Excuse Me, Auntie

For the longest time, I have struggled to define what it means to be an ‘Auntie’
My favourite online dictionary defines ‘Auntie’ as an informal way of Aunt.
The Collins English Dictionary defines it as informal, derogatory ( Australia ) an older male homosexual.

In the local context, apart from being an informal way of Aunt, which is your mother or father’s sister, auntie usually refers to a woman that is from your mother’s generation.
It is also negatively associated with being poorly groomed, unattractive, boring, uninteresting, frumpy and grumpy.

20 years ago, when I first started work, my colleagues’ children would call me Auntie Hai Fang.
But at 20 years old, I was young, energetic, confident and self assured and it didn’t bother me too much.
In fact, being called ‘Auntie’ could be a recognition of our coming of age.
that we were “real” adults with responsibilities.

But now that I have passed the 40th milestone.
It can become extremely sensitive.
As a woman, the self esteem usually take a beating when someone calls you an ‘Auntie’.
Yet it is not uncommon to see a young ‘Auntie’.
Imagine a young mother with frayed hair, flip flops and dons what seems like the husband’s boxer shorts.

2 weeks ago both boys started school in the morning and I found myself with 3 good hours to myself.
I used to be able to scoot off to shopping mall for an hour or two during lunch time because both kids were in school.
But now, the only shops that are open in the morning hours are the ones good for grocery shopping.
NTUC, Cold Storage, Giant, wet market, you name it, they are open.
The only people you meet at the park are grandpas, grandmas and clueless housewives with oversized sun hats.
It kind of depresses me as I could imagine myself sliding down the slippery slope of Auntiehood and the wet market butcher becoming my good old friend.

Perhaps being an auntie is not just all about age.
Maybe it is about the grooming or complete lack thereof.
Yet she could be fashionably dressed in designer togs but her only conversation topics revolve around the kids, school, tuition, and mahjong.
So it could be related to a narrow range of “auntie” like pursuits.
Maybe an Auntie has no time or energy for anything else.

Perhaps it could be a lack of a penchant for fun, a lost of self and the thirst for knowledge.
Yet my 40 year old Scottish SAHM friend with 3 kids who has (nearly) no life whatsoever outside her mothering duties doesn’t quite fit the auntie definition.
And I certainly didn’t mean it the derogatory way (see Collins English Dictionary definition above) when I urged my 4 year old to call her Auntie.

Eventually, I realised that across cultures, explaining the term is nearly impossible.
I guess defining auntie is like defining pornography.
Even if you don’t know how to define it, you know one when you see one.


It is almost cliche to say that the only constant in life is change.
Yet, it is such a difficult subject to deal with.
It is not easy for the adults.
And it is probably much worse for the kids.

Singapore has changed so much that it can be difficult to deal with.
After just 1 year of being away, our first rude shock was when we got lost on the ECP going towards AYE.
We used to drive home along that route so often that the effort was subconscious.
ECP always led to AYE so you didn’t have to navigate and look for exits.
So imagine our shock when we found ourselves lost on the MCE and looking at unfamiliar road signs.
We exited the MCE and found ourselves in familiar surroundings but on roads that did not yet exist in our conception.
Finally, the GPS locked in and guided us to our destination.
Over the next few weeks, we had more surprises.

Some parts of the PIE had been “upsized”.
The giant structure staring at us across the bay was not an alien.
spaceship; it was the newly completed Sportshub.
The National Day celebrations are going to be held there instead of the floating platform at Marina Bay.

And this story repeats itself again and again.
Familiar structures disappeared, new ones popped up.
There was construction everywhere.
Car and property prices are astronomical.
Add our move from the United States to the equation.
And life becomes almost too stressful.

But external change is not all that needs to be dealt with.
Change also comes from within.
And because internal change can be so foundational, it could be so much more difficult to manage.
And for us, the internal change had been profound.

Take for example the children.
They went to a private school in the States, where they not only learned, but they had fun.
It was amazing.

The school teachers treated the children like equals; respected them; listened to them; and had fun together.
It was truly a journey of learning that teacher, child and parent alike took together.
We got involved with the school not because we had to do.
We got involved because it was the spirit.
Where everybody contributed a little bit to the school community.
All the parents volunteered a little, baked or cooked a little, or helped to man the stall at the school festival, or helped to clean up after that.

Sure, we paid a premium to get our kids to that school since going to a public school would have been completely free.
But, what we paid was only a fraction of what most parents pay for a preschool here in Singapore.
Money aside, can we find a school like that in Singapore?
Where it is not just about the PSLE, but also about the community.
A community where even strangers from far away lands feel a part of.

Malcolm and Marcus miss their schools in the States.
Malcolm has letters from his teachers thanking him for the little things that he did in school.
Marcus has wonderful memories of his time there.
I think it was a special time for both of them.

So we were hesitant to put them back into the schools here.
We wanted to find something that would bring back the sense of belonging, community, and most importantly fun.

We looked high and low, visiting schools, looking at parent forums.
But no matter what, it always seemed to fall short of our expectations.
I can almost feel the virtual cogs turning in our children’s schools, driving the machinery necessary to transform our kids into ace students and top athletes.
It didn’t matter if it was a renowned school. It felt the same.
It was about the measurable results and the quantifiable outcomes, even as kiasuparents.com touted the holistic children development programs and so on and so forth.

It didn’t matter that Malcolm had already read the Lord of the Rings trilogy at the age of ten, and had consumed more novels than both my husband and I have combined.
He is still just a regular kid, unless of course he scores a PSLE aggregate of 270+, and then he would be someone special. Around here at least.

But in the heart of his teachers in the little school, Malcolm was that new student who had a wager with the school librarian on who could read more.
Malcolm was that special kid that won the bet and shaved the librarian’s beard in front of his cheering classmates and whom they believe will go on and achieve great things.

We put both kids back into their old schools. Malcolm accepted it.
Marcus resisted initially, but finally acquiesced.
We realised that the schools didn’t really matter that much anymore.
We have changed.
Our perspectives have changed, maybe for good.
The year in the States had left an indelible mark on our consciousness; even for the kids.
And we are unlikely to repeat that experience here in our school system.

Instead, we decided that we would let the schools do what they do, and on our part, we were going to make up for it.
We would make a conscious decision to live, learn, have fun, respect each other, and remember that our kids are all special in their own special ways.


A Hectic Month

We are back in Singapore and the first thing we did after we landed at 1am on a Monday morning was to lug 8 luggages, board the sky train and head over to Toastbox for these.

And we spent the next one week combing through every foodstore in hawker centres.

It has been a hectic month and I haven’t sat down to write a proper post since like forever.
Ok I exaggerated, it was a couple of weeks but it felt like forever. I guess that’s a sign that I do enjoy writing in this space.

The busyness started more than a month ago when the whole relocation madness began.
The fact that our stay in the States was cut short by a year threw all plans into disarray.
From selling and getting rid of almost everything we had in the States to resetting up everything here again.
From house to car to furniture. We decided to bring the sunshine back with us!

It was complete madness but thankfully there is some truth in the saying that ‘practice makes perfect’ and we survived our 6th move in the last decade. It was as if all those morning runs helped build up my stamina for this day!

We were excited to go home yet sad to say good byes to our friends and what we have called home for the last one year.

In the midst of the packing, we managed to squeeze in some time to do some last minute baking. We baked some cookies for the teachers and a whacky cake for the kids to share with their friends in school.

Apart from getting ready for the move, there were more coffees and gatherings to bid farewells. For someone who doesn’t take to social events naturally, the last one year had been eventful. I met more people than I have met in the last decade as a stay at home mom. The most rewarding part has to be the many beautiful friendships that were forged over the last year.

Amongst these people were a mother of 4 who is my age and did a triathlon for the very first time; a mother of 3 (her oldest kid was 6 years old) who managed to find time to train for a half ironman; my jogging kaki who apart from learning Taekwondo with her kids, taught herself how to play the ukulele within the year and performed in front of an audience, and many more ladies who took to mothering their children in a foreign land, and speaking a foreign language with much grace and style.

This is my beautiful Scottish friend whom I miss dearly. She had prepared for us a beautiful champagne breakfast despite having to juggle 3 kids and keeping a big home impeccable.

I am thankful to have met these strong and capable ladies who have shown me so much about living a colourful life.