A Walk Along The Beach

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions but a walk along the beach on New Year Day’s morning to catch the sun rise put me in a reflective mood.

My husband and I had spent the last hour of 2016 doing what we love doing together.

We cycled to catch the biggest firework in town. We counted down to the New Year, watched the fireworks shoot up into the night sky. The spectacular display was reflected vividly on the glass that framed up Flower Dome, a part of our multi-million dollar garden that houses many different species of flora and fauna. It was like a double fireworks or a reminder that a reflection was much needed.

We went to sleep late that night, yet I couldn’t will myself to wake up later the next morning. It has became some sort of a date between me and him, the New Year Day’s sunrise, like a secret rendezvous.

A flu bug had been going around at home and everyone hasn’t been feeling too well this holiday season. It was bad enough to make me feel like 2016 sucks until I paused and think. And I am glad I did.

We had many FIRSTs in 2016. Some were scarier than others but overall we grew and we had fun.

The younger one joined Primary School and the elder one sat for his first National Examination. The Dad did some amazing carpentry work with the boys for our home improvement project. He showed them how much they can achieve if they were willing to get their hands dirty and put in some effort!

I had a taste of my first trail run and went for my first holiday without the boys. We ended the year with a charity project and a camper van holiday.

2016 had been a full and exciting year for us and we sailed through it relatively well except for some minor illnesses. So what not to be grateful for?

As I walked along the beach, watching my footprints being slowly washed away by each rushing wave, it came to me that the biggest concept I grasped last year had to be ‘Letting Go’.

As a parent, I have so often read and heard how we should take a step back and learn to let go so that we won’t rob our children the precious chance to fall, to fail and in the process, learn some valuable lessons.

If success is the cake then failure would be a key ingredient. We don’t always think of failure as an important ingredient in something good because it’s not sweet like icing sugar; it’s more like the bitter baking powder that interacts with the other ingredients to make the cake rise. Without it, you’d have a sweet, lumpy rock that would go straight into the bin.

So very often, fear grips me as I watch my boys try out something new or “dangerous”. At the playground, going down those staircases on their bikes, hiking up and down those 2200 rocky and steep steps in New Zealand. My intervention would have robbed them the chance to gain the confidence to overcome a new challenge, the chance to fall, to pick themselves up, to dust themselves off and try again. The chance to gain independence and to build resilience.

So often I was tempted to rush in to ‘rescue’ them from their school work when they did badly for a spelling, a test or even an exam. But I stopped myself, instead, took their cues on whether help was needed, reminded them their responsibility to know their work and do their best before taking a step back, bit my lips and let them try again.

Their year end results showed that the younger one is improving even though he started the school year quite clueless. The elder one has done relatively well for his PSLE despite failing miserably for his Chinese just last year. He managed to get into the school he wants and we are all happy for him.

They’ve learned that there is nothing shameful about failing and so long as they are willing to put their heart into it, nothing is quite impossible.

On a personal level, letting go encompasses more than just the fear of failing. It entails negative feelings and for me, something as simple as the ‘should haves’.

As I strolled on the beach, letting the morning sun bathe me in its warmth while dodging the next rushing wave, I felt a deep sense of calm, peace and joy, a strange new feeling from a place so familiar.

On such a morning, I would have Usually run or cycled. It was unlike me to just do neither and just walk along the beach. I knew too well I would struggle and couldn’t get pass the ‘I should haves’

I should have jogged
I should have cycled
I should have left home earlier
I should have done a longer distance

But then and there, so rarely, none of these were on my mind. I was living that moment. The sunrise, the warm sensation, the sound of the lapping waves.

Perhaps this is what they called mindfulness, an awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. A thing that my preoccupation with the ‘should haves’ has robbed me of.

It seems so easy to get there, yet so difficult. A place so new to me.

 
 

6

Joseph Schooling

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Our hearts swelled with pride as we watched Joseph Schooling explode in the pool to win Singapore’s first Olympic gold. We could faintly hear cheering in the distance as Schooling punched the water on realising that he has beat his childhood idol and created a new Olympic record. As the Singapore flag was raised in Rio and our familiar Majulah Singapura was played, we could feel the celebratory mood all round Singapore. Yet, soon, we also heard murmurings that Schooling should just stay in the US because Singapore did little to contribute to this historic moment.

Did Schooling win because of the Singapore system or in spite of it? He had to pack his bag and go to boarding school and university in the US in order to get the training he needed. If his family was not well off, could he have gone on this path? In fact, his parents had to go to extraordinary lengths to fight the Singapore system to get a long term deferment for National Service. Some arguments could also be made that the Singapore system supported his quest for Olympic gold. Would Schooling have been successful if he was born somewhere else? Did Singapore not provide the environment for him to at least start his journey towards Olympic gold?

The fact remains that his parents went to extraordinary lengths to support Schooling. From getting him the best coach, deferment of his NS, uprooting him from the local school and sending him overseas. They did not limit themselves to what the country had to offer. They took things in their own hands and made things happen.

But, which olympic champion was not made through extraordinary actions, effort and a path less well trodden, both by the individual and his support structure? If we agree that champions are only made through extraordinary action and effort, then the question thus is how can we repeat this feat as a nation? Should we not facilitate the individuals and parents in making this extraordinary effort? Should we not make our system extraordinary to groom our future olympians. We can reduce the burden on the parents when they decide to take the path less travelled.

We have invested heavily in sports infrastructure and to try to encourage sports. We built a new Sports Hub, opened the Singapore Sports School, blew a fortune to host the Youth Olympics, etc. This was a good start. But it is time to move on and take the next step.

The Schooling family had enough fortitude to decide that swimming was a viable career path for Joseph. They had enough courage to go forth and do something totally different. Singapore has benefitted tremendously from their courage. What can Singapore do to create the conditions for our sporting talents to consider sports as a viable career path? We are indeed small and I am not sure how, but surely we can innovate and find a way?

While I am glad that our government is now showering attention on our newly minted Olympic gold medalist, I wish they could do more for athletes who wanted to try. I wish they not just show love to those who bring home medals. Perhaps it’s idealistic. But I wish our government is like the type of parent I strive to be. To bring out the best in our sons and daughters. To believe even if they can’t see (yet). Nurturing and supportive. Not mercenary and calculative.

There is a difference between our table tennis team bringing home medals and Joseph Schooling winning last week. The former probably stirred up more controversy than support from fellow Singaporeans.

We can identify with Joseph Schooling, a true blue Singaporean who was born and bred here. In fact his Eurasian heritage most aptly represent Singapore’s multiracialism. His success story is an inspiration to fellow Singaporeans. His parents probably went through the same anxiety when it came to choosing Primary school and Schooling taking his PSLE. They believed and were courageous enough to take the path less travelled. Schooling’s story was part of the Singapore story. His experience was part of the Singapore experience.

For a young multi-cultural and multi-racial nation that is becoming increasingly polarized along socio-economic and political lines, nation building is no mean task. For me, sports can be an integral part of nation building and that is why we should invest in sports and stop buying mercenaries to play for Singapore. It’s not just about winning. It’s how we get there, as a country, as a nation.

What do we really have to unite us? Singlish? National Service? The national anthem? A national dress? Food? Every time I meet someone from another country, I would be amazed at how proud they are of their history, traditions, culture, and things that make them unique. I tried many a times to find something uniquely Singaporean.

In recent times, I began to find anchors to the Singaporean experience that transcended all racial, religious, and social boundaries. One such anchor was the passing of our founding prime minister LKY. The memory of that week long mourning still brings back goosebumps. It reminded me of our unique experience and journey to the First World. I began to understand that what really makes us Singaporean is the unique Singaporean experience. Our own little histories, stories, idiosyncrasies, and traditions no matter how small and silly they may look.

In that 50.39 seconds that Joseph Schooling took to win the 100m butterfly, he didn’t just give us our first olympic gold medal, he made Singapore stronger as a nation as we rallied and cheered him on, regardless of race, language or religion.

There is no KPI for nation building. There is no direct economic return for nation building. It is not quantifiable or measurable. But it is the glue that bonds us together as a nation and do amazing things.

To the Schoolings, congratulations to your amazing win and thank you for making us stronger and prouder as a nation, as a Singaporean.

 
 
Here’s what Joseph’s 50.39s taught this mother

3

My Birthday Wish

So I celebrated my birthday a couple of weeks ago. I had to pause and think when asked how many candles to put on my birthday cake. Was it 43 or 44? My Mom would tell you it’s 45 because she goes by some weird Chinese calculation. It’s strange how hitting the 40 was like reaching a huge milestone and then you stop counting after that.

I had spent a rather eventful birthday this year, riding along the Green Corridor with my husband, almost ran over a snake, broke a bike chain and got caught in the rain.

IMG_2156 2 My husband and I used to have conversation about growing old.

We are well aware that our face will be wrinkled and our butt will soon grow saggy. We will probably suffer from bone mass lost and start to shrivel and the amount of hair we grow probably can’t keep up with the amount of hair we lose.

We can’t stop the natural process of aging but we both agree that we can at best try to age gracefully. Not by botox or anything that requires one to go under the knife (that would have been too painful!) but by leading an active lifestyle. Having 2 energetic boys kind of makes it easier for us to stick to that because heading outdoors, trying new things and sweating it out is so far the best way for the family to bond.

Looking back, there are quite a number of sports that I only picked up after I became a mother. The motivation was perhaps to impress my boys and to a certain extent to show them that ‘if Mom can do it, so can you!’

When we first bought a swaveboard, I was the mother seen fumbling with the new toy with the boys in the evening. I have to admit that it was quite embarrassing as I worried about being labelled as the ‘mother who refuses to admit she’s old’ (a direct translation from Chinese)

A couple of months ago, we tried rock climbing and I had to show them that Mom can climb even though she gets wobbly knees when the distance grows between her feet and the ground. Apart from discovering that fingers and toes are good for grabbing/hanging on for dear lives, I learned that the harness is a pretty wonderful invention which acts like a comfortable seat for coming down a 3 storey high wall. All it takes is a little faith that all will be well and the courage to take the plunge. It took me some time to master that though.

During the school holidays, the kids followed their dad to try out mountain biking. They tried out some new trails but it remained one of those activities that they do with their Dad because Mom’s bike (and heart) wasn’t quite built for jumping over rocks, zipping down steep slopes and negotiating sharp turns.

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Unlike 3 years ago when I first went for a bike race, I can now confidently mount the bike saddle even if my feet couldn’t quite reach the ground and I can brake and dismount without collapsing into a pile. It was something that comes with practice and I didn’t master that until not too long ago.

Last week, the kids were joking about how I will totally freak out if I were to try out mountain biking (and they actually enjoy seeing me freak out!).

Driven by curiosity and to see what my 6 years old could do that I couldn’t, I decided to join them. They taught me a few tricks like lowering the saddle, lifting my butt off the saddle and sliding as far back as I can so that I won’t go flying over the handlebars while going down the slopes.

Then came the real thing. They thought it was safer for their Dad to lead me while my elder boy led his little brother.

It was a short trail in the forest. There were sharp turns and steep slopes. The terrain was dotted with tree roots and sometimes rocks that were too big for me to traverse. Occasionally I had to come to a complete halt to push my bike. What a mountain biker would usually complete in 15 minutes took me more than half an hour to finish. I had to focus intently on the trails to see where I was heading and anticipate the next turn. My hands were soaked in sweat, my heart was racing, it was thrilling. Many times, the boys had to stop to check on me. The half hour ride in the forest felt like an hour on my usual route. It was strenuous yet exhilarating.

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It was one of the most fun thing we did this school holiday and for some reasons, the boys were especially happy. I wish they were happy for me, that their Mom had tried something new. But knowing them, it was more likely that they were happy because they had fun seeing how clumsy I looked on the slopes! It’s not everyday that they get to beat Mom at doing something though I have to admit that it’s becoming more and more common these days.

So this birthday, it hasn’t been clearer what I should wish for. I wish that I will never feel too old to try out new things, go on adventures, climb mountains and go places with my boys.

Age is just a number and it should stay that way.
 
 

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