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Friday, July 30, 2010

I ask and I ask and I ask...

I spent the larger part of Little Boy's childhood wondering whether he was somewhat S-L-O-W. That is a euphemism. I can think of stronger terms... but you know, Little Boy can read and he reads my blog.

The Daughter has a face that betrays her thoughts. When she understood something, her eyes lit up. And her motor mouth betrayed her thinking. I knew she was reasonably intelligent.

Little Boy's eyes never did really light up EVER and like his father, he spoke little. When asked a simple question "How old are you?", Little Boy's jaw dropped to his knees and the person who asked had to rush off before Little Boy's answer was processed and articulated. I truly worried about him making his way in a complicated world where quick thinking saves lives and amasses fortunes. After all, this is the same Little Boy who ran 6 rounds about the track for his physical fitness test when all he had to run was 4!!

Brawn but no brain - oh dear!

Nonetheless, Little Boy had his moments of genius which gave me hope. And this story is about the time he bested his Ma.

We were sitting around the roaring fireplace with some friends. Conservatives they were. Republicans too. And church-going teetotallers with Amish neighbours back in Pennsylvania. Such people have a healthy respect for authority. They definitely subscribe to the notion that thou shalt honour thy father and thy mother.

Little Boy sat in the middle of the thick carpet (all of 3 years and 1 month) and said in a squeaky voice minus all the 'n' sounds because he couldn't yet make that sound - "Ms LJ,I can force my mommy to do what I want."

Ms LJ and her husband Mr M shot me a look each. Whilst Mr M looks on interestedly, Ms LJ asks, with a mischievous little smile tugging at the corner of her mouth "Oh... how do you do that?"

Little Boy replies "I ask, and my mommy says 'No'. I ask again and my mommy says 'No'. I ask and I ask and I ask and I ask and I ask... and then my mommy says 'Yes'.

With some effort at looking composed, Ms LJ says "My, my... isn't this embarassing for your mommy, to know that you have bested her without her knowing?" I didn't feel very honoured as a Mother but I couldn't help being pleased that Little Boy showed some glimmer of intelligence.

For years after that, whenever Little Boy's jaws drop to his knees and his eyes take on a glazed look at something I just said, I hang on to the memory of that cold winter's evening, in a warm living room and a boy who bested his Ma.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hyssop at Dinner


Here's our dinner with hyssop flowers and leaves! The flowers have a more delicate taste so I decided to have them raw. They look real pretty too! The leaves flavour the cream sauce.

Compared to rosemary and thyme (my favourite herbs) the taste of hyssop is more subdued, and easily overpowered by garlic and other strong flavours. I think it'll go well with potatoes roasted in goose fat / olive oil.

A Ladybug and Flowering Herbs


I haven't used pesticides in a year. The garden is fertilized with on a rotated regime and the plants have become pest resistant. And the numbers of spiders and lizards and ladybugs in my garden have jumped. Here's one really pretty ladybug.


My hyssop has actually flowered. I have been looking forward to it since the last post on hyssop. I hadn't expected it to flower quite so fast but it has and I am thrilled to bits. I shall harvest today and make something with it. Pics tomorrow!!


And here is my tarragon... beautifully flowering. Before I started rotating my fertilizers, this never happened. No flowers at all. Nowadays, it flowers all the time.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Meow Took It

Even as a toddler, Little Boy was gentle with animals. Being so animal-like himself back then, he might have felt some affinity for the fur balls we often fed at the foot of our HDB flat - mostly cats. There was one particular cat who followed me home one day, and after we fed her a dish of cold milk at our door, she often dropped by for a visit. We would feed her whenever she came by.

She was an odd little thing... very well-mannered. I very much appreciated that she never once tried to come into our flat. Instead, after eating, she would sit at the door and look at Little Boy play. Once or twice, she refused food and drink, but still sat there at our door. I wondered if she was looking at my little cub, and missing her own.

Anyway, she afforded me the best excuse in the world... something that even Sun Tzu himself could not have invented.

"The Meow took it."

"The Meow ate it."

"The Meow drank it."

"Maybe... it's the meow."

Everytime we removed a dangerous play thing when Little Boy's back was turned, we blamed it on The Meow. Everytime we took away some delicious but unhealthy snack when Little Boy's back was turned, we blamed it on The Meow. Or if someone had accidentally knocked down the precarious tower... oops! Maybe it's The Meow.

If anyone else bigger and stronger were to admit to all the above misdemeanours, we knew that Little Boy would instantly turn into a furious wolfling - all teeth and snarl... but against The Meow, he could say nothing. I rather suspect that if The Meow had appeared earlier in our lives, I could have prevented the awful tantrum by simply saying "The Meow ran off with your bottle of ice cold milk to feed her kittens".

It was the most wonderful wonderful way of avoiding a head-on collision with Little Boy... and a most wonderful way of teaching him that getting angry doesn't get him anywhere.

Now that he is quite the civilized human being, we like to tease him about The Meow.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Drive Me Back to Schooooool!!

Little Boy thought preschool a necessary evil. The only nice thing about going to school was the teat bottle of ice cold milk I prepared for him every time I drove to bring him home. He really enjoyed that teat bottle of ice cold milk. I would strap him into the baby chair and he would plug the teat in his mouth... and his eyes would half close, and he would be one contented kid for 10 minutes. After that, he would be docile and pleasant.

At first, I did it to see him smile and have him toddle towards me and that bottle of milk as fast as his tiny legs could manage. After a while, he grew to expect his daily treat.

One day, I left the silly bottle on the dining table instead.

I didn't dare to tell him until AFTER he was strapped into his baby chair. When I told him, he flailed his arms and kicked his legs and howled like wolf in pain. Much of what he said between sobs, howls and screeches... was incoherent except for the words "miiiiiiiilk" and the word "koooooool" (as in "school").

I drove home as fast as I could that day, busted every speed limit on every road because I wanted to get away from those animal howls. I screeched to a halt outside our house, left my little wolf in his car seat, and sprinted to get the teat bottle from the dining table.

I gave it to the little wolfling in the baby car seat. But you know, once a wolf transformation has taken place, changing back isn't as easy as a bottle of rather cold milk. Little Boy took the bottle and flung it all the way to the front of the car. It hit the windscreen and sprayed milk all over as it fell to the floor. And the wolfling howled some more...

- You drive back to Koooooooooooool! Drink milk ... Koooooooooool! Don't want drink milk heeeeeere! Koooooooooooool!

The little twit wanted me to drive back to his school because the pleasure was in drinking the milk on the way home!! That moment was sheer panic for me. I almost did drive him back to school with his milk but the thought of spending another 1 hour on the road busting speed limits of every kind didn't make sense...

Sense took over.

I unstrapped the little wolf and carried him howling and kicking to his bed. I left a bottle of milk near his bed, closed his door and went to the kitchen to peel potatoes. It took him close to 20 minutes to stop howling and to get started on his bottle of milk. And that was when I went in there to cuddle and talk to him. After that, I gave him a bubble bath and he became quite human again.

I also made sure that I never forgot the bottle of ice cold milk again.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Baby! It Doesn't Flood in Woodlands!!

I don't understand why people's eyes go unfocused when I tell them I live in Woodlands. What's wrong with Woodlands?In an age of global warming (strong winds and nonstop rain), Woodlands oughta be the IN place to be. It oughta be the CHIC zone and the COOL spot. It should be moving UPmarket.

Here is why.

Underneath Woodlands and Sembawang, there are kilometres of solid granite. When all of Singapore went gaga over some earthquakes, only the aquarium fish in Woodlands got any thrill from the experience. In Woodlands, we don't flood even though in Singapore, it never rains but it pours. In Woodlands, the air is so dry that Mediterranean herbs thrive. Come live in Woodlands and experience the Cote d'Azur climate without leaving the country!!

But... but... but... people suddenly go shifty eyed when I tell them I stay in Woodlands. It's like they won't let me into the windows of their souls because then their true thoughts will spill out and hurt my feelings.I know these thoughts well.

Woodlands is too far. Woodlands is so near the crowded Causeway. Woodlands has no good schools (of any repute).

Woodlands is too far? Oh poppycock! In these days of CTE and SLE andBKE and PIE and KJE, I can make it to Orchard Road in 25 minutes flat without busting the speed limit, and I can actually CHOOSE from 3 different routes. So, for Woodlands folk, traffic jams are something Singaporeans somewhere far away experience - not us. It is rare that all 3 highways down to town have an accident pile-up. There is always one that isn't jammed. Choose wisely and chances are, you'll get there earlier than your friends who stay in Novena.

And then, get this! One hardly has to pay ERP because the roads are so wide and uncongested that the government won't spend SGD1 million on a gantry to earn ERP from so few cars.

Woodlands is near the crowded Causeway? Crowds? What crowds? I never see 'em. The only crowds that I see are those Singaporeans crowding over to JB every weekend so that SGD100/= buys twice the amount of groceries than at NTUC. In Woodlands, we earn in Singapore and shop in JB. Here in Woodlands, our purchasing power is above parity compared to other Singaporeans.

Woodlands has no good primary schools of any repute. If you bother to go to the MRT stations at 6.15 am in the morning, you will see plenty of youths wearing Raffles Institution, Raffles Girls', Hwa Chong Institution and Nanyang Girls' High uniforms. Now, you tell me how these kids got into those premier secondary schools if Woodlands neighbourhood schools aren't any good? Sure... Woodlands schools haven't got the centuries old tradition but hey, old isn't always better. Some of the Woodlands primary schools are very avant-garde in their approach. The Daughter and Little Boy went to the PAP kindergarten and were already involved in themed play learning way before that became fashionable on the preschool scene.

And very few people actually know that Sembawang beach (10 minutes away) is a relatively uncrowded beach where you can fish, crab, pick shellfish and cycle. Here in Woodlands we have sun, sea and beach... no floods... cheap shopping, good schools and crisp dry air. What's not to like?

But well... I just know that the next time I am asked where I stay, I will reply bright-eyed and bushy-tailed happy "I live in Woodlands and hang out in Sembawang!"... and the person will go shifty-eyed on me AGAIN!

The truth is, people tend to hang on to some beliefs despite facts that yell otherwise. Most people grow up thinking that Woodlands is UN-chic and UN-cool. Which really makes me wonder why the cool chic places of Singapore like the East and Bukit Timah also happen to be built-on marshy water-logged land. Where is the logic in that?

But I suppose I should be glad because if Woodlands were chic, I couldn't afford to stay here in a 2-storey penthouse overlooking a picturesque park and feel warm dry Mediterranean winds blow through my hair.

Nope... I am not selling the penthouse. Yet.

Let me tell you. The best is yet to be. As the heavens pour forth bountiful floods, people will realize that Woodlands is the place to be. It may take years (and more floods) but smart people (with lotsa money) will catch on plenty fast.

THEN I will sell the penthouse and move to another UN-chic area. Maybe ummmm... Orchard Road?

Fedex Her Home To Singapore

Little Boy read my earlier post, and commented, "You forgot the last bit about sending her back to Singapore, Mom!"

So I did.

For you see, even though he had learnt that he did love his sister, he still found her very irritating. Once he understood the meaning and purpose of the huge FEDEX boxes in our living room, he pulled me aside after having been particularly unsuccessful in monopolising my attention.

Little Boy: Mom? Why don't we put JieJie in a FEDEX box and send her back to Grandma in Singapore?

Me: Why?

Little Boy: Grandma can look after her for a while.

Me: But when we go home to Singapore, you'll get her back won't you?

Little Boy: Yes... but she will be gone for a while and Grandma can look after her.

Me: I will think about it.

How else do you want me to react? Given his circumstances Little Boy had come up with a novel idea that would solve his problem... and if I were prepared to throw her away, surely I couldn't refuse to FEDEX her away. The implacable logic of any child's mind would tell you that it wouldn't make sense.

So I thought about it and thought about it and then it was time to come home to Singapore.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Let's Throw Her Away

Looking at gentle Little Boy today, you wouldn't believe that he was a somewhat violent toddler prone to punching his sister on her nose, or raking his fingernails all the way down her face. Little Boy is of the sort that takes a position and won't budge afterwards. In his worldview, the sister was a B----. And there was nothing one could do to change his mind.

The Daughter was no angel herself. Quite a few years older and highly articulate, she would provoke her brother with words and taunts... and despite my constant entreaties, she would never allow him to win at anything. Indeed, she stood over his pram one week after he was born and chanted "Stupid baby! Dumb boy! Stupid baby! Dumb boy! Stupid baby! Dumb boy!"

Like any young mother, I had no idea what to do. One child was Mistress of Emotional Torture, the other was Maestro at Physical Abuse.

We were grocery shopping one day. I don't even remember what they fought about. There was a lot of yelling, and then a Little Boy tried to say something... but as he was trying to find the right words, there was more yelling... and so, Little Boy's fist came out and spoke for him instead. Biff!

I rolled my eyes and wished I could throw one or the other away. And then the light came on! Ding! Ding! Why not? I WILL throw one away.

I took The Daughter to the side and said "My love, I think your brother needs to learn not to punch you. I need you to co-operate with me. Later, when I say I have decided to throw you away, go stand by the dustbin and pretend to cry". Of course, The Daughter was thrilled to be playing a trick on her irritating sibling.

I walked back to Little Boy in his trolley.

Me: Sweetie, you don't like her huh?

Little Boy: I don't like her.

Me: Well, I don't really like her either you know. Since you don't like her and I don't like her, let's throw her in the dumpster shall we? I am so very tired of you two fighting. I don't think I can manage 2 children. Maybe other mommies can, but I cannot. I can only manage one child. Since you don't like her, I am gonna throw her away.

Little Boy: *Stunned Silence*

Me: XXXXXX come here. Your brother and I don't like you much so we've decided to get rid of you. Please go and stand next to the dumpster. We don't want you anymore.

Then I gave her a big wink and mouthed "Cry! Cry!", and so The Daughter wailed loudly as she stood there. It was very emotional. We were quite a spectacle I tell you.

I quickly wheeled Little Boy in his trolley to the carpark, and as we neared the car, he became more and more agitated. After all, as a child, he could well understand how another child would feel if abandoned thus. And I suppose he felt bad knowing that he was largely responsible for the disaster that had befallen his sister. When I opened the car door to load up the car, he softly said "I want her back!"

I ignored him.

He repeated himself a few times, louder each time and when he got to near wailing, I had finished loading up and I looked at him.

Me: Really? You're sure? You want her back?

Little Boy: *Nod Nod*

Me: I really cannot manage two fighting children you know. If I get her back for you, you're sure you won't punch her anymore?

Little Boy: *Small Voice* Yes.

Me: No lah... I think you will still punch her.

Little Boy: Nooooooo! I wooooooon't! Mommy, I woooooon't!

Me: Aiya! What a bother you are! First you don't want her and now you do. If you want her back so bad, you walk there and get her yourself. I am not wheeling you there in the trolley!

I took Little Boy out of his trolley and he toddled (diapers and all) across the carpark on his short little legs... across the wide vestibule... navigated past the forest of adult legs to locate his sister.

I followed somewhat behind.

When he found his sister, he hugged her real tight, took her by the hand and lead her over to me, and we all went to the car together with me mumbling to myself about how bothersome kids were... and how the next time there was a fight, I WOULD most certainly throw the sister away.

This was a turning point in their relationship. The Daughter was very touched that her brother cared for her enough to come back for her. She said "Gee... Mommy, I didn't know he loved me at all!!"

Little Boy realized that he loved his sister despite her being a B----. They got along much better after that though about 2 weeks later, I did throw the sister away again in the dumpster outside our house.

After that, all I needed to do was melodiously ask "Is anyone fighting out there?" and things would magically resolve themselves. And one day about a year later, whilst I was throwing a mommy tantrum at The Daughter, who was crying buckets, Little Boy sneaked into her room with a glass of warm water when he thought I wasn't looking.

That day, I felt that I had achieved something because I knew that my kids would be there for each other when grown up.

I wouldn't recommend this trick to any other parent. I took a risk and it paid off. I took a risk because I was so desperate that I didn't think it through. I guess I was just lucky things turned out the way they did because Little Boy could well have reacted differently, and jubilated at his sister's suffering.

And that would have broken my heart.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Don't Touch Me!!

This reminds me of the dynamics between Little Boy and The Daughter in years gone past. They both even look like my kids!!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Beautiful Hymn

I heard this hymn for the first time today, and it sang to my heart... oh it sang to my heart, and made me glad. Those readers who are not Christians, bear with me... oh bear with me. I am not trying to convert you forcefully. It's just that is not often that Petunia experiences a rich spiritual experience as this.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Laying Down Your Life

One can be a Christian for umpteen years and still miss some fundamentals. I have long been familiar with the notion of "laying down your life" for Christ. Translated into layman terms this means that one has to give up all attachment to the self, pledging to allow God to use one's life for His glory and to show His love for people.

Years ago, God gave me to understand that I had a very important ministry at home. God has a different calling for different women. For me, it was that. Somehow, I chose to obey that call by laying down my life so that God could use me to show His love for The Husband and The Children.

I didn't start off very godly at all - impatient, prone to angry outbursts and spells of melancholy where I bemoaned my foregone career. But because I made that choice in obedience to the calling he laid on me, He has wrought changes to my heart and given me honour beyond what I could have earned on my own effort. Because I obeyed Him, I bask now in the love and affection of 2 lovely children. Because I obeyed Him, I earned The Husband's respect and I know he loves me far more today, than when we first dated. Because I obeyed Him, the world looks upon me and honours me as a virtuous wife and loving mother.

Not to mention that I am far more wise, infinitely more patient, vastly more loving and a sight less arrogant than when I started my miserable little ministry at home... a condition I initially likened to "washing plates and slowly turning into a yellow-faced hag".

I could not have done it without Him because through the years, He was there with me as I faced the myriad challenges of bringing up my children. Which woman doesn't want that? I get the honour but He did the work.

And yet, I was discontent. I splashed with perverse pleasure in the fetid waters of the notoriously well-known Sea of Midlife Crisis and I sat there like a lost soul trumpeting that I wished to live for myself. And today I sit here with tears in my eyes because I can hear God so clearly.

I don't have to make something out of my life. I should simply give it to God and He will make something out of it. I should lay down my life and allow Him to use it. And I know He means what He says because I can feel His hand moving in my life again. He has promised me divine healing and He has promised me a new chapter in my life.

I begin to have a sense that my ministry at home is done, and He is calling me to another new and exciting ministry - one for which I have been uniquely formed in the past almost-decade. After all, which woman spends years out of the workforce only to have the opportunity to re-integrate it through a job that fits her profile and personality in almost every way.

To arrive at this epiphanic moment, I must thank the lovely Chawanmushi, the lovely Leah and the wonderful Grace, who reminded me in so timely a manner, that I am God's child and instrument. And I must thank Questions 12 to 16 of the Bible Study Fellowship's Lesson 17 Questionnaire, and chiefly the question which read "What does it mean to lose your life?" and "Try to give some specific actions where you could put this principle into practice in your daily life."

Yes! Yes! Don't try to make something out of your life. Give it to God and He will make something of it. And whatever He makes, I know that it will be good.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Midlife Crisis

Ting blogged about mid-life crisis too, yesterday. I hope she doesn't mind that I've copied her topic AND her heading today. The thing about mid-life crisis is that it hits everyone at some time or other. And like puberty, it might be contagious, because people catch it in groups.

Almost everyone I know (around my age) has it now. One lady shops for a living. I kid you not. She is given vast sums of money to buy stuff, and she travels everywhere to do that. Isn't that a dream job for most people? Another lady has a mysterious job that exudes power and money. Hey... isn't that so cool? Yet another seems to bring home pails of money to her house of white marble and black granite. Who doesn't want pails of money?

I complained first. I said "I'm restless at home. I want a change. I live for my husband and children. I wish I could live for myself now."

Then my friend says "I'm restless at work. I want a change. I live for my husband and children. I wish I could live for myself now."

So many conversations, same words. Some ladies bring home the bacon. Their husbands have been laid off, or have struck out on their own. The girls have not the luxury to quit. Others like me, have to exist in the uncomfortable limbo of having to rely on The Husband for food, clothes and lodging. And I go green with envy when my friends and these others in my family chalk up successes, and all I do is ask them about their day.

Asking people about their day and listening intently is a very important part of my job, you know. My family would die if I didn't do that. Ok... ok... we all know that that isn't true. I was being sarcastic about my contributions to my family and to the world at large.

But on the other side of the fence, the stories I hear go somewhat in parallel. Attending meetings and making decisions is an important part of my job you know. My company will fail if I didn't do that. Same sarcasm. One lady said glumly "I trade and trade and make big bucks... not my money, company's money. No lives are touched. There is no meaning in what I do."

For each of us, the frustration is real. It's the inflection point in our lives. The feelings of being able to conquer more of the world, go more places, do new things is now replaced be feelings of "been there, done that... hey, no big deal". What's next? Work, work and more work? Meetings, meetings, more meetings? Conference calls, conference calls, more conference calls? For me it is, fetch kids, fetch kids, fetch more kids?

Oh... my life is half gone and what have I done?!

I have no solutions. I can't bring solutions to any of my friends whether they're career women or stay-at-home moms. But I can put our frustration into words, and create a bond of common suffering. So that we each know that this feeling of having failed to be SOMEONE and make a difference to the world is the common curse of the human condition... and it doesn't matter how much you have achieved in life and how much of a difference you've made, this feeling still hits you hard.

I knew men go through it. I've been hit on often enough by men in mid-life crises attempting to deny the gradual realization of their own mortality by seducing girls half their age. I never knew that women go through it too.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Gong Gong

Little Boy has a reputation in school. In Primary One, a visiting teacher remarked to his form teacher, when she saw Little Boy "Oh look at that one!! He is sooooo cute!" The Form Teacher smiled indulgently at Little Boy, and replied "Yeah... he is my gong-gong one." Gong gong = a nerdy and absent-minded someone who never knows what is going on. When Little Boy told me what had happened, I was worried that he had had his self-esteem damaged, but well... he seemed ok. And then, BOTH the form teacher and I referred to him as gong-gong in emails and sms-es.

Please don't do that to your kids. It can scar them for life. But I did anyhow because Little Boy is really really very gong-gong... and since I felt bad about posting this, I sought his permission to blog about it. It has been months but I finally have his permission.

The school organised a massive CCA sign-up exercise. Little Boy badly wanted to join the swimming club. I filled out the form and gave it to him. Everyone, including I, had stressed to him that he was to drop the form into the CCA box. When I picked him up from school, he had forgotten. I sent him back into the school because Swimming Club is an extremely popular CCA, and if you handed in the form late, you wouldn't get a place.

He came back to the car all huffy puffy but happy.

Just before bedtime, he asked me "Mom... I couldn't find the CCA box but I saw something called the Suggestion Box. Do you think teacher will see my form if I put it into the Suggestion Box?"

I sat up and stared at him. Then I asked myself "Which part of the in utero development of this Little Boy went wrong, and could I have done something about it?"

I messaged his new Form Teacher (Ms Priscilla See, who didn't approve of the term "gong-gong")... who messaged back "No it is NOT alright!! No one opens the Suggestion Box" ...

... and then the next message read...

"How can he not know where the CCA boxes are!? He passes them everyday on the way back to class from hall assembly!? They're bright yellow and spanking new and they smell of new wood!"

I could almost hear her incredulous squeak at the "smell of new wood!" part of the message. Loudly UNspoken was the word "gong-gong", much as she didn't approve of it.

Ms See and I decided to let Little Boy stew in the juices of his gong-gongness. We told him we wouldn't help. Poor Little Boy spent an unsuccessful recess trying to dig his form out of the Suggestion Box. He went and asked the general office clerks to open the box. They scolded him of course and then lo and behold, the form had quite disappeared. Poor Little Boy dithered here and there... and then came home with a new form. I made some fuss about filling out the same form twice, but filled it in anyway.

What Little Boy didn't know (because both Ms See and I were so intent on teaching him a lesson in situational awareness) was that we had both called the Teacher-in-Charge of the Swimming Club and reserved a place for him. The form was a formality.

Since then, it does seem that he has much improved.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Drunk, Lionel and Irman

The Drunk
There I was at Boat Quay, in the days before sleaze got there. There was so much hoo-ha about riverfront chic that we dug out the piggybank for a special evening there.

The Daughter was a one year old who preferred to use her parents' legs instead of the pram. The Husband's legs were preferred but once in a while, she deigned to use mine. So there we were, Mother carrying Daughter, standing by the river waiting for The Husband.

A rather fat half-drunk Caucasian tottered towards us and I was about to take evasive action when he hailed "Ma'am! Wait ma'am!". To be polite, I waited. He stood right in front of me and peered carefully into my face, trying to focus his eyes.

"Hic!" said he.

"Hic!" again.

"That baby of yours will be a stunning beauty 18 years from today"

And then he tottered off. Very relieved that he hadn't tried to embrace either of us, I was also really pleased. How flattering!! But then after some time, I remembered that he was drunk. I have been told that when you're drunk, every female looks stunning. Is that true?


The Lionel
Then, there was Little Lionel. Lionel came by the house every morning to walk with The Daughter to school. I overheard once a conversation on the phone.

"Murmur... murmur" said Lionel.
"No, I don't want to come your house and play" said The Daughter.
"Murmur" said Lionel.
"Because your house has no toys" said The Daughter.

Ouch! That must be caused some devastating damage to the young man's self-esteem. The Husband's eyes opened wide and he commented that it was not a nice thing to say. I am ashamed to confess that I was kind of holding my sides laughing.

The Irman
Irman was our neighbour upstairs. Together with the neighbours from downstairs (a brood of NINE kids ,cousins and siblings of each other), they would play downstairs in the void deck. All lined up, they looked like steps going up. The tiniest was The Daughter and the biggest was an 11 year old boy. Irman and The Daughter were the same age, and they really liked each other.

Actually, I don't think The Daughter was very discerning back then. She liked all the boys who liked her to some extent or other. And so it was that I overheard Irman squeaking...

"Bye XXXXXX! I love you XXXXXX!"

And The Daughter replied in melodious tones...

"Bye Irman! I love you too Irman!"

But when they grew up, they got busy with homework. And so they became strangers who never said "Hi!"

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Moony Little Boy

Little Boy was sweet on Huimin, a skinny little girl who only ate white rice and steamed egg. As a mother, I felt for him. He was so sincere and devoted in his regard. I would catch him in his bunk bed staring at the class photo and then he would shyly point out the little girl to me. Quite often he would lie on his bed and orientate himself such that he was facing Huimin's block of flats. This was a rather uncomfortable position because it required lying across the shorter expanse of his single bunk bed.

I didn't make the mistake of proposing marriage, but I did what I could to support his effort to impress the girl, and endear himself to her. More often than not, I was willing party in all sorts of gift-giving initiatives.

I once walked in 10 minutes of strong winds carrying a large cardboard poster of Ariel the Little Mermaid because Little Boy insisted that Huimin likes Ariel. Then, I was made to buy sticker books of Ariel and her fish companions. After that, we had a spell with costume jewelry. It was almost embarassing to queue up at Kiddy Palace with a son clamouring for a bead set. Little Boy made bracelets and necklaces for Huimin every week, and once in a while, when reminded, he made one for me and his sister.

When walking in Chinatown, we came across a box filled to the brim with foldable painted fans. We had gone past the shop some ways before I felt a little hand tugging at my t-shirt. I couldn't at first make out what he wanted so I knelt down and put my ear to his mouth. We ended up buying a foldable fan with pink flowers for Huimin.

The buying was the easy part. Because by then, the whole K2 class had figured out that Little Boy was sweet on Huimin. Uncomfortable with all the teasing, Little Boy convinced me to drive to the school to pick him and his lady friend in order that he might present his gifts in private. Till the end of the ride, he was still holding on tightly to the fan. I was quite upset because stingy Petunia had just wasted petrol on a trip that only needed walking.

I turned around and looked exasperatedly at him "Why didn't you give her the fan, you goose?! I just wasted a trip for nothing!!"

He responded "Her mommy was there."

Quite fed-up, I marched to school the next day, found Huimin's mommy and gave her the fan for her daughter. Thank goodness, the mother accepted the gift graciously and smiled kindly at me. For the first time in my life, I experienced the stress that every male must go through at some point, when trying to court a girl.

What if she freaks out and runs screaming down the HDB corridor? All the aunties will know that my son has been rejected!! How will I regain my place of Auntie honour amongst those other HDB aunties of honour?

Only because I experienced that myself, did I make it a point to later teach The Daughter that she needed to be considerate and gentle when telling potential suitors that she wasn't interested. Whatever you do, DO NOT open your mouth and scream loudly.

I do hope that come Little Boy's turn, young ladies will be just as gentle when rejecting him.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Wen Hao

The Daughter at age 3 could cuss like the best of them sailors. I was amazed and slightly goggle-eyed at the stream of filth delivered in her childish sing-song voice interspersed with melodious tralalas.

I wasn't sure that I had heard what I had heard, and there were some words of which the meanings I was unsure. I requested The Husband's opinion. Like any Singaporean male, somewhere in his school career, there had been a compulsory course on "How to Curse in 4 Languages". He was even more goggle-eyed than I when he nodded his head in confirmation of my hunch.

It really was a somewhat surreal experience to hear such filthy words dance daintily out of The Daughter's rosebud mouth sung to the tune of the famous alphabet song.

I asked "Where did you learn these words?!"

The Daughter said "Wen Hao taught me. He says them all the time in the playground."

Quite visibly upset, I told her that she was never to say such words again... and for good measure, I told her never to play with Wen Hao again. Of course, The Daughter had no idea why those words weren't acceptable and I found it difficult to explain because at 4 years old, the various parts of the human body (male or female) were exactly that. Nothing wrong. And what's with mommy anyway?

"First, I can't play with Sebastian and then now I can't play with Wen Hao. I can't play with anybody!!" She whipped her head around, ran to her bed, threw herself on it and sobbed inconsolably into the pillow, like a Rapunzel with no hair - "But we are only just frieeeeeeeeends!" she wailed. "I only want to be his frieeeeeeend!"

The Husband being her own very special parent and possessing of parental charms that I do not, stepped in at this point. He calmed her down and managed (I dunno how) to explain the whys and wherefores of those cuss words. I was left bemused and wondering... and dreading that the scene presaged her teenage years.

Thank goodness they did not. She has grown up alright... and hasn't yet brought home a boyfriend in leather pants on a Harley. But I don't suppose I should speak too soon, huh? I may have to eat my words.

But REALLY! What IS wrong with little boys?!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Sebastian

In kindergarten, The Daughter was rather a puny thing. Skinny arms and legs... and a good half a head shorter than her classmates/playmates. Quite often, she would be holding a toy only to have it snatched from her by another more rambunctious kid. Then she would cry and run to me.

But in the playground downstairs, no one... but NO ONE dared to make her cry. Sebastian was there you see... and in addition to a definite soft spot for The Daughter, Sebastian was a good one head taller than the other kids. Whenever The Daughter yelled "Sebastian! Sebastian!" from wherever she was in the playground, he would appear, snatch her toy back and then disappear.

Like some sorta Spiderman you know.

Anyway, Sebastian's mother was well aware of her son's sweet spot for The Daughter. One fine day, the good woman freaked me out by proposing marriage in no uncertain terms on her son's 5th birthday. At the tender age of 4, The Daughter was named Mrs So&So's daughter-in-law at a party attended by most of the Aunties in the neighbourhood, and their kids. The party was beginning to look a whole lot like an engagement party.

I began to think that there was something psychologically amiss with the family. It's one thing to have the son stick up for The Daughter at the playground, and it's quite another to see The Daughter engulfed at so tender an age by the bonds and responsibilities of marriage.

Ewwwwwwwwww!

I plastered on my widest smile and enacted the most gracious of manners, laughed and made small talk... and when it was polite to leave, we waved, smiled some more. The Daughter was never allowed to go to Sebastian's house ever again.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

She's Mine!

When The Daughter came home rolling her eyes and flapping her arms over the copious amounts of teasing she was getting in school... my mind went back 13 years to the first time The Daughter encountered boy trouble.

Now, mind you, I wasn't there to see it happen. I am only recounting what The Teacher told me, in between holding her stomach from laughing too much.

Back then, The Daughter was all of 3 years old plus a bit. She wasn't even completely toilet-trained and often had accidents at school which necessitated the daily provision of an extra pair of fluffy undies. Anyway, at school, she was given a seat between two young gentlemen of good family.

Hafiq was the more gregarious one. He made friends with her from Day One, often providing interesting gifts in the form of sticks, stones, dried leaves and other odds and ends within his means. A most generous young gentleman.

Ismail was rather more self-effacing and reserved. He took his time to observe the young lady seated next to him. After about 4 months into their acquaintance, he decided that he liked what he saw. Being rather a boy of few words, little Ismail made his interest known with an interesting action. He pulled The Daughter's chair right up next to his, so that they could both sit near each other.

The sweet gesture did not escape the notice of Hafiq, who promptly upped himself off his chair and re-positioned The Daughter's chair right next to his own. For a while, 2 grim-faced young gentlemen pulled a certain chair back and forth between themselves. Now, it wouldn't have been so funny if The Daughter hadn't been all that time ON the aforementioned chair.

Young Hafiq, being a young person of great drive and action, escalated the proceedings. Fixing his rival Ismail with a baleful stare, he walked over grabbed his head and took a big bite outta Ismail's left cheek.

All hell broke loose. Children from other tables leapt into the fray... took sides and yelled at each other. The Daughter, all of 3 years old and not yet toilet-trained began to wail.

Little Sean, seated at another table, comes over and gives The Daughter a comforting hug. "Now, now... don't you cry." With tear streaked cheeks and eyes glistening with tears, The Daughter smiles and falls in love.

For the rest of her preschool career, she declared that she would marry Sean when she grew up.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Saved by my Friends

There is no other way to say this except to use the Chinese expression "get eaten up by someone".

I, Petunia, was very nearly eaten up by a Construction Consultant (Mr CC) who seemed more keen to help his favourite building contractors maintain a healthy profit margin, than to help me build the house I wanted.

But my friends saved me.

I began to suspect something amiss when Mr CC seemed keen to recommend some particular building contractors. But I was told that in the building industry, virtual teams of contractors and consultants move from project to project together simply because they are familiar with one another. Which was quite reasonable, I thought.

I suspected something even more amiss when Mr CC probed for the existence of my "reserve funds" after we had agreed on a reasonable budget. Alarm bells rang softly when Mr CC refused to be too specific in writing up the tender documentation, leaving too much wiggle room for the contractor later to demand more money in the form of Variation Works Orders. Alarm bells rang again when Mr CC presented an informal building quotation that was 30% above my already very reasonable budget.

Then all hell broke loose when I found out that I had been quoted double the sum it took to demolish a 2-storey house, in order to demolish my single storey house. Hell's fires raged further when I further noted that my structural works cost twice the amount of a friend's much larger house currently under construction. Alarm bells fairly fell out my ears when a competing quotation was presented with a price that Mr CC said was "really low that it wasn't possible" and I was encouraged to quickly lock in that price.

"What game was afoot? Is this the relative price strategy?" I asked myself. Something is cheap only in comparison to a more expensive something else. In which case, the cheaper quote isn't really cheap at all, eh? It only looks so.

There was enough to make me very uncomfortable. I began the long and tedious process of triangulating information. Organisational science researchers like me do that you know. We are trained to do so. Nothing is true and certain unless 3 sources, at least, agree it is. They form a triangle looking upon the same situation and agreeing on a common fact. It didn't take long for me to find more than 3 sources (other Construction Consultants, other Civil Engineers, other House Owners and various internet sources) who completely agreed, that they disagreed with Mr CC's assertions as follows.

"There aren't many building contractors who want to do houses. Most of them prefer government contracts. These contractors I know are happy to build houses... and this is what they charge" said Mr CC. It wasn't difficult to find 10 building contractors keen to build my house. So there now, you've 10 people who heartily agreed with each other that they disagreed with Mr CC.

"Materials costs have gone up" said Mr CC. When I subscribed to online streams of data on materials costs, I learned that such costs have gone down.

"It'll take 14 months to build a house like yours" said Mr CC. I promptly found about 7 experts whose eyes opened wide and who, with shaking heads said "8 months tops!"

"Even if you use the cheapest tiles and fittings, you'll still bust your budget" said Mr CC. Three other knowledgeable people looked askance at me and said "With your budget, you can afford marble if you want it".

"The maintenance period retention fee is 2.5%. That is standard in the industry." said Mr CC. Something in his body language made me wonder. So I went and looked at a standard contract published by a reputable professional body in the building industry. It was 5%.

Building a house is not an easy thing for me. There is so much I don't know. And to begin with, I don't even like renovating houses.

I felt dependent on Mr CC, who encouraged this unhealthy dependence by frowning upon any of my attempts to triangulate information. Listen only to him. Trust only him. I was actually afraid of him, didn't want to offend him... and Mr CC would openly show his displeasure when I questioned or disagreed. I didn't want to displease him.

Then The Husband asked "Why are you scared of him? What is he to you?" And then my training as a Psychologist kicked in and I recognised some of the mind control strategies being used on me. And a caring friend of more than 3 decades said "You don't have to put up with this. There is always recourse. This is a highly regulated professional domain with strong professional oversight".

I woke up. And then I had a bit of fun playing some mind games of my own. I am a Psychologist after all.

It seems like I have come out of a dark tunnel where a bogeyman whispered vague stories of nameless fears so that I would do as he bade me. I've emerged from there into the sunshine again, with all fear gone. To all the friends who called me out of the tunnel with clear-headed logic, accurate information, and sms-es that cared, I want to say a big thank-you.

If not for these friends, I might have lost sums of money that are huge by my reckoning... and as the Chinese put it, I might have been all eaten up, meat and bones all.

I now have a new Mr CC. A not at all dodgy one.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Indian Food! Oh! Indian Food!


Life with Indian neighbours is pure torture. I have 'em on the floor just below me. The thing about Indian families is that just about all of them believe in good home-cooked goodness at every meal. This means that I am tortured about twice a day by the mouth watering smells of dhals and curries that waft from the neighbours' kitchen downstairs into my kitchen... and past that, into my study.

How do you expect me to work when a beguiling composition of exotic spices assault my nostrils and punch right through to my stomach telling it in no uncertain terms that it has been very poorly fed all these years because Petunia cannot cook Indian food.

There is no other more mind boggling cuisine than Indian cuisine, I will tell you that. It is impossible to deconstruct the spices within a curry, let alone guess at the proportions of one spice to another. I have tried so many times and failed as many. Hmmmmmmph!

So, there is just no way to assuage the primeval urge that comes over me at around 6 pm every night. In my mind, I have played out so many scenarios. I have visions of me climbing downstairs from my kitchen to theirs, and making off with the tantalizing dish of I-dunno-what-that-smells-so-good. Oh agony!! I have visions of me ringing on their doorbell and asking for a morsel (not that I would have been contented with a mere morsel). I have visions of befriending the nice Indian lady and plying her with my spaghetti bolognaise, and have her show her gratitude by plying me with yumminess. Except that I can't see how anyone would be grateful for my spaghetti bolognaise (even though it does contain fresh garden herbs)... EVERYONE can make spaghetti bolognaise, no? And if you want pesto sauce or roast chicken, you just need to waltz into Cold Storage and waltz out again. No... there is nothing I can make in my kitchen that can match those creations I imagine those Indian neighbours of mine happily eat up every night.

Oh agony!

So nowadays, everywhere I go, I head for the Indian food stall and I still come away dissatisfied because in my mind's mouth, it isn't half as nice as I expect. To really get my fix of Indian food, I need to eat at Kinara's Holland Village. But that also fixes my wallet quite painfully.

So! I am thrilled to discover a great tandoori kitchen at tiny prices near our house - Al-Ameen in Woodgrove Mall. They've a fabulous tandoori oven that makes garlic naan to die for.... and their masala sauce just makes you want to lick the plate.

If you do go there, don't expect the pomp and ceremony of the Maharajah nor the classy ornateness of Kinara. There is no air-conditioning. The waiters do not smile. There is no Indian classical music. But man! The food is good!!