Friday, January 21, 2011

Burnt out but blessed enough

As at last Tuesday, I have written 70 (or maybe a few more than that) parenting-related articles for a local daily on a fortnightly basis. I will be completing three years with this column come mid-2011. It's been getting harder in the past year to stockpile articles and I'm down to churning out one, or at the most two, every two weeks, just enough to keep up with the deadline.

I know there are still so many parenting-related topics I can write about but somehow the motivation seems to be missing. The ideas are not as forthcoming as before, and if they do come, the dopamine-inducing part of my brain seems to have fallen asleep. I'm sure I'm burnt out, I lack inspiration and I have this tendency of being easily bored with routine. 

Juggling a myriad of responsibilities as a SAHM/WAHM is not as fun as it used to be. While I cannot quit being a SAHM till kingdom come (well, I'm exaggerating here for effect!), I would like to take a break from writing a piece every two weeks. I don't mind the other adhoc writing or publishing-related jobs but having to stick and commit to a fortnightly one is becoming quite a drag. If only it can be as easy as having to brush your teeth everyday.

But what's holding me back from taking this break is the regular monthly cheque I get at the end of the month. The amount is nothing to shout about but it still counts for something. It could pay for our trip to Hong Kong last year. It could help subsidise our monthly grocery bill. It's a pathetic sum in fact, compared to what I used to get as a FTWM (fulltime working mom), but of course, that's comparing an apple with an orange. But simply for comparison's sake in terms of monetary rewards, it amounts in one year, to what I used to get in one month or less....

So what should I do with this dilemma? I'm afraid that if I take a break, I might never want to return (if they still want me that is), and not having something regular to keep me 'grounded' is also something not very good. Can I find a different activity that does not cost me any more time than I can ill afford, something that pays (even if not much), and something that can activate my dopamines and give me a thrilling rollercoaster ride?

Is this just a passing phase, mid-life crisis, prolonged boredom, or worse depression? I sure sound rather manic with all this griping and self-analysis. I wish my responsibilities cover only cooking, chauffering (I can live with this I guess) and childminding (no choice for this one), unless I can afford a housekeeper, cook, private tutor/governess and driver. I dislike cleaning, tidying, laundry and ironing. And as much as I love my dog and garden, I sometimes wish someone else could feed, bathe, groom the furry boy and water, pluck and trim the plants and weeds etc. Then I'd have time to exercise more, get facials, massages, watch movies, take up a hobby! Oh, but all those require a fair bit of dollars which a SAHM like me does not have.

Nevertheless, I should count my blessings that I have enough food to eat, a roof over my head, an old car to drive, caring family members and a loving but strong-willed kid to hug (and nag at!) and I believe, a God who knows what's good for me.

And now, I must gather some bits of grey matter, spice them up with dopamine and start writing a piece for that parenting column!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

My old faithful

Like humans, objects also show signs of ageing. My 33-year-old piano, according to the piano tuner, needs to be serviced i.e. the pins holding the hammers need to be changed so that the keys will strike very evenly and produce a more crisp tone.

I guess 30 odd years can be considered 'middle age' for a piano. This old piano has served me faithfully for 33 years. And now C is playing it. I still play it but not as often as I used to (which was at least one hour daily) during my schooldays decades ago. My dad bought it brand new back in 1979 as a reward for me for doing well in my Std 5 school exam (now the exam is called UPSR and held in Std 6).

I started learning to play the piano in 1976 with an old second hand piano. It was a good piano and probably as old as my current one now. It had very hard and strong, solid wood. We sold it some years after we got the brand new one.

The first entry in my theory manuscript book in 1976

According to the tuner, my current piano is still in tip top condition save for ageing and the need for servicing. He said a piano should be serviced every 10 years or so. This tuner started in the mid 1970s at the age of 19 and he recalls my piano model well. He even knows how much it cost back then and says that it is now rare and hard to find a used one of this model in the market.

He says pianos these days cost more than their real value. The cheapest model of one popular Japanese brand already costs RM10,000 now and the body is made from MDF board and not solid wood! I'm shocked. It goes to show how commercialised the world has become and people don't make things like they used to -- for the passion, love of it and with integrity.

This revelation makes me treasure my old faithful more. I remember those wonderful carefree days of my youth back in my hometown, tinkling on those ivory keys with joy, and frustration too.

Joy was when I played leisure pieces of pop songs and hits of those days, singing at the top of my voice, sometimes with one or two good friends - Christian songs, Abba, Carpenters, everyone we liked. Even when I didn't have the score, just the chords would do and I'd figure out the accompaniment and notes on my own.

Frustration (and boredom) was when I had to practise countless times over and over again my classical exam pieces, scales and arpeggios, especially when they got challenging in Grade 8, memorising music history notes, practising theoretical composition and harmony for theory exams.

I look back at those days with my piano with fondness and nostalgia. I wonder if they can be re-lived now that I'm a stay-home mum who runs around like a headless chicken!

I've wondered once in a while how different life would have been if I had pursued music as a vocation. Those days, if you're good and want to pursue music, it would mean you ending up as a piano teacher, especially if you didn't have the oportunity to explore the big wide world of possibilities with music overseas. I didn't want to end up as a piano teacher so I went to university.

Now I'm somewhat a piano teacher. I have to guide/teach C, although she is taking a formal music/piano course. Come March, it would be a four-year journey as a piano guide. I've learnt some new things myself over the four years sitting in with her at her weekly lessons, things which the syllabus I learnt decades ago did not emphasise.

After her exams in March, we're leaning towards learning piano for leisure for the meantime, until such time when she is more able to decide if she wants to pursue it more seriously. Even then I'm not sure if taking exams is the way to go. Exams will earn you certificates of achievement and aid you with credits for college admission but then again it's not the be all and end all. There are many roads to higher education or success in life.

I'm not sure if we'll get her a private tutor but I'm prepared to teach her myself after March, before we decide on next steps. I think I might be crazy for wanting to do that. Teacher-student compatibility is very important IMHO and I think the Anna-Caitlin combi is far from compatible. I foresee more shouting matches, LOL! Many people say it's hardest to teach your own child but I'm encouraged by the fact that many have succeeded with more challenging tasks like homeschooling their kids entirely.

One day at a time is my mantra. Don't even ask me what's for breakfast tomorrow.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Can't wait to leave school

C: Mummy, when will I stop schooling?
Me: When you're 23.
C: That's 14 years more! Oh my goodness! That's longer than getting my driving licence!

It's funny how all of us want to grow up quickly when we're young. We don't like school because we have to study and do lots of work. We'd wish we're adults and have our freedom to 'do anything we like'. But when we have grown up, many of us wish we were kids again!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Mothers and meals at school

This post is actually a backdated one.

Where meals are concerned, Caitlin has breakfast at/from home (she eats some at home and finishes the rest in the car on the way to school), then morning break and lunch at school.

Over the past two years, she has eaten the school's canteen food all the time for lunch, while for morning break, she has alternated between bringing food from home and eating the school canteen's. To eat the canteen's food, payment has to be made before each school term starts i.e. you're committed for the entire term, as they (especially the younger ones) are discouraged from bringing cash to school.

During the last school holidays, C said she is tired of the school's lunch while she is OK with (sometimes likes)the morning break food. The morning break menu is more varied alternating between soupy noodles, fried noodles, hot dog, french toast, chee cheong fun or porridge while lunch is usually the staple Chinese mixed rice (rice with a variety of different dishes of fish, meat, vege and soup)or sometimes chicken rice. Only on Fridays they will get fried rice with nuggets/fried chicken/sausages or pasta.

So for this current term, we're trying out bringing lunch from home while she sticks to canteen food for morning break. It was no problem making morning break food for her those times when she chose not to eat canteen food since it's just a snack. I used to give her a sandwich, some cereal, or biscuits and fruit. But now that she is to bring lunch to school, I have to get up earlier in the morning to prepare her lunch. Some parents give their kids food like hot dogs, burgers or sandwiches everyday for lunch i.e. dry, easier-to-prepare, not-much-cooking involved kind of food. But I think that's not too healthy (too much processed food is not good) and soon the kid will be tired of those kind of food too.

So far I've survived packing her food that I 'assemble' or cook in the morning, mostly one-pot dishes like fried rice, noodles, pie, sandwich and pasta while on certain days (when I can't get up early!), I go to school at lunch time to deliver her homecooked rice, meat and veges or soupy noodles.

I see a few mothers who have for a few years now, go to school everyday at lunchtime (!) to give their kids lunch. Sometimes they buy food from the canteen (this allows them to choose the type and quantity of each dish compared to what is dished out by the canteen staff in each plate for the kid), sometimes they bring food from home or the famous Happy Meal from that fast food chain. They then sit with their kid(s) and eat till lunch break is over. I, however, just give her the food and leave. She doesn't want me to sit down with her and her friends, and I also don't want to hang around! After the kids return to class, the other mothers stay on in the canteen and 'network' till school dismisses two hours later.

Such kids, C included, I can say, are fortunate enough to have stay-home mothers who are able to prepare and bring them lunch. Others just have to eat cold lunch prepared in the mornings by their working mums or put up with boring canteen food year in year out. Some working mums also cook lunch in the early morning and pack them in heat-insulated food jars but I see very few of that in C's school.

The only inconvenience is that the kid has to lug a food flask (usually rather bulky)besides his heavy schoolbag, and have good manual dexterity in opening and closing the various smaller containers within the jar to unearth his/her lunch without spilling any of it. One mother told me she made her kid practise at home opening, closing and re-assembling everything for the food flask before she let her take it to school!


I have a problem with time. There's too little of it for me. They say everyone has 24 hours a day and if you plan well, you can do a lot of things. Well, I try to plan well but sometimes things don't go as planned and always, I end up not getting a lot of things done.

Blogging will certainly come in the lower ranks of priority. It has gradually been the past year and the year before. When I first started blogging a few years ago when Caitlin was in kindy, I used to have time to make two or three entries per day sometimes. Now it's averaging one per week.

A friend called and asked me to help complete a last-minute job last week. She asked if I'm free so I said I'm always not free but if there's work to be done, I'll consider if I'm able to meet her deadline. She is single so I guess she's yet to experience for herself how life is as a working mum, and more so, how life is as a working and stay-home mum, or even more so, a working-stay-home-maidless-chaufferless-mum.

She wondered aloud how her older sis who is a working mum can be so 'free'. And since I wasn't free I didn't offer a lengthy comparative analysis of working-outside mums and working-at-home mums other than working-outside mums usually send their kids to daycare. And if their kids are toddlers, their needs are simpler and easier to attend to compared to the needs of a schoolgoing kid. Hence they are more 'free' although I don't think any mother can be 'free' at all until the day their kids leave home. Even then, they might be called in to help mind the grandkids etc...

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


A nice compilation of inspirational and motivational quotes I came across while surfing.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Back to school, then and now

It's 1.1.11 today, the first day of a new decade in the 21st century. Happy New Year!

Tomorrow is the final day of school holidays for most kids in this country and come Monday, 3rd January, a new school year begins (some states start school a day earlier). Caitlin will be in Year 3.

The past weeks of holidays have whizzed by so quickly. Tomorrow will probably be spent ensuring everything for school is ready - uniform, books and bag, socks and shoes, and water bottle. I foresee it will be hard for all of us to wake up at 6.00am on Monday. And I dread either me or E having to send/fetch her to/from school on the first week as traffic around school will be crazy with all the anxious parents of Year 1 children hanging around to ensure their kids settle in and be on 'standby' for those who feel insecure or cry. I'm glad C was happy, eager, felt secure and didn't cry on her first day in Year 1. Some of her clasmates cried while one required her parent to accompany her all the way to the classroom for the entire first term (3 months).

While wrapping her school books, I took a quick walk down memory lane back to my school days. Back then, my books were wrapped in brown paper. Plastic only came into the book-wrapping 'practice' later during secondary school. There weren't any pre-made plastic book covers/jackets like now. We had to cut the brown paper or plastic sheet according to size and fold them around the covers of the books to wrap them.

As for school bags, we either had rattan or plastic woven baskets, cloth, PVC or canvas sling bags; no fancy ergonomic, spine-supporting backpacks or roller-bags. The 'best' or most 'high tech' school bags back then would have been the suitcase type, one made out of hard cardboard with two metal fasteners at the side that flip open to unlock the suitcase. As 'fancy' as we perceived them to be, they were difficult to carry as the plastic handle would cut into your fingers with the weight of the books inside. Many kids' parents had improvised to make it more comfortable by wrapping and tying a wad of sponge around the handle! I don't see kids carrying such bags these days. 

I carried my food container (or 'tupperware' as it was referred as back then) and water bottle in a small cloth bag my grandma sewed using some leftover cloth she had; no fancy lunch box or bag. The food container and water bottle were just plain looking plastic ones. No opportunity or freedom of choice as to what I could use to bring my food and drink in.

Kids now have nice water bottles (that must be made of non-poly bisphenol A plastic) with fancy patterns or Disney character prints, and can be easily opened with built-in straws and flip tops. Those days, if I weren't careful in opening or closing my tumbler, I'd have less water to drink or none at all, and my books or bag would be soaked.

My grandma tailor-made my school uniforms. She went to the cloth shop downtown to buy the right coloured materials for the blouse and pinafore. It was only later that an enterprising person started a school uniform business in my hometown where we could buy ready-made ones from the one-shoplot business. Just yesterday, I drove pass a street in my hometown and came across this spanking new building at the corner of the street with the school uniform business's name in large letters across the facade. My mum said their school uniform business did so well over the years that they've even ventured into the hotel business.

Nowadays, school uniforms can be bought almost everywhere from hypermarts, and departmental stores to uniform 'specialty' shops that sell all things related to school needs. Unfortunately, C's school uniform can only be bought from her school as it's not the generic type, and unlike my (late) grandma, I can't even hem a skirt neatly let alone tailor uniforms.

What else has changed? School shoes. Those white canvas ones had to be scrubbed every weekend, sun dried and later 'painted' with liquid chalk from a plastic bottle that came with a plastic-handled sponge applicator. The shoes had laces and they had to removed, washed, chalked and re-strung. Only when I was in secondary school that velcro straps came along. Now most kids wear shoes with velcros and the liquid chalk is in a plastic squeeze bottle with a built-in sponge-tip applicator. In some schools like private ones that are not that stringent with uniform specifications, it's not uncommon to see kids wearing non-standard Bata-branded canvas shoes. You're more likely to spot the likes of a puma silhoutte, three stripes or a swoosh on their shoes.

Aah, those good old days. How things have changed, for better or worse, I can't tell.