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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A Home Improvement Project

It’s the school holiday and just when I thought I could finally take a break from Mummy’s duties, I was being thrown into another madness of outings, incessant nagging and chasing after energized younglings.

So my husband finally took some time off from work and has had grand plans for some home improvement projects.

Between overseas holiday and home improvement projects, I had chosen the latter thinking that since our place is relatively new, any home fix shouldn’t be too complicated. I badly needed a break, a relaxing one and by my standard, that would mean, eat, sleep, do nothing and repeat the cycle again.

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We just did a major renovation to our place a few months ago and we love how our home now reflects our style and living habits. We had spent many hours researching and discussing (or arguing) and drawing out the plan. My husband fixed most of the living room and study furniture himself. No, he isn’t a carpenter or interior designer by vocation. In fact it was his first time fixing furniture after we got our new place.

Recently, I have been bugging him to set up the computer so that I could access all our old photos from an old hard disk. Despite having put in a lot of thought in our design, we had somehow missed out a permanent home for the computer! Still I thought it wouldn’t be a problem as there was plenty of ad hoc spaces that we could use, like the sprawling craft table that he had skilfully made for us to get messy.

Apparently that was not good enough by his standard. He spent a couple of days brainstorming with the kids and came up with this.

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A detailed plan that he had neatly drew out with measurements and shopping list, which required extensive work to replace a wall of bookcases with wall shelves and a working top.

I was told that the project would take 3 days and I would be spared from the mess and stress. I wasn’t told how though. I guess my husband thought he could hold the sky just by being around.

My husband and I don’t often see eye to eye. He’s a typical Martian. He likes to fix things and I like to shop. We come from different planets. It’s hard for him to understand why one needs 10 pairs of shoes when he could live on a single pair. He is good at visualizing and have exactly what he wants planned out while I need to see 10 different options physically before I can decide.

I knew trying to change his mind regarding the design would take insurmountable effort. It would require sound logic and reasoning and superb negotiating skills. Yet there’s nothing logical about choosing between wall shelves and standing bookcases. Or is there?

Seeing how enthusiastic the boys were, I decided to go with the plan.

Over 5 days, we visited Ikea 5 times. We were there during the day with the kids to browse and returned at night (without the kids) to purchase. I knew if left on their own, the boys would head straight to the warehouse, collect the items they need and proceed to the checkout aisle. But that would be too haphazard. I had to zigzag through the maze in the Swedish furniture store, be inspired and bombard them with alternative ideas. Even though these ideas often couldn’t withstand their counter argument. But at least I tried.

This went on every time we visit the store. It was exhausting, both physically and mentally. I was so tempted to check into a hotel and come back after the chaos was over!

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The boys learned to drill, screw, sand and saw from the “master”. The house was in a total mess and sawdust was everywhere. (That is the problem living in an apartment with no outdoor space!) I did more cleaning and mopping in the few days than I would normally do in a month. On top of the mess, I had to worry about a party at our place at the end of the week. It has became more stressful than before my husband went on leave.

But slowly, what we had on paper finally took form.

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It was a wonderful and satisfying feeling to see everything comes together. The boys were happy with their work. They had a good time bonding with their Dad and picked up some useful skills from him. They have learned that there is almost always a solution to everything. If you put your heart and mind to it, you can do it, even if you have no experience doing it.

As for me, I was exhausted but relieved that we have survived another DIY project. I learned that marriage and parenting are like home improvement projects. They are always work in progress. To navigate through the waters of turbulence, we need to communicate and compromise. It requires hell lot of effort and it requires us to keep working at it.

So to their Dad, my husband, who had incidentally taught us some good lessons with his unwavering determination in achieving what he wants (a few broken drill bits and a broken jig saw didn’t stop him!) … Happy Father’s Day! 

 

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Singapore Outward Bound School

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A couple of weeks ago, we were invited by the friendly people of National Youth Council to the open house of Outward Bound Singapore (OBS) located at Pulau Ubin.

We have been to Pulau Ubin many times but this was our first time stepping foot onto the premises of OBS. This idyllic island is our favourite weekend getaway. Its gentle wilderness and natural beauty always has something to make everyone happy.

Last year, we were invited to the same event but missed it because we thought we could reach the place via Changi Point Jetty Terminal, the usual place where we board the bumboats. We ended up cycling round the island, coming really close but was stopped by barricades that went around the premises of the school. We missed the event but managed to explore a different part of the island.

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We later found out that OBS can only be reached via the Punggol Point Jetty Terminal, which was like an exclusive jetty terminal built for Outward Board Singapore. The ferry which took us across was much larger than the bumboats at Changi Point and it brought us right to the doorstep of the school. The sight that welcomed us was like a huge holiday resort tucked away from the bustling city life.

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We met our instructor for the day, a fine young man who had graduated with a degree in Computer Science but soon realised that a desk bound job was not quite meant for him. He quit his job in the corporate world and became an instructor with OBS. It’s been 7 years now and apart from not having to put on office wear when he goes to work, he loves interacting, coaching and leading the youths. He loves the great outdoor and he obviously loves what he is doing now. Despite having to take a hefty pay cut in the beginning, he is now happily married with his own home. His story is an inspiring one that involves knowing what he wants in life and having the courage to pursue it.

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During the open house, we were introduced to orienteering where we learned basic map reading and navigation skills . We had an orienteering race where we ran around the campus, tapping our handheld devices at the various checkpoints. My husband and I decided to go as a team and my 12 year old was set on beating us in the race. We made some mistakes in the beginning and ended up having to back track to the starting point thus wasting some time and energy. It was a fun activity which combines both physical and mental challenges as concentration and alertness were required to read the map and make decisions on the go.

Shown below is “The Tripod”, where we tried our hand at crossing various nerve wracking obstacles while suspended in mid air. This has to be the highlight of the program.

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As a student, I was never in any adventure club. I grew up playing girly stuff and I have never broken a bone. I wasn’t the adventurous type and I was never good at pushing my limits. The first time I tried to cross a wooden plank 3 metres off the ground during school orientation, my legs turned to jelly and I had to be brought down soaked in cold sweat, shivering. I concluded that I had acrophobia, the fear of heights.

So you can imagine how terrifying it was for me to attempt these obstacles. It was like revisiting an old monster, fear.

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Above is a ladder bridge suspended in mid air. It swayed at every movement you made (even when you were trembling or breathing hard). You could either go with the swing and make your way across FAST (like what my boy did) or take every step slowly, exerting every ounce of core muscle you have to try to minimize the swinging. I did just that with both hands holding onto the rope, as if for dear life, wobbling my way across. I think I made some of the audience including the belayers sweat. The intense exhilaration of victory, of beating the fear monster upon taking the final step towards the other end of the bridge was indescribable.

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The boys went on to try out various obstacles set around the Tripod. My 12 year old was pretty nimble at balancing his way across the various obstacles despite being his first time trying something as exciting as these. These activities helped to build confidence, balance and also teamwork because you have to trust the belayer to hold you should you lose your footing.

Apart from seeing their mom scared shitless, this scrabble game we played at the end of the event more or less summed up their experience.

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We were really excited about MOE’s recent announcement that soon all Secondary 3 students will get a chance to go on a 5 day camp at OBS as part of our new National Outdoor Adventure Education Masterplan. Unfortunately, this will only be launched in 2020 which means my elder boy will miss it. It is a pity that not all students will get a chance to experience what OBS has to offer.

I think this is definitely a right step forward for Singapore. What our children will go through in OBS is not that different from what they will go through in life. Facing an obstacle at OBS is like facing an obstacle in real life where they will find themselves out of their comfort zones. They will have two choices. They can overcome their fear of the unknown and the new, learn to trust and work with people on their team, and muster the courage to cross that ladder bridge. Or they can turn around and quit.

Yes, the PSLE is important. But it is no more relevant to succeeding in life than the skills you can learn at OBS. Bravo to MOE for championing this cause.

 
 

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