Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Star Online: Lifestyle: Parenting


I NEVER knew I would be living in another city, another country. Never in my wildest dream did I imagine myself raising my children on foreign soil, although I am no stranger to foreign lifestyles as I had lived six years in the United States as a university student. But when a chance came along rather unexpectedly, I jumped at it, leaving behind my family and taking with me two young children.

My son turned five the day we arrived in Sydney. The big chill welcomed us rather cruelly that morning when winter was in its foulest mood. The cold air struck my son's face, his lips juddering and his body trembling. What a way to celebrate his birthday, he must have thought. That cold and foreignness indeed gave an indescribably bitter and melancholic feeling. Already, I was missing home.

My cell phone beeped on the way home from the airport, waking up my eight-month daughter, who was bundled up, literally, like a balloon. It was my friends calling from Kuala Lumpur. Did they miss me, I wondered, but who wouldn't wonder such a thing? That little question justified many presumptions, many "what ifs", thinking too often of which had led to much sadness that soon wrapped and drowned me in depression.

Times were tough right after my son's birthday. What we had a lot of was silence; even my daughter felt it. She loved to crawl to the window, and with her elbows resting on the window sill, gaze out quietly at the front lawn of our rented house. Bleakness was all that she saw, besides the heaps of dried leaves and frost in the morning. She did not say much. Too cold, I guessed.

Once a working mum who enjoyed every moment at work, I suddenly became a fulltime housewife with two young children. I was nothingness, and slowly, I fretted the morning when I woke without a plan to waste my time, my idleness away.

Winter turned into spring two months later. No pretty trees and beautiful flowers could sooth my lonely soul. The city was too crowded, the beach was too windy, and the friends I made were too white. My watch reflected Malaysian time for me to reminisce and wallow in self-pity. I cried when I finally lost my old Nokia phone because it contained the thread to my past. Abby Wong was gone forever henceforth. I became Mrs Lim.

As my husband, whom I now called my partner like all Australians do, once said in his efforts to comfort me, "You are the captain of the ship. If you are happy, so will our kids. They will not be well-adjusted, all-rounder and optimistic kids if their mum is not. It's a different journey, so embrace it."

That helped a little. Still, I remained as indignant as I was depressed until I spoke with my mother-in-law, a wise woman from whom I have learned so much about parenting.

"Your best investment is in your children. Take care and nurture them with love, understanding, sense of humour and patience. You'll see your investment come back to you tenfold," she offered her advice gently. That struck a chord which resounds in my ears every now and then.

Hence forward, I accepted my new role as a wife and a mother of my two wonderful children, and embraced my adopted home Down Under. The trees bear flowers, and my daughter and I love to gaze at them. They are dark purple in winter, light in spring, pink in summer and yellow in autumn. The light ones are transient, and when they fall, an expanse of purple forms itself, encircling the trees.

That is beauty as my daughter, then three years old, called it. She has eyes for the aesthetics, which I have helped nurture with love, understanding, creativity, patience and sense of humour. Now a well-adjusted five-year-old, she loves nature. Pebbles and acorns are her collections, and she finds the sound of a flowing river meditative.

"You're a great mum," my ten-year-old son often says, and whenever he says that, I reminisce about the past and believe that I have made the right decision to be a fulltime mother. With his arm wrapped around mine, my son loves to stroll next to me at the park near our home. In there we have spent many afternoons together. And once when the weather was balmy, I taught him long jump. He thought I was cool!

On another occasion, I played handball with him. I was his father when his father was at work, and his mother on things only a mother can teach. I am versatile and I have to be if I want my kids to be well-adjusted and all-rounders.

Some think the distinctive aura of a kid growing up in a western country comes mainly from the cooler weather and diet. Many of my friends said that when my kids finally returned home last year after four years of absence. Their rosy cheeks were highly admired, and so was their smooth skin. They weren't at all noisy, but they were not shy either. Their confident demeanour made them highly likeable.

Send the kids to Australia, someone said. My husband cackled. He knew the sacrifice made behind the scenes. He knew his wife was capable of bigger things, but the things she has ended up making in recent years are two wonderful kids who are truly happy and contented.

Life indeed is a journey, and through it there are many expectations and un-expectations. But for as long as I live, I vow to be a mother my son isn't shy to hug in front of his classmates when he is a teenager. I want my daughter to always ask me to comb her hair because she knows how much I adore her hazel-coloured hair.

My life as a mother is an exciting story. I have many more to tell if you want to listen.

> Abby Wong also shares her love of reading through her column Book Nook in Star2.You are subscribed to email updates from

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