SingaporeMotherhood | Parenting
Journeys that Lead Home
“Children learn more from what you are than what you teach.” – W.E.B. Du Bois
My life is a living example to my children of what is possible in life. Who I am is my biggest gift to them.
Having studied and worked in Singapore all my life, I grew up with very fixed ideas of success and happiness. I believed that life was necessarily linear. You study, graduate, get a job, get married, have children, climb the corporate ladder, retire comfortably, travel with your spouse, and hope to die a happy death.
But life is not linear. In 2006, everything that I held to be true and stable and strong in my life crumbled. I found myself a single mother with five-year-old twin boys, completely alone, and with no full-time job. I hit rock bottom.
But as J.K. Rowling (author of the Harry Potter series) puts it so succinctly, “Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”
I decided to pursue my passion for writing. In the years that followed, I worked as a print journalist, then moved on to radio and TV news. My life revolved around work and my children, and I was content.
But in 2011, I turned 40. I’d been a single mum for five years. At that milestone age, I took stock of my life – seriously – and realised I had one big unfulfilled dream: To travel the world, and write a book.
Could I let go for nine months and chase a dream? When my ex agreed to move back home to be with our boys while I was away, I took that as a sign. My boys would have their dad back in their daily lives – a rare and precious time for them to reconnect – and my heart felt at peace.
But as a mother, your children are never far from your thoughts, wherever you go.
We worked out a daily Skype schedule that began with a time zone difference of 18 hours. This time difference narrowed as I made my way around the world. As a former Geography teacher, I took great pleasure in explaining to my 10-year-olds why time difference exists and varies in different parts of the world. It was the best Geography lesson I ever taught because it was hands-on and practical.
And when I had no WIFI, I called them. Once, I was travelling along an ocean road in South Africa when I suddenly spotted a pod of whales. “Oh my gosh, whales!” I exclaimed. I ended up updating them on what I was seeing, real time. I never had more interesting conversations with my boys than when I was on the road. They saw the world through me and learnt new things as I was learning them.
When I spent a summer in Paris studying French, my boys flew over to join me during their June holidays. We explored Paris together, hopping on trains to get around, eating at roadside cafés, and roughing it out as backpackers on a shoestring.
That was when I realised that my boys are excellent travellers! They stepped out of their comfort zone to learn French in order to communicate with locals, and were always eager to give everything a go: From tasting unfamiliar foods to joining a group of French boys for football by the Eiffel Tower, to lying on a public park lawn with a baguette lunch.
Nine months in the context of a lifetime isn’t long, but that time away has made me not take for granted my time with them. I celebrate the physical proximity of my children now because I know how it feels to not be able to hold them.
In our household now, world travel has become a shared language. Our dinner-table conversations are unlike most families’ and I tell them the coolest bedtime stories.
Having experienced a myriad of cultures and belief systems, my own definition of success and happiness has also changed. And according to American writer and thinker Oliver Wendell Holmes, “A mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions.”
So, as my boys prepare for their Primary School Leaving Examinations this year, I tell them that as long as they have given their best, I’m fine with whatever results they get, because life is so much more than academic grades. The PSLE is just one narrow definition of intelligence. The most important thing to me is that they pursue their passions and do what they love.
I believe that as parents, our lives are living examples of what is possible in life. Show your children that it’s possible to pursue their passions. Show them that life is much more than paper qualifications. Show them that dreams do come true. They believe you more when you show, not tell.
*Pamela Ho is co-author of Adventures of 2 Girls, which is published by Marshall Cavendish.
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