Friday, March 30, 2007

romancing kopi tiam

At the junction of Crane and Onan road, is an old coffee shop. It has been my regular breakfast spot since 1999 when I first moved into Joo Chiat.

I like getting there while its still dark. Spreading out my straits time and teh peng, waiting for the roti prata to get done just the way I like it. Crispy.

All sorts of people trundle there at 6 in the morning. The newspaper vendor and the old man still wearing his pyjamas.

I found out when Gary and I first started dating that he doesn't really eat. If left alone for an entire day he wouldn't eat a single morsel of food. The first meal of the day would be the dinner that I tar pow over to him. But since the crayolas arrived, he makes it a point to go with me to the coffee shop no matter how sleepy he is. He doesn't even fancy prata. But he will do it because it is the only time of the day when we can spend time together without the crayolas.

Sometimes, I see my gym instructor there and we look guiltily at each other because we are both having prata for breakfast.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

fierce moment

Alix is the light child of a plump mom. I've tried everything to coax her into eating more but she will eat only bird sized portions. She won't guzzle formula milk too. The only thing she will consume voraciously is breastmilk.

I don't even think that I have very much left of it but when I am with her, we do this a lot. Sitting on the sofa, she sits on my lap issuing her demand "I want to drink nilp". Then she will proceed to chomp on what I imagine to be dry pulpy remains of sugar cane which has undergone too many rotations of the roller which squeezes it for juice. And what remains are just the dregs and the very last few drops.

At 2 years and three months, I think that it is high time to wean her off. But everytime I come back from work the combination of a) missing her so badly and b) knowing that she will probably be the last baby that I will have, makes it hard for me to refuse.

I've tried asking several mothers. This is what they advise:

a) Use reasoning. Tell them that it is only for babies and they are not a baby anymore.
b) Go somewhere else for 14 days. Somewhere far away where you can't hear her cries and she can't look for you.
c) Apply salt.

So far, I've tried method a. Method b and c are pending.


I found out a week ago that Alix had HFMD. She told us herself "my mouth pain". When I looked inside I saw an ulcer at the side of her mouth. As more and more ulcers developed, she totally refused to eat her solids.

The only nutrition that I could deliver to her was through the petrified remains of the sugercane. And as she chomped away, I banished all thoughts of ever stopping this.

This was that fierce moment again. The first time she rooted when she was a newborn.

Every mother who ever lived has faced that fierce moment when a baby turns its milky mouth to her breast and she knows she is all it has.

Nobody tells you that motherhood is this hard, or you'd probably jump off a bridge. Nobody tells you how all consuming it is to be a mother - how reading goes out of the window and thinking too. - Erica Jong

I don't know if it is her or me. But at the rate we are going and as long as I don't keep a log of time, we'll probably be going on like this until she hits 30.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Eternal Flame

20 years ago and 20 kilos lighter, I attended my first function at the Mandarin Garden function room. For those of you who are to young to know what this is, the function was THE in-thing for teens in the 80's.

All that was required was:
a) a function room (therefore, the name)
b) mobile disco
c) hormonally charged teenagers who have minimal opportunity to meet with the opposite sex

In order to prep our dancing skills for the function, we would watch Top of the Pops and mimic the dance steps. After practicing many times, I mastered a dancing movement comprising of rhythmic side-step, side-step from left to right together with upper body duck flare of arms for grace and elegance.

The Mandarin Gardens function room held special memories only because it was the site of my first slow dance. The slow dance was the most terrifying feature of attending a Function - from having zero experience with any physical contact from anyone from the male species, you were expected to dance together in an intimate and close proximity if commandeered for the slow dance. That is why I scampered to a dark corner of the room when the tempo slowed and Eternal Flame started playing.

Close your eyes
Give me your hand
Can you feel my heart beating

I wished myself to be swallowed up by the floor when my other friends got asked for their slow dance and I was left standing there, until someone actually asked me.

We stood a metre apart as far as our arms extended like a very straight rod would go. This was as intimate as playing London Bridge is falling down (and we were making the bridge).

Apart from the function, the other vehicle we had for meeting guys was the Campfire. Nobody became a girl guide so that they could learn how to tie knots and pitch tents. The main perk of being a girl guide was attending Campfires.

All that was required was:

a) basketball court
b) Campfire in the middle
c) Campfire songs which were printed on a Campfire Programme
d) hormonally charged teenagers who have minimal opportunity to meet with the opposite sex

It was the tradition for the Campfire Programme to be 'autographed' by scouts after the campfire had ended. So if you noticed someone by the light of the fire, you could signal your interest by asking for their autograph. In their campire programme you could write something cheesily obvious like "Stay Cute!".


The trigger for all this nostalgia was attending a one year old's birthday party at the Mandarin Gardens function room today.

The parquet was chipped from the many years of use. It held those ackward teenage memories. Never would I have thought that the next time I go there, I would be meeting a tall pink furry animal. Thankfully, this time no slow dance.

Friday, March 09, 2007


I kept rewriting Alix's birthday post because i couldnt express just how proud I was about her turning two without boring the internet with my gushiness.

But here it is.

We made our way to her toddler class on Alix's birthday. Two years ago, the same party of people accompanied me when I got admitted to hospital for her delivery. First Shane, then Alix, bonded us all together in this baby love. Holding video cams and phone cameras, the paparazzi of loyal fans focus all attention on Alix.

We went at 3 pm just as she roused from her afternoon nap. The teachers set the table into an afternoon tea setting for 8 tots. She looked absolutely regal when we entered the classroom. She sat upright in her chair with a paper crown on her head. She knew what we were here for. After we sang the birthday song, she insisted on cutting the cake by herself.

The simple celebration in her nursery brought together the primary core of people who have supported me as Alix has grown including (but not limited to) my bro and Elaine, Grace and her teachers, June and Fiona.

Teacher Fiona gave Alix a soft toy rabbit. It is not the daycare norm for teachers to give birthday presents. But this is how much she loves Alix.

Happy birthday Alix! Truly madly deeply, we all love you.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Song for Faithbeline

Written by the pastor's daughter (aged 15)
In loving memory - 7 May 2000 to 22 February 2007

Is this all that's supposed to be
The meaning of life and I don't know
Why some get to live, others have to die
Diseases and death...robbing people of life

Why, why
God I just don't understand
Yet you are sovereign over all
When the screaming music turns to silence
You say, I'm with you...I'm with you

There must be more than the touch of pain
Found in this life and still I don't know
Why some are in poverty, others in royalty
You say I'm with you. I'm with you.

When I am weak, you make me strong
When I am down, you lift me up
You're the the Faith that makes me see
You're the Hope that carries me
You're the Love that's holding me.... Jesus

Missed Call

I received a missed call on my hand phone in early February. It was P and I knew the purpose of the call. It was about church. Everytime I missed attending for several weeks, she would invite me again. She had done this faithfully for the past two years. In early 2005 when Alix was 3 months and Shane just 2, I started thinking about attending a church within walking distance of my home so that I could bring the crayolas along with minimal inconvenience. One evening, on my way home from the MRT station, I noticed a sign tacked outside an ordinary looking terrace. On the sign, were times for church services.

The congregation was small about 50. In their pamphlet, they promised not to “prod” and they welcomed the “unchurched”. During the worship session, I heard the most beautiful expression of a traditional hymn that I knew. The hymn was How Great Thou Art and it was sung by the entire congregation in Hokkien. Something in me felt that this was what I was searching for.It was here that I met P. On our first meeting, she told me abouther life story. About her older child Lincoln from a previous marriage,aged 11, who was autistic and her younger child, Faithbeline who was conceived after several miscarriages. Her doctor had advised her to stop attempting for a child due to a blood incompatibility between her husband and her. But they persisted in faith and Faithbeline was the miracle.

As if that wasn't hard enough, when Faithbeline was still a baby, P had a stroke. Somehow, she managed to pull through and take care of both her children without any additional help.

We were the same age. I marvelled at her optimism. In the lottery of circumstances, I was much more privileged with no major health setbacks. And yet she was telling me about the goodness of God?

In the weeks and months which followed, I attended church whenever it suited my convenience. I wasn’t regular with my attendance. During the times I showed up, P always welcomed me to sit with her during service. Our children played together. Her husband doted on Faithbeline and carried her throughout the service. P told me that ever since her husband’s conversion, he stopped drinking and her family would attend church 3 or 4 evenings in a week not including the sunday service.

I admired P's simple but strong faith. She had endured so much suffering. When I sat with her, I felt sheltered. We were collectively under an umbrella of God’s protection and things would be ok no matter how stormy the weather.


After the missed call, the phone rang again. This time I picked it up.

“I just want to let you know that Faithbeline is in hospital. She has a chest infection. The doctors also say that she has a hole in the heart. When her chest gets better, the doctor says they will do surgery to repair the heart. She is now in an isolated ward because her immunity is very low."

The next call was a few days later. It was the third day of Chinese NewYear.

“Is Faithbeline discharged from hospital? Sorry I didn’t visit. The kids were sick and I did not want to carry the bugs.”

“She is still in hospital. We have been here more than a week. We want to go home. The hospital aircon is very cold. Say hello to Aunty Carrie.”

“Hello Aunty Carrie, happy new year”

“Hello Faithbeline!”

“On new year's eve, the doctor gave us 5 hours home leave for reunion dinner. She was sohappy when she got home. My relatives were shocked. They could not recognise her with her face all swollen up. My husband had to carry her. She is only 13.8 kilos.”

“When can she get discharged?”

“Don’t know. They say one two days, maybe one week. I ask them what if morethan a week passes and her condition does not get better….they say she will have to go to ICU.”

The next day, P calls me. Crying.

“She collapsed this morning in the toilet. She is now in ICU.”

I went over to KK at lunch hour. I walked past clinic K where I had seen the haematologist about Alix’s blood results. I remembered the period of anxiety and broke into a cold sweat as I walked into the ICU. As a mother, I cannot think of a valley darker than the ICU of a children’s ward.

Later that night at 3 am, I wake up. I had a missed call from P at 23.37.

At 6 am, the phone rings again. Through the sobs, I hear this ”Faithbeline passed away. The doctor told us to go home to sleep. We were not there when it happened. When I go to hospital, I call her but she did not answer.”

At the funeral service, I saw Gary cry (I have never seen him cry so openly). If it is hard for us to accept, how much more hard is it for P and her husband? Of all people, they could least afford a setback like this. P was a stay at home mother. Faithbeline was everything. They were faithful.

We cry because she reminds us of an older version of Alix.

We cry because you can love your child and want to hold onto them forever but you can run out of time.

I can’t forget the child sized coffin. Her brother had bought a doll and put it inside.

I repent for the many missed calls I’ve felt annoyed at or deliberately ignored from P to attend church with her. For reducing not only her calls but God to an inconvenience.

Her parents bought her new shoes for primary one this year. They will never be worn.