ways when adults did most of the teaching and the leadership.

Seeing kids lead like this gives me lots of hope for the future. Sure, not all of them are scholars, not all are brilliant in their studies, but if we get the youth of today - kids like these - growing up to fill the shoes of leaders in the future, then I think the future is in good hands.

Before my kids became teenagers, I'd fretted about them making the right choices in their friends and activities. Who has not heard horror stories of kids who went astray, made bad choices and paid the price? The image of young people - Gen X, Gen Y etc - was usually one that was self-absorbed, not altruistic, materialistic and irresponsible. They would be uncommunicative with their parents and there would be a huge chasm between kids and adults - or so I thought.

Then I met kids like these and it's set this common image up on end. The kids I know are not like this at all.

I tried to put my finger on it. Was it because of religion? Because these were church groups? But no. It went beyond religion.

In my work in the polytechnic, I get to meet and work with young people too. At least the ones I know are the same way - driven, committed, enthusiastic, creative, loyal and passionate in their views. See them lead in orientation camps. See how they manage themselves and others. They work very hard and contribute eagerly. Where was the irresponsibility, the angst, the selfishness, the arrogance often associated with Youth?

Couple of things I've reflected on - first, we must engage the youth. We must not be afraid to turn the reins over to them. We must give them a cause - something to believe in and then on our part, we must believe they have something to contribute and allow them to contribute. When they believe in something and when they are given enough trust and empowerment, you will witness the power of youth.

The power of the pack is also key and can move in either direction. Give someone lost and struggling a sense of belonging in a gang and that's where his loyalties will lie. Young people tend to search for a space they believe in, belong to and can call their own. If we can shepherd them into youth groups, and do it early enough, we can shape them for the better.

I am glad my kids are deeply involved in church groups. I never encouraged them to do so; they just found their own way in. These friends, their peers will give them a different validation and affirmation they need, that cannot be given by their parents. So I'm glad they're busy - out serving mass, facilitating a camp, decorating the church for Christmas - they are growing, learning and contributing productively. And most of all, I'm just glad they are in good hands.




Thursday, December 08, 2011

Graduation

Trinity said goodbye to her kindy years with her graduation ceremony a few weeks ago. Yet another milestone we crossed.

For me, it would also be my last kindy graduation for any of my kids. Hopefully though it would not be the last time I see any of my kids in graduation gowns and mortar board!

She was among the smallest in the line-up of graduates in her voluminous gown and was holding on self-consciously to her mortar board. I was fine all the way until I saw her collect her 'diploma' from the principal, bow and then promptly lose the mortar board as it fell off having been tied too loosely at the chin.

It dawned on me that this was really the last days of carefree childhood for her. From a sheltered Montessori education where she could learn at her own pace and find her own rhythm, she now had to conform to a beat not set by her but by a faceless bureacracy, just one of the many anonymous thousands of other kids.

I have to say a big thank you to Eileen, Maggie, Chen laoshi and all the teachers at Lumiere who have untiringly and patiently worked with  Trin - and Owain - over the years. They took child-centric education to a whole new level. I don't know if any other kindy would have done the same. Perhaps the Montessori structure allowed it, but it also took their special brand of commitment to see it through all the way. Eileen in particular has always been warm, kind and nurturing to the kids. And even when I was at my most pessimistic about Trin ever making it to P1, and my fears on whether she could cope or be swallowed by the system, Eileen was always reassuring and confident. She gave me her frank observations and recommendations - whether it was to let Trin stay longer in the nursery class, to allow her to transition upwards at her own pace undictated by age or level and she did so with honesty, kindness and generosity.

That went a long way to easing the apprehension I had. My kids grew up with them and I was glad they did. I made the right choice when I decided to put Owain in Lumiere. It benefited him and Trin. They grew in this intimate, small-school family environment which took care of them and allowed them to grow whenever they were ready.

All this went through my mind as I saw her standing there, so small and yet ready to graduate and move on to a different level.

In the darkness of the auditorium, I teared up. I couldn't help it. I tried to wipe the tears away surreptitiously, hoping KH would not see. He would never let me live it down for being so sentimental.

But the tears just kept coming. These days would never come again. While I celebrate her being up there and growing up, in weird way, I was also mourning the end of babyhood for her and for me. I will really miss these days.



Taking back my turf...

It's been more than 2 weeks since the maid was fired. KH is away in Monaco (the rat) while I am on my own personal journey of discovery... as a born-again hausfrau.

It's been tough, tiring and yet... exhilarating and liberating in many ways.

All my life I've been a bit of a princess. There was always mom (there still is - thank God!), KH (to drive me around and to clean my toilets), the maids (for housework).

So for me, thrown into the deep end, this period has been one of education and growth. In so many ways such as:

1) I have, for the first time in all my 43 years of life, finally gotten on my hands and knees and cleaned the bathroom. I got past the ick factor and once I hit the rhythm, I scrubbed like there's no tomorrow. All the gunk, the slimy algae (yes you shudder, such was the state of my bathroom since KH refused to clean it before his trip to Europe leaving me to party with the toilet brush instead) all went and one hour of furious scrubbing and rinsing later, my bathroom SHONE. The kids gathered around the door in wonder. They'd never seen mom like this. Heck, they'd never seen the bathroom this clean. I felt so liberated after that - cleaning the bathroom was a cinch! I could do it and I no longer have to depend on anyone else to do this.

2) My hands were red and chapped on day 1, but by today, they'd toughened up and are just peeling and dry on the fingertips. Gloves do not help. I have finally discovered the importance of hand cream.

3) The kids clean up their plates. I cook, they eat. They are full of praise and I love watching them eat the food I cook. When the psycho maid was here, the cooking was so bad that the kids were not eating that much, skipping if they could. Owain for instance, was losing weight. So these few weeks have been a nice change to see the kids polishing off their food and knowing that I am (a) utilising my resources efficiently and creatively - leftover chicken or pork stock for example, can be used for cooking a fresh batch of soup with new ingredients and (b) knowing that I CAN cook pretty decently. Plus their plates have to pass what Cait calls the 'Momspection' which goes like this:

Owain: "Done!" and hops off dining room chair.
Me: "Hold it!" checks the plate and then "Clean! Thank you very much! NOW, you can go to the kitchen and put the plate in the sink." Or I go: "Oi! You call that  clean?? I want every grain of rice eaten. So there's less gunk to clear. Now clean that up!"

4) My days are more productive - I plan ahead and every waking hour is well used. No canteen breaks, no chit chat. My time and actions are carefully planned. After the first one or two days of extra work thanks to lack of planning, unfamiliarity etc, I have now gotten my routine down to a T. You'd find yourself expending a great deal more unnecessary energy if you failed to plan a household routine. I hate being counter-productive, wasting energy and time on superfluous action and quickly learned to finetune my routine for an overall economy of action and energy.

5) I eat a lot less. In the office, there is always a full lunch - usually a bowl of noodles, plate of rice etc. And sometimes a tea break, a curry puff, a snack. Here at home, lunch is miniscule, dinner spare. Snacks are cut fruit from the fridge.

6) Ice-cold glass of Coke is my fuel. It really keeps me going. In the office, I feel sluggish after a full breakfast or lunch. Here at home, the Coke keeps me going. Plus on a hot day, after sweeping and mopping the ground floor of my home, the icy Coke is sheer nirvana.

7) So I eat less, work more. I think I might actually lose some weight.

8) It gets easier by the day. I am defter in the kitchen, less tired than I was when I first started, more energised. I also sleep better at night. I may end my day past midnight but my sleep is sound and deep. In the past, I would wake up intermittently, my overactive mind reaching deep and thinking about stuff I needed to finish at the office, or worried about forgetting something, But these days, I sleep so well.

9) I get weaned off Facebook. Despite being at home for longer hours, I actually have less computer time than before. Hence I've been blogging less too.

10) I get free K-pop concerts from the kids - who sing along loudly - every Korean syllable. I am getting educated in K-pop world. 2PM, 2NE1, Girls Generation, Davichi - are now names as familiar as family now. Plus those catchy ditties, blasted loud, turn household chores into a song and dance routine.

11) Food bills have gone down. Even my grocery bills have shrunk. I can't fathom why when the maids were here, we had to spend so much and cook so much when we actually don't eat that much. And yet, in the scarce two weeks since we've been on our own, our food bills have gone down by at least 30%. Same goes for indiscriminate use of electricity and water. I am more mindful of these costs and I find ways to save - this is something I think I'm going to be very picky over when Lolita returns.

12) The kids help out - sort of. Everyone has their chores but sometimes I find yelling to remind them to finish their stuff is more painful than me actually just doing it myself. Gillian though, has been great.

13) Chopping and cutting is therapeutic. I get a deep sense of well-being and satisfaction from hearing the thunk of the knife on the board and feeling the pressure and the give as the blade slices through. Onions are my favourite. I enjoy my little challenges - how fast, how even, how thin?  

As the days go by, I find myself more confident at home - yes, my own home! For too long I have left things to others. But these couple of weeks have shown me that it's not as bad or as tough as I'd imagined it to be. I thought I'd be scatterbrained, uncoordinated, sloppy and I would not be able to manage my household. But it has not been the case.

In fact I find myself now, easing into a familiar routine and with this familiarity comes confidence. With this comes the next level - higher standards. There is such a deep sense of satisfaction from seeing the house shine, seeing the kids well-fed and knowing it was all your own work. And especially for an ex-princess like me, marvelling that I could actually do all this.

To tell the truth, I've hit my groove so much so that I'm even a bit reluctant to hand the reins back to any maid.

Quite honestly though, I am also disillusioned with the whole convoluted, expensive process of getting her - or any maid - in. I've had two lemon maids in one year, spent several thousand dollars in wasted agency fees, admin costs, air tickets and not to mention emotional angst, just to get decent help in the home.

Even now, despite having paid more than $500 to the agent already, I still have no confirmation on when exactly Lolita would be able to come in. I have had to chase the agent and then given conflicting reasons for the lag from both Lolita AND the agent. I'm really getting very tired of this whole rigmarole. If this is not going to happen, I'm just going to throw in the towel and go without a maid. We would just have to find a way or make some tough decisions. I don't want to throw any more good money after bad.

It seems to make less and less sense why I should have to pay a hefty recruitment fee, monthly salaries, tolerate sulks and demands and then put up with sub-par work and risk another psycho maid. If it were not for the fact that Owain and Trin need someone at home when they come home from school, I would do away with the whole idea of having a helper in the house.

I've said before that I don't think I can be a superwoman. If I had to straddle a full day in the office and come home to do housework, I would cave. I can't do it all and I honestly don't think any woman can, or should. For me, it's got to be one or the other.

These few days have seen me staying home as a full-time stay-home-mom and I'm growing to love it. But I also love my work in the office. I just want to excel in whatever I do, devote my energies to making it work, doing good work - home or office. But I can't have it both ways. It would not be fair to either scenario. In the days when I was working half-time, my energies were so dissipated. I would be pulled in two different directions, my mind restive and making the switch from home/office always takes a bit of mental adjustment. I could not devote enough time/energy to either and in the end, it was just unsatisfying - to me and everybody else.

So bottomline - I love being productive at home. I also love being productive in the office. I sense a big decision coming up.








Monday, November 28, 2011

The trouble with maids...

A week ago, I sent the maid packing. Immediately, that same day.

We already had plans to let her go and she knew that. I'd given her notice already so she had been sourcing for an employer but finally decided to go home so we'd bought a ticket for her to leave in December.

But last week, the crazy woman with more than one screw loose tried to pull one over us by pitching a 'fainting fit' when we said she could not go off that Sunday. For the record in case you're some diehard human rights activist reading this, we're not unreasonable ogres who keep our maids in chains. First, she was entitled to two days off. I had already given her THREE days off in the span of two weeks, as well as an advance on her salary. Second, she did not bother to ask us or inform us that she was going off that Sunday. I thought that was basic courtesy at the least.

So we said no. And immediately she started fake-hyperventilating loudly and then fell -  rather gracefully I might add - into a faint.

Both KH and I stared at her for a second before I started laughing. I couldn't help it. It was sheer bad acting. I was also furious that she dared pull this stunt to hold us to ransom. To take the cake, while I was laughing and telling her off, she actually opened her eyes and looked at me before closing her eyes again. Less than five minutes later, she got up, went into her room and started messaging on her phone. So much for 'fainting'. Fastest recovery ever.

Bad acting or not, it proved that she was clearly not right in the head and quite unstable. It would not be safe or wise to leave the kids with her in the house. So there and then, I told her to pack up and we shipped her off to the agent, changing her ticket to a flight that left the same day. I was so glad to be rid of her. She took with her 7 pieces of luggage including five mobile phones, and almost left her room full of garbage, waste paper, sweet wrappers, dustballs, three pairs of shoes and an unmade bed. Had I not seen all the gunk, I would have been left to clear all that. As it was, I made her do it before we took her to the agent.

Still, I thought she got off lightly. I was so angry that I wished murder was legal.

For all the trouble, the lackadaiscial quality of work she gave, I felt really short-changed as an employer. We housed her, fed her, paid her and followed all the terms of her employment contract. She started off blur for someone who claimed to have three years experience (I later found out it was three years with four employers), and eventually added insolence and entitlement into the mix. Towards the end, it became so frustrating to deal with her, to instruct her and to supervise that I'd rather just do the work myself instead of asking her to do it. She was just slothful and incompetent. All I wanted was fair work and I didn't even get that from her.

So right now, I'm quite bitter about my experiences and really not feeling very charitable to any domestic worker or even to any human rights activist who dare champion these so-called 'rights'. These people should spend time in my shoes, spending the sort of money I've had to spend on lemon maids, have them enter their homes, wreck their possessions, put their children in danger through thoughtless behavior and still try to pull off irresponsible stupid stunts like that.

Not all maids are like that, true. Neither are all employers the Simon LeGree activists seem to love to paint. Before anyone starts to champion these causes, maybe they should walk a mile in the shoes of employers first. The maids have recourse to their embassies, to the activists and shelters. To hear the activists talk, employers often look like slave-driving, sick, sadistic, power-hungry opportunists. Okay, maybe some are. But what of the majority? What recourse do employers have when their maids turn out to be nightmares? Who speaks up for the employer who got scammed into hiring someone unfit and unsuitable?

I'm not even talking about the ones who completely go off the rails, but just the ones who are incompetent or lazy or both. Has any activist tried training someone like this? Especially if you believe the bullsh*t on the CVs they give out. It's annoying and frustrating enough to give you a coronary! Activists may think that maids are given the short end of the stick here, but there are maids who come here and think it is a stepping stone to freedom, a swinging social life etc, happy to do the bare minimum and demanding more from their employers.

This is the second one I've had to change in less than a year. I'm not a demanding employer, in fact I've been accused of being blind to their faults to the point of laxity. I don't make unreasonable demands like some employers who dictate everything from hairlength to mobile phone usage. I've given previous helpers a great deal of leeway and freedom - just ask any who've worked with me. Yet even this was not enough. For the record, I changed the one before this because she was busy moonlighting as a mamasan for other maids, matching them on their off days, with men. My neighbour complained after she'd persisted in offering her services to his maid.

These horror stories are more common than activists like to think.

To ship someone off, find someone new, get used to them, train them all over again is an expensive, exhausting, painful process with no guarantee of success. Each domestic disaster just makes you angry, more wary and less trusting. Its a vicious cycle that bodes no good for anyone - employer or maid.

We all have choices to make and nothing is ever a "no choice" situation. I put up with this because I acknowledge that I am not a superwoman. I've tried juggling housework, chores, cooking with a full day at the office, attention for kids etc and I just end up exhausted at the end of a very long day that starts at 5.30am and ends at midnight. I've come to the conclusion that we just can't have it all.If I want to keep my day job and even consider to increase my work hours, I'll just have to learn to close both eyes, grit my teeth and bear it - shoddy work, poor attitude and sometimes, psycho behavior.

I'll be a fair employer and give her what is due, what we agreed on in terms of pay, off days, sufficient rest, privacy etc (note, dear activists - what WE agreed on, not what YOU think is 'fair') I just won't be someone who treats the maid as 'part of the family'. She isn't and will never be part of our 'family'. She is an employee and I am an employer. Let's be professional about this. Compassion, love, and other warm fuzzy feelings are extra and not included in the package.

Any bleeding-heart activist who gives me drivel about this can just go stuff a sock in it.



Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Behind that prickly exterior...

... is a girl who's a bit lost I think. But like all porcupines, its hard to get past the sharp spines. I speak of Caitlin of course.

This girl's got the face for poker. Inscrutable. Tears may fall when we talk but I never know - are they tears of sadness or anger? Is she upset with me? Upset with the situation? Upset with herself?

She never reveals her hand. Whatever is in her mind and heart remains known only to her. It's so very difficult to reach her. I never know if I am getting through. I never know if I am effective in my methods of reaching out. And I know it's only going to get harder as she grows older.

Gut feel tells me she needs help. I need to pay attention to her. She may seem like the most independent, the one who learns the fastest, and possibly the most streetsmart of the siblings. But I sense a vulnerable desperate core. It's there in her eyes, in her voice when she tells me a joke, a story, what happened at school, at gym training.

But perhaps the problem lies with me.

I feel disconnected. When she speaks, I find it hard to listen and horrible as this sounds, I feel a sense of impatience: get to the point. I tell myself that there is NO getting to the point with kids. That with kids, it is all about just listening, giving the time, the attention. No matter how repetitious, how boring, how silly, how tiresome, no matter how busy, how hungry, how distracted I get. I admire mothers who can do this - give total absolute attention to their children. Because everytime I can't, I feel less of a mother. A sham of a mother. How un-maternal it is to feel impatient.

I have to keep trying. I cannot give up. I can be angry and I can be frustrated and I can feel like talking to her is like bashing my head against a brick wall - pointless and painful. But I cannot give up. There is something there. I just need one breakthrough. I need to find that connection.