I'm sitting here. First day of 2021. Outside is raining. I wanted to write something about motherhood and my"content marketer" instinct started ringing - "8 lessons I've learnt from being a mother" "How does motherhood make me different"...blah blah blah. When I shut all these echoes off and truly reflected to my inside, I typed down this header. In fact, I can't recall how many times I've repeated the sentence to myself - "I'm not a perfect mum. But it's OK."
3 out of 4 people who know me via social media said I looked busy. 9 out of 10 who spoke to me asked this question, "how did you find that time to do so many things?" My answer is always the same, "I do not have much time, really; and I really do not do so many things."
In the past 12 months I've focused on only three things as a working mother: happiness, healthiness and staying positive.
2020 marks my 12th year of arriving in Singapore, and I'm just taking a retrospect of how I made it in the past:
All of us have to EARN a living. That has been a universal truth to me since I embarked my journey on a foreign land at 16. Comparing myself with many others, I still feel I was raised in a protective environment, a "flower in the greenhouse". I have been always doing well in my studies, but the rest was always taken care of. Therefore, when my mother suddenly said, "now you need to earn your own living" when I received the full time scholarship to study overseas, I was shocked and heart broken. Because even my scholarship covers study fee, minimum school hall rental subsidy and a $500 monthly living expense, it is still hard to strike a balance in an environment like Singapore.
I started looking for opportunities for an extra income, ranging from teaching tuition to being a librarian, to copywriting. Before every summer break, when many of my school mates were excitingly planning for holiday travels, I was anxiously waiting for good news for my internship applications. From university year 1 to 4, I did 8 different internships and part-time jobs; but I never regretted for spending that time and effort - not only they granted me the sense of security for my living cost, but also let me find my real passion through a freelance reporter job with Lian He Zao Bao (联合早报), Singapore's largest Chinese newspaper.
A picture on Zao Bao as I featured my own story together with that of several other overseas students. Besides this article, some of my by-lines produced during SPH time can still be found here. Sadly, most of the articles were in print and hard to trace back.
Throughout three years, I was first spotted as an outstanding writer from the SPH Student Journalist Club, then assigned to interview new immigrants, then had the opportunities to engage a more variety of portfolios, such as ministers, entrepreneurs, singers & artists and even a chance to meet the deeply missed former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. All these experiences kept reminding me one thing, that I enjoy connecting with people and telling their stories. Upon completion of my Final Year Project, my Chemistry (that's my Bachelor major associated with the scholarship) supervisor asked if I'd like to pursue a PhD with him. It was not an easy decision to make because after all I am doing well with my major; plus, it was hard for a foreigner to land a job in marketing and communications industry without an academic background. Nevertheless, I said "no" to him in the end.
Taking all these memories back today, I think it's not just all of us have to EARN a living, but also to LEARN a living. In my earlier path, juggling study, living, relationship and work, I learnt that whatever choice I made, it's for something that makes me happy. Now as a mother, I tried the best to encourage my child to explore things he's interested in; while the three of us - me, my husband, and my son - are learning how to live together as a young family. There are several decisions we've made together, such as not hiring a helper, not getting our parents over from China to look after my child, not taking a break from either one of our careers to stay at home, not giving up our hobbies such as music and arts...and I'd tell you, that both the decision making and the results they brought are not easy. But we live with them, because we believe they are all chosen for greater happiness.
Before 2020, I was never that serious about health except when the time I was pregnant. This year things changed drastically. I started paying closer attention to my families' physical and mental wellness, and reminded myself again and again to be appreciative of each minute of our healthy time.
The hardest time was during Circuit Breaker. All of us were stuck at home: we adults kept apologising and telling the child not to interpret during meetings, whilst the child as lonely and bored as neither of his parents had the time to engage with him.
Some of my LinkedIn posts during CB. From the pictures you know how stress I was..
We usually ended up having lunch and dinner very late, calling delivery food day by day, and our emotions collapsed very frequently. We tried all sorts of method including self-meditation, setting a common schedule, hiking, arranging play dates...but things just couldn't be put together and be regular. I was very thankful that school eventually reopened after three months. After such a "torture", we became more resilient and was ready to handle changes.
I am very sorry for people who had their lost due to this epidemic. For us who had the fortune to keep, I feel it's our responsibility to ensure our own healthiness first, and then do our best to bring warmth, positivity and kindness to the others. At the end of 2020, I participated in a charity art exhibition called Pameran Poskad to donate my artwork earnings to Beautiful People, an organisation that mentors and supports disadvantaged girls to regain their confidence and skills to return back to society. I also volunteered my time to join various mental wellness discussions, organised by government, communities and non-profits.
Thanks to friends who came down to support, all my postcards were sold out on Day 1 of the exhibition. I kept on shouting out for the exhibition and encouraging more to come down to support the local artist participants. Because the more we fund, the more girls will receive the support.
Although these involvement reduced my time with family and a part of me felt very guilty of it, I still think these were right thing to do for a deeper cause. I wouldn't expect my kid to see myself as a role model, but just wanted him to observe and feel what I feel is "love". Hopefully, what he's seen from his mother brings him a healthy mindset and sense of giving, too.
When I look at my characteristics, I find the most outstanding one is being positive. My husband knows it the best. He told me that over the years, he observed that whenever I was facing complaints or negative comments from outside, my first reaction is to emphasize and respond with an active and cheerful note.
And it's the same when I deal with internal rainy days.
The key reason I started Mama on Palette was because I discovered Arts as an effective way to fight against depression, which is quite common for new mothers. If you've read my founding story, you probably know I walked through baby blues by doing daily drawings (and published them together in my first picture book, "How to Make the Sleepy Potato King Eat" and it is now available in all public libraries in Singapore). I also feel that it turns things a little bit better if busy parents could add a little art and creativity into their lives.
I really miss the old days when Mama on Palette was able to organize various art activities for parents and children, taught by mother artists. Do look for the talented mothers in our community and reach out if you'd like to engage them for teaching, speaking or just a simple artsy play date!
2020 has thrown a lot onto us, and I'm no more than an ordinary mom. Just like the two sides of Ying Yang, gains and pains, happiness and blues, achievement and loss always come side by side. There's definitely more room for me to improve as a mom, but I'd never be perfect. But who defines "perfect"? I am happy enough that I clearly defined my three pillars happiness, healthiness and staying positive and will stick on with them and be better in coming years.
My 2019 reflection:
My 2018 reflection:
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