SingaporeMotherhood | Parenting

February 2012

Being a Parent: Often Misunderstood, but Always Meaningful

This morning, I walked into a deserted fast-food restaurant for breakfast. Pretty quickly I noticed the cleaner, a young well-built male, spiffy, with decent looks, and not a trace of grumpiness in his expression. I even dare say, there was a spring in his step.

There was only one elderly auntie serving at the counter, and this proper fellow was the sole person who walked the length of the restaurant, armed with a yellow cloth, wiped odd specks of nothings, removed people’s trays, then walked the aisles again. I assumed he would be the one to deal with robberies and fights in the restaurant, should they ever happen.


I sat there with my flimsy bowl of porridge steaming my face, and tried to imagine what he was thinking. What his proud mother must have thought. I know about the pride part, because as a mother, I would be proud to have such a healthy, happy, grown son. I just hope that he is not the sole breadwinner in his family.

He could have taken up acting, but we hear this all the time: “There are thousands like him out there”. He could have continued his studies, but he may not have had the funds for such a luxury. He could have brought a book to read in between cleaning tables, but his boss might not be pleased. After all, they are paying him for his time. According to my calculations, he probably earned S$1 for the duration I was there.

My younger daughter, who only acknowledges Minnie Mouse, but never Mickey, is a feminist. She didn’t become one due to my influence. I was thinking if that cleaning guy was a girl, it would have made it all seem less tragic to me. Such a fit guy, he could have felt that his time would have been better spent doing something else, somewhere else. Shame on me? It’s okay, you are entitled to your opinion. I am just content to be looked after by my husband. Although we don’t have a mansion, I am happy with our living space, and the state of our monthly monetary traffic is not so bad.

A few years ago, I was still running for that 8 am train after dropping off my daughter at her school-cum-childcare centre. And running still I was, at 7 pm, all the way from Sengkang MRT station to her childcare centre before the teachers left for the day. Nearly every night I would find my daughter sitting outside, the school already dark and quiet, and I would gave her a book or small toy with a flourish, to ease my sorriness.

I was trying to be the woman I thought I had to be. My parents had high expectations of me. My high and expensive education was not supposed to play a role as a simple hobby with no ROI. I couldn’t just be home, downgrade my mental capacity to ABCs and be as conversant as the Teletubbies. When I proudly told the school I was returning to work (and therefore please give me that working mother subsidy), a fellow mom who had given up the rat race smiled a knowing smile, and warned me that it would be very stressful.

Did I believe her? Nah. I thought not all mothers are created equal. Someone as multitasking as me would be able to, well, multitask. My rat race lasted for 13 months. At the end of it, I was relieved to forgo the constant watch-watching, and just be. To be there when my older daughter was infected with HFMD for the fourth time, instead of importing my parents here to take care of her like what we did during the second time. To be there at home inviting her friends over for playdates, rather than showering her with guilt gifts.

Surrendering your body and soul to a certain environment, for a certain length of time, on a regular basis, is like trading your mortal life, little by little, for small change. Although some people’s rewards are big notes in lieu of small change, still it is only money. I don’t even know where all the salary I got went to during the 13 months I was busy with my job. I remember a couple of grooming packages, and those stops at HarbourFront Tower One’s Spinelli outlet. But nothing tangible. And certainly nothing in the savings account.

But I do remember those lunches. One colleague from Malaysia introduced me to fish soup, and I was hooked! I inherited my mom’s mentality, which is to quickly dismiss anything with a boiled fish in it as it must smell fishy. But that first bowl at Seah Im Food Centre by HarbourFront Interchange led to many bowls to celebrate one hour of freedom during lunchtime. My ultimate way of taking a break was to enjoy this alone at VivoCity’s Kopitiam’s fish soup stall, which is the next best thing to the one in Seah Im, with a more comfortable seating.

To this day, I eat the same thing and sit among the same table choices whenever I am in the area. I look at my fellow lunch-goers and feel a deep sense of gratitude. I feel lucky that I don’t have to return to that cold impersonal space called an office after this lunch is over. If you do have to, I hope you are doing work that you are passionate about, something that really channels your talent and aspirations. I would hate it if you feel bored and sleepy at your desks, wasting your precious hours away. I know not everyone has the mental and/or financial freedom to do “nothing”.

“Nothing” is exactly my visiting relatives would describe me as doing. My aunties stay in our guest room while vacationing in this country, and spy on me. They mutter to their husbands and sisters back home that they are amazed to see me doing nothing while having two children, and no maid. I once felt so bad about this piece of news of me reaching my parents’ ears, them, who had expected me to have a career. But not anymore.

Raising well-behaved children is not nothing. They love books, love each other, and listen to their parents. Well, the last part is still in the works, but you get the idea. Although their teeth still mysteriously rot, they eat pretty healthily, without ever licking a lolly. They walk everywhere instead of sitting pretty in pushchairs, care for cats and dogs instead of terrorising them, and go to their enrichment classes with not a word of complain.

I cannot imagine a job that is worth leaving all these for. Not for S$1, not for S$1,000. It’s true that my children attend school anyway, but being the only person accountable for the majority of their development is a non-paying job I take seriously. My thoughts are like a Google search for my older daughter’s curious mind. And I hace planted the love for everything analog (instead of digital) in my younger daughter. She chooses pencils and paper over gadgets, because my children are not pacified with iPads or iPhones so mummy can have time for herself. Mummy already has her own time when they are at school.

By now I would love to have another child, but I am not a supermom who cooks very proper meals and homeschools her children – like my old neighbour did. I may run out of patience and start to label my girls as Miss Annoying and Miss Stubborn (wait a minute, I already did!). I would love to be a foster parent, but the idea has been – and still is – swirling in my head. It would break my heart when I have to part with the child. How about adopting a baby, then? But will I be one same mother to all my children equally? I will find out the answer in a few years, you’ll see.

Because parenting is one of the most meaningful jobs in the world, my selfishness and I want to experience it more and more. I am very sure you find it meaningful, too.

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Being a Parent: Often Misunderstood, but Always Meaningful